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Influence of Social Media on the Public Sector

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

By Elizabeth N. Fretwell 
April 29, 2016

icon-set-1175042_640In the last three years, the city of Las Vegas’ emphasis on social media has grown significantly. Social media is so attractive as a means of communication because it allows the city to talk directly with a growing number of followers. In the past, most communication with the public required the help of a third-party media outlet. The city can now communicate one-on-one with its followers and easily track their interests and engagement.

Strategy

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 also throughout the state. The growth of the city’s social media channels was a direct result of a strategy to increase engagement through sharing and responding. By maintaining a quick response rate to the hundreds of comments each month, the city team has built trust among followers as they rely on the city for information and share their opinions on topics like neighborhood meetings, City Council agenda items and more. The idea is to let followers know the city staff is made up of professional people, not a group of nameless, faceless bureaucrats. This means regularly providing information and responses outside the normal business hours of City Hall.

Other ways of building public trust include striving to present 50 percent of the content that is shared from followers. Also, the city not only talks about itself but promotes all that the community has to offer. This helps keep the content fresh, interesting and pertinent to the followers.

The city uses nine social media channels to touch a wide range of people and increase the reach to a broad demographic. Those channels include:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat
  • LinkedIn
  • Next Door
  • Google Plus 

Another way the city increased its reach through social media is via paid advertising. Social media ads cost much less than traditional ad placement, despite the same or greater potential reach. For instance, Facebook ads can be targeted by ZIP code and groups of interest and clients are charged only if and when an individual engages with the post or clicks through to a website. Any amount of funds can be used and maximized, whether as low as $50 or as high as thousands of dollars.

Results

The strategy has worked. On the two most popular social media channels, the city now has 83,000 Twitter followers and nearly 30,000 Facebook fans. The city regularly gets thousands of mentions every month on the nine different social media sites.

Since social media is Web-based, it is easily measured through counting the number of impressions, views, clicks, likes or loves a post receives on the various channels. These examples are important because they indicate the number of people who potentially saw a post and took a moment to “like” it. The total number of impressions, or the potential audience (reach), for the city’s social media posts is about 53 million per month!

However, one of the most important measuring tools in social media is the mention. A mention is defined by Upwell, a social media communications organization, 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 we have assigned 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. So rather than just looking at the post, mentions show the number of people who did something with that post.

In January 2013, the city averaged 180 mentions per month. Today, the average is 2,150 mentions each month. Initially our best tweets on Twitter averaged about 10 retweets; now the record is more than 200.

Video also has exploded as a way to communicate city messaging. In fact, 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 has the ability to produce videos at the city’s government access TV station and post them in a timely way to the city’s social media sites. This is a major boost in the effort to increase engagement. On Facebook alone, city video views each month have been as high 300,000. When a video is seen frequently, new fans/followers are also gained.

Conclusion

The city has been able to build a strong following on the various social media platforms by working to develop trust among its followers/fans. In addition, the city’s digital media team within the Office of Communications has been nimble and quick to adjust to the rapidly changing social media environment. Like all technology-based tools, social media is evolving all the time. The city team has been fast at recognizing these trends and flexible in making changes where needed. This level of responsiveness has added to the city’s reach on social media.


Author: Elizabeth N. (Betsy) Fretwell is the city manager for Las Vegas, Nevada.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

2 Responses to Influence of Social Media on the Public Sector

  1. Pingback: PA News : 4/05/2016 | IIAS Knowledge Portal on Public Administration

  2. Arthur Morin Reply

    April 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Great example of what cities can do to ‘connect’ with their constituents. This short, well-written article shows (once again) that the public sector can be innovative.

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