Category Archives: Gov 2.0

Where’s my reach?

The death of the organic Facebook reach is obviously something digital communicators and marketers are watching closely, and not really sure what to do about. I am definitely one of the masses.

While the big companies can pony up the money to “pay to play,” that is simply not the case with government communicators. Budgets have shrunk [or continued to shrink], meaning even less money available for paid marketing, especially online marketing.

Even if government entities do pay to push more of their content to their followers, the ugly cries of “wasteful government spending” sound. Again, that is if there is even money available.

Herein is the double-edged sword — residents don’t want their governments to spend tax dollars ineffectively, inefficiently and wastefully, but they want — and need — to be informed. What’s a government to do?

For many, it has taken years to build a decent following. Personally, it’s taken three years to grow our page by 1,000 to 5,723 fans. Then it becomes very disheartening to see text-only posts reach five to 10 percent of your fanbase — even down to less than one percent for some post types!

So what are we going to do? Take a good, hard look at our social media. From there? I’m not really sure. Twitter will likely get more focus. It’s possible we may look into diversifying our “social portfolio,” and work more in LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

One of the best ways to combat this is through direct emails. But even there you need be careful to not spam and over-email subscribers to cause them to unsubscribe.

Facebook is already hemorrhaging younger users. Are brands next to ditch Facebook? Only time will tell.


This week, NASA launched its Instagram account. But does government have a place on Instagram?

Good question. I think it does. There is always a place for government, on all platforms. Government has a unique story to tell, one that is too often overlooked, especially at the local level. Just the word “government” gets some bad flack (generally thanks to the federal level).

Social media is a great way to show residents how their tax dollars are being used. Just looking around, we’ve got so much opportunity to share the government story. From public works filling potholes and plowing roads, to police and fire doing community outreach, and parks and recreation. And even getting those unusual or “behind the scenes” look at the inner workings of local government. (Most) local governments work very hard to make sure tax dollars are being appropriately, effectively and efficiently used. Let’s show that, not tell it.

I’ve had a hard time finding local/city government who have dabbled on Instagram. The U.S. Department of the Interior is doing an awesome job on Instagram, showcasing the country’s National Parks. Here’s a cool example of “behind the scenes.”

As with adding any new communications platform, government have another conundrum: who will manage the site? Depending on the platform, social media costs time and money. The more you invest in it, I believe the more resident will get out of it. With 150 million active monthly users, I think Instagram is the place to be to share photos.

There is a lot of potential for local governments here. I hope more take advantage of it.

The Thin Line Between Free Speech and Censorship

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about online public forums, free speech and civility. The gist of the article is that, while providing an online public forum for residents to provide feedback for their City government, the site drew a lot of snarky comments, some of which could be considered uncivil.

As a local government, we always hope online conversations about controversial issues remain respectful, civil and constructive; however, we realize others will use it as a platform on which to rant and complain. With any online forum, I think that’s to be expected. Those who are regular users of the internet expect these kinds of comments, too, classify them as “trolls,” and ignore them. It’s something that often tends to self-moderate from my experience. What we didn’t expect what that a conversation would get out of hand so quickly.

The conversation, which started as civil, was turned upside down by a few people with a multitude of complaints and another hiding behind dozens of aliases to heckle and “gang-up” on others. The comments, most of which were unwelcoming to new visitors, put off those who could have provided good feedback in fear of being mocked or ridiculed.

As soon as I posted a response on all three threads reminding users to “keep this space welcoming to everyone and their ideas,” and to “keep comments respectful, constructive and on-topic,” the conversation was swiftly cut-off.

City government and communicators in the public sector have an interesting dilemma. Where is the line between free speech and censorship? Unfortunately, I don’t think it that easy to identify.

As part of my City’s social media policy, we reserve the right to remove comments for a myriad of reasons, such as offensive or vulgar language, personal attacks on staff members or members of the public, political endorsements or commercial advertisements. Most of those are pretty easy to spot, but not so much offensiveness.

Identifying an offensive post is fairly subjective. I came across this with comment on a City blog. While one staff member thought it was an offensive post and a “clearly pornographic metaphor,” I disagreed. While it was in poor taste, I didn’t particularly think it was offensive. Then the big question — do we remove it or leave it?

I wish there was an easy answer to that question. In an effort to retain transparency, and keep first amendment watch dogs from calling government censorship, I opted to leave the comment. Was that the best decision? I don’t know.

As part of our practice, before a comment or post is removed for any reason, we take a screen shot of the comment and save it so there is record of the comment. A comment is posted in its place once the original has been removed, stating that a comment has been removed and for what reason. Until recently, this hasn’t been much of an issue, nor do I foresee it becoming any larger of one.

But, it’s like I said in my interview. The sentiments of comments received really depend on the topic at hand. If we were asking what a city should do with its parks for example, I think we would get a lot of positive comments. If we ask what a city should do about the huge increase in residential redevelopments, like we did, you could see comments from all points of view.

In the article, the City Manager said, “They were lamenting, ‘Don’t you think the city is obligated to police it a bit so it fulfills the function you set it up for?’ While I’m sympathetic to that opinion, the government telling you that your speech is unwelcome because it is argumentative seems like a slippery slope.” I agree wholeheartedly.

While not necessarily new to my City, Gov 2.0 and social media are still relatively new and scary to many local governments, opting to disengage instead of using it to the best of its abilities.

So what is government’s role in self-created online public forums? I think we are still trying to figure that out. It will be interesting to see how the role of social media and how online communications affects governments over the coming months and years, especially as the public becomes more critical of government spending and staffers are seeing shrinking budgets.

So, what’s the general rule of thumb? I’d leave it unless it explicitly violates the policy, such as threatening or vulgar comments. But that’s just my opinion.

Are other government agencies seeing this problem? What are they doing about it?

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