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Social Media: How and Why It Works for Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By David Riggleman
September 30, 2016

icon-set-1175041_640In the last three years, the City of Las Vegas’ social media emphasis has grown significantly. Social media is so attractive as a means of communication because it allows the city to talk directly with more and more followers. In the past, most communications required the help of a third-party media outlet. Now, it can communicate one-on-one with its followers and easily track their interests and engagement.

In mid-2014, the city began to overtake other local government agencies and news organizations to become one of the most followed Twitter accounts, not only in Las Vegas but throughout the state. The growth in our social media channels was the direct result of a strategy to increase engagement through sharing and responding. By maintaining a quick response rate to hundreds of comments each month, the city team has built trust among followers who rely on it for information and share their opinions on topics like neighborhood meetings, city council agenda items and more. The idea is to let followers know that city staff are made up of professional people, not nameless, faceless individuals. This means providing information and responses regularly outside the normal business hours of City Hall.

To build public trust, we strive to ensure that 50 percent of the social media content is “shared” from followers. Also, the city promotes all that the community has to offer, keeping the content fresh, interesting and pertinent to the followers. We use nine social media channels to touch a wide range of people and increase the reach to a broad demographic: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Next Door and Google Plus.

Paid advertising is another way the city increased its reach through social media. Social media ads cost much less than traditional ad placements, despite similar or even greater reach. For instance, Facebook ads can be targeted by ZIP codes and groups of interest; clients are charged only if and when an individual engages with the post or clicks through to a website. Any number of funds can be used and maximized, whether as low as $50 or as high as thousands of dollars. The strategy has worked. On our two most popular social media channels, we have 102,000 Twitter followers and 40,000 Facebook fans. We regularly get thousands of mentions every month on the social media sites.

Social media is web-based, so it is easily measured through counting the number of impressions, views, clicks, likes or loves a post gets. These examples are important as they indicate the number of people who potentially saw a post and took a moment to react to it. The total number of impressions—or potential audience and reach—for our social media posts is 53 million per month.

One of the most important social media measurements is the “mention,” which Upwell, a social media communications organization, defines as “the text inclusion of a monitored keyword in a post on a social media platform.” In other words, it is when someone tweets, retweets, posts, shares, comments, blogs, reblogs or board posts something about the city or a word to which assign a hashtag. Mentions indicate the number of people who chose to take an action to create or share content, better indicating the level of engagement. Rather than just looking at the post, mentions show the number of people who did something with it. In January 2013, the city averaged 180 mentions monthly. Today, the average is 2,321 mentions. Initially, our best tweets on Twitter averaged 10 retweets; the record is now more than 200.

Video has exploded as another way to communicate city messaging. Video posts on all social media channels are extremely popular, typically boosting the number of mentions three times or more compared with posts that simply show a photo or text. The city can produce videos at our government access TV station and post them in a timely way to the social media sites. This is a major boost to increase engagement. On Facebook alone, city video views each month have been as high as 300,000. When a video is seen frequently, new fans/followers are gained. In the past year alone, we have seen 1.5 million video views on our Facebook page. 

Las Vegas has built a strong following on varied social media platforms by working to develop trust among its followers/fans. Our digital media team has been nimble and quick to adjust to the rapidly changing technological environment. This level of responsiveness has added to the city’s reach.


Author: David Riggleman is director of communications for the City of Las Vegas, a position he has held since 1999.  His duties include oversight of media relations, social media, internet content, the government access television channel, publications, graphic design, and employee and emergency communications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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