How to Engage with Citizens on Social Media

How to Engage with Citizens on Social Media

For civic society to function correctly, local governments need to maintain open communication channels with their constituents. Citizens should feel as though authorities are accountable and rule by consent.

Many small and mid-size local governments are, therefore, reaching out on social media. But which are the best platforms for getting the message out? And what type of content should you be creating?

Which Platforms Should Governments Use To Reach Out?

The best way to reach your citizens is to use the same platforms that they do. Governments will mainly want to focus on Facebook and Twitter as these provide the kind of communications tools required to put out public messages and engage with audiences. Other platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, are popular, but they’re not as conducive for matters of state.

Facebook is probably your best option for reaching the largest number of people. Data suggest that around 81 percent of US adults have Facebook accounts, with 56 percent of seniors also on the platform. For Twitter, the stats aren’t quite as impressive: only about 22 percent of US citizens use it but it can be useful for providing pithy updates to media organizations.

Type Of Content Governments Should Put Out

The next question is to figure out what type of content you should put out. Here are some of our category suggestions:

Be a news source: You need to be careful not to tread on journalists’ toes or appear propagandistic, but you can put out news and updates for what’s happening in the community. For instance, posting about road closures or significant construction works can provide vital information to the public domain. During COVID-19, many local governments put out real-time updates on how citizens should respond to the disease.

React to community concerns: People tend to lose trust in government when they don’t believe it is listening to them. But with social media, local governments can respond in real-time to questions that citizens pose, helping to build a healthy dialogue.

Provide education to citizens: Sometimes, the state can help the community by providing educational updates. For instance, governments can quickly clarify misleading claims on social media by publishing posts backed by science.

Improve branding: Lastly, local governments can use social media to make themselves appear more human. You can do this by showing people how you operate and the real faces behind your operation.

Promote tourism: Social media is a great place to show the attractions, historic places and nature of your town. High-quality images with informative text will get citizens’ and tourists’ attention.

Acceptable Practices For Citizen Outreach On Social Media

If you decide to use social media, it pays dividends to follow a proven etiquette. State authorities and municipal governments need to strike a balance between authoritativeness and approachability.

Only Post Once or Twice Per Day

You want to keep citizens informed, but you don’t want to bombard them with unnecessary information. Carefully plan your public outreach efforts so that you only need to post once or twice per day. Any more than that and users could disengage.

Respond Quickly to Citizens

Just as in business, citizens want public officials to respond to them quickly online. According to Convince and Convert, 39 percent of social media users want companies to respond to them within 60 minutes. We can expect something similar to government agencies.

Address with the Right Tone

It is important to address citizens in a clear, calm and professional manner. This means avoiding unnecessary exclamation points or posts in all-caps. Depending on the type of post the tone can be more friendly and cheerful to create human touch.

Examples of Local Governments Using Social Media To Communicate

Governments across the US are already using social media to communicate with citizens.

New York State Department of Transportation put out the following post as part of its National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week:

Notice how they’ve created an exciting graphic with a catchy jingle, “steer it, clear it,” imploring drivers to get their vehicle out of the road. It falls under the “education” category, but it doesn’t feel preachy.

Here’s another post from the same government agency:

Here, the agency provides citizens with news, telling them how various ridesharing initiatives are reducing CO2 emissions across the state.

Finally, here is the Oregon Police Department’s campaign to improve road safety on Halloween. It’s part public-information, part branding:

Communicating with the public is a challenge, but get it right and small and mid-size local governments can become cherished institutions.

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