Category Archives: Government Communications

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.

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Reblog: Public Relations and Local Governments

Reblog of a guest post I wrote for the Minnesota PRSA Perspective Blog.

While I was sitting in PR classes and going on agency tours with the campus PRSSA group, I dreamt of working in an agency. Everything about it seemed fast-paced, diverse and exciting. Now, I am nearly three years post-graduation, and my career has taken a much different route than the one I imagined.

Generally, when you think of government, what comes to mind? Terms like “slow,” “old-fashioned,” “out of touch,” and “non-transparent” are usually thrown around. It’s not exactly where most people want to start – and continue – their careers.

I came into my communications internship at the City of Edina in 2010 with those same perceptions. I quickly came to find, at least on the communications side, that the work reflected that of a PR agency than that of a stereotypical government department. I really enjoyed my time as an intern and was lucky to be hired full-time when a position became available a few months after my internship ended.

The City’s Communications Division, and the City itself, is quite unique. The City not only operates as a normal government, but also runs ‘enterprise facilities,’ which are entities meant to run like businesses, such as Edina Liquor, Centennial Lakes Park, Edinborough Park, Braemar Golf Course and other golf operations, Braemar Arena, Edina Senior Center, Edina Art Center and the Edina Aquatic Center.

This is what makes it fun. Not only do we work with the City and individual departments, but we also work closely with the enterprise facilities. The Communications division, in which I work, serves as in in-house firm and oversees the City’s communications, marketing, media and public relations, advertising and video production for the City, its public safety and enterprise facilities.

While in a different setting, we still do all the same things mainstream PR professionals do: write stories, pitch to the media, plan events, update social media and website, etc. However, we have a few wrenches thrown into the mix.

One of the biggest roadblocks we run into is tight budgets. Our internal clients don’t have the budgets of the companies that use a traditional PR agency. We must be creative and strategic in our planning and execution to get the best bang for our buck. It’s not easy to do $1,000 worth of work on $100.

Secondly, residents expect news that affects them in real-time. This is a challenge across the board. Though, this seems to have emerged as a new trend in government communications. We are always looking into new technologies and tactics to get the message out as quickly and accurately as possible to as many residents and we can, again, on a budget. Add the need for transparency into the mix, and we have an interesting concoction.

I love what I do and am very proud of our work, from our article writing and website to our graphic design and video production. We have been nominated for more than a dozen regional Emmys and won once. We have also won many awards from the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC), the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC), and from the City-County Communications & Marketing Association (3CMA). These awards, coupled with recent resident quality of life surveys, tell us we are succeeding at our goals of producing high-quality work and keeping residents informed.

For new professionals, recent grads and current students, I encourage you to consider government communications as a career. You’d be surprise how an internship can change your perceptions, and even your career path. I hope that you would find the experience as fulfilling as I have.

The City of Edina offers a communications internship and a video production internship three times a year – winter/spring, summer and fall/winter. Keep an eye on www.EdinaMN.gov/jobs for openings.

InstaGov

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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