Governments have always been challenged to communicate, explain, discuss, and connect to their constituents.
The advent of social media and demise of traditional print media have intensified this challenge. Not too many years ago, governments at all levels were served by professional journalists who roamed city hall looking for stories, investigating tips, studying, and then reporting on complex stories. It is a rare event when I have an opportunity to engage one-on-one with a journalist, other than for a 30-second soundbite on whatever may be that day’s controversy.
So how can governments best harness the power of social media? The answer is emerging and changing by the week. The aspect of social media I am most concerned about is the absence of facts. If so many people claim to get their news from social media, how are they to separate fact from opinion?
In Lakewood City Hall, increasing efforts are being made to monitor conversations and inject facts as we know them to improve the quality of discourse. City Hall managers—some more than others—keep a wary eye on some discussions. One public information officer spends a significant part of her time following and ensuring effective responses to social media posts. Judgments are made, as has always been the case in communications.
The City of Lakewood has its official social media vehicles — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram accounts. Others will emerge and the City will continue to utilize them.
I have grown very fond of the famous words of former New York Senator Patrick Moynihan. He said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Those in City Hall’s leadership often take to social media to correct misunderstandings, misstatements, or erroneous “facts”, and I would always encourage them to do so. When employees participate in these conversations, they participate as citizens who bring their own individual experiences and knowledge to bear on a conversation. They do not convey any official or sponsored message of my administration.
To engage in social media, one has to keep an eye on it. This goes for those who present the City’s official social media messages, and it goes for employees who post as citizens. City Hall policies permit these reasonable efforts to communicate and I foresee that continuing well into the future.