04/19/17 — City government goes social

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City government goes social

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on April 19, 2017 9:57 AM

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Mark Weaver, left, with Communications Counsel, assists Goldsboro City Council members Antonio Williams and Gene Aycock in finding and using the streaming live video feature of Facebook during a city council social media training session at the City Hall annex Tuesday.

The Orlando Police Department tapped into social media as the fastest way to connect with people following the Pulse nightclub mass shooting last year.

And before news ever broke about the Lake Erie algae bloom that contaminated public water supplies in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, the city notified the public on Facebook.

Mark Weaver, with Communications Counsel, told city of Goldsboro staff and elected officials Tuesday that government should be tapping into social media as the fastest way to communicate with the public.

"Social media is not going away in our lifetime," said Weaver, also an adjunct professor for the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "If our residents are on social media, it's a tremendous channel for us to be on social media."

Weaver spent three hours training 28 city department directors and assistant directors, and tweeted a photo to his account during the session.

He also provided a shorter afternoon session for the Goldsboro City Council, and posted a Facebook Live feed, which he then deleted.

Not only did he talk about ways the city could ramp up its presence through one of the fastest-growing technologies today, he also offered legal advice and shared insight into the most widely used applications.

"Social media, of course, is changing every day, every hour and in some cases, every minute," he said. "And so our ability to communicate with people in Goldsboro is largely connected to our ability to know how they're using social media and how we can use it as well.

"People are already on social media, and so why wouldn't we be there? This is the fastest way to get news out. There's nothing faster. Absolutely, nothing faster than social media."

Weaver focused on the power of social media, especially during times of crisis during the council session.

"These channels can save lives, if we use them properly," Weaver said.

Weaver offered several reasons why city government should be engaged with the public on social media, and even more so than through the city's website.

Not many people actively seek out government websites, which are not updated frequently. But they are on social media daily.

"It's amazing we get anything done in America," Weaver said.

"The city web page is not the place for people to find information. The information there is rather stale. That's true with most web pages."

Reasons why city government should be using social media as a main source of daily information is because the majority of people are already using it, he said. It's the fastest way to get information out, it helps government identify and address inaccurate rumors, and it's the first place people go to for information.

"This is where people go to get information quickly," Weaver said.

Some of the trends and use of different social media platforms around the world show that Facebook is by far the most popular and most frequently used, Weaver said.

There are 1.6 billion users with an active presence on Facebook during a month's time. YouTube is the second most widely used, with more than 1 billion users having a presence on YouTube during a month's time, he said.

Growth since 2012 also shows that Facebook has the largest number of shared posts, 90.2 percent. Twitter is second, with 6.1 percent of shared posts, Weaver said.

"Even if you, personally, are not on Facebook, nearly everybody you know is," Weaver said. "I dare say, 90 percent of the people you know are using Facebook, even if you have personally decided it's not for you."

On Facebook, Facebook Live has the highest level of engagement with the public and is followed by video, photos and text, Weaver said.

Weaver encouraged city leaders to have employees use Facebook Live more frequently in an effort to increase communication with the public.

He also shared which types of content are the most interesting to the public. By far, animals and law enforcement in action or interacting with the public are the most widely viewed.

Also during the training, Weaver told the council that it needs to have a policy and social media strategy, which offers a roadmap for city use.

"It's the people who lack a policy who get into trouble," Weaver said.

The social media training, which cost the city $2,500, will offer some direction during efforts to update city policies regarding employee use, said Scott Stevens, city manager. The city's updated policy should be finished in May. From what officials learned Tuesday, Stevens said the policy is on target and will not need a lot of revamping.

In regard to legal issues, the council learned that its policy allowing employees First Amendment rights of free speech on their personal social media sites is supported by law.

Weaver shared information about a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which hears appeals from several states including North Carolina. The court upheld the right of free speech for public employees who post their views and opinions, including criticism of government, on their personal social media sites.

Council was also told that city officials have more control when it comes to the type of content used on the 11 social media accounts city departments use, Stevens said.

Six members of the city council, including the mayor, attended the afternoon session. Councilman Bevan Foster was absent.