Putting Social Media to Good Use

Today I’m honored to be presenting to a group of folks working (mainly) in local government communications, and I’m doing it in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators‘ fall conference. It’s a bit of a “back to the future” day for me, because I worked in government in St. Paul for about six years: partly at the Minnesota capitol, and partly as an assistant to a Ramsey County Commissioner. This gives me a lot in common with these folks, because I’ve been in their shoes (although it was in the pre-Web days.) So I’m looking forward to a great discussion.

If you want to join the discussion, we will be using the #magc hashtag.

Blogs in City and County Government

At the ALI Social Media Summit, we heard from Jeremy Lasich, the Deputy Director for Communications for Fairfax County, VA.

This was especially timely for me, since I am presenting Wednesday at the Illinois City/County Management Association’s Summer conference, at a pre-conference workshop entitled: “Everything Local Government Officials Need to Know about Blogs and Social Media.”

One of the stories Jeremy shared was about the wife of a Fairfax County school administrator ranted at a student who had called her husband at home complaining about his decision not to call a “snow day.” That story got widespread attention in the blogs, and also significant news media attention, including from ABC News on its World News webcast and from Good Morning America, along with the Washington Post.

Fairfax County has a Facebook group, a MySpace page and a YouTube channel.

I asked Jeremy to share some thoughts for the ICLMA group, and here’s what he had to say:


Two issues they have so far:

  • Their IT department won’t let most county employees access these sites from their work computers.
  • Their legal department has not allowed public comments on these sites because of First Amendment issues, that if these are “official” government sites they could get in trouble if they censor or delete any comments. This doesn’t seem to be a permanent policy, but the County Attorney is at least concerned enough about it that they haven’t turned on the commenting features on these official social media sites.

At the ALI conference on Wednesday they also will be hearing from Mayor Bill Gentes of Round Lake, IL. Bill’s blog is another one the ILCMA will find interesting. I heard Bill speak just over a year ago at another ALI conference, and he was quite enthusiastic about the benefits that had come from his blogging. His blog and the story behind it is among those featured in this American City & County article.

Here is a blog from the Rockford, Mich. City Manager, and here’s an article from the Boston Globe about city government blogs. That article points out some mayoral blogs that have gone to seed, with no posts in several months. One key point to remember if you’re planning to start a blog is that most of them that fail don’t do so because of some controversy that caused them to be pulled down, but rather from slowly withering away from neglect.

I think combining a YouTube channel with a blog is a great way to make blogs both easier to maintain and more authentic. When you see someone talking on a video blog, and you can see that he or she clearly isn’t reading but is instead talking from the heart, it’s a great way to avoid being flogged for running a ghost-written flog.

I will update this post later to include my slides.

Meanwhile, if anyone has questions about local government and social media, please add them in the comments, and we will discuss them during the presentation and beyond.

This is a post I did as part of a SMUG Extension Class.

Update: Here are the slides from yesterday’s presentation.