From Kim Schaefer, CPA:
While researching the myriad ways in which government entities communicate with the people they serve, we decided to see how many have turned to what we consider the newest social media storm, Twitter. Although Twitter has been in existence for a little over three years now, it has really started picking up steam. According to comScore in June 2009, Twitter surpassed all other social media outlets in unique visitor growth at 2,681%. While Facebook racked up a significantly larger increase in unique visitors, at these growth rates, Twitter is sure to catch up soon.
We should note that we decided to narrow our research down to organizations within the United States for now. According to the USGS, there are 3,141 county and county equivalents in the United States and the District of Columbia; ² and the US Census Bureau has the number of incorporated places at 19,355, which includes cities, towns, and boroughs. Of these, 44 counties and 96 cities and towns are using Twitter. This does not include agencies such as visitors’ bureaus or emergency management departments, fire and police departments, or public officials. The goal of our research was to look specifically at the cities and counties that are using Twitter to communicate; to see how they are using it, the messages they are posting, and to try to understand their goals for using the social media site. We also checked the actual population from the 2000 census as we were conducting our research. In many cases this is much lower than current estimates, but we were most interested in determining whether there was any correlation between the size of the city and the likelihood that they were using social media. It is interesting to note that there is no noticeable relationship. Cities range from Remington, VA with a 2000 population of 624 to Philadelphia, PA with a 2000 population of 1,517,550.
Of the 96 cities we found using Twitter, two of them, San Francisco and Albuquerque, were using Twitter for 311 Service. The remainder post news feeds and city events. We post our list of weekly favorites every Friday with the Twitter #FollowFriday hashtag. Two of the cities, which are noted in the list below, have protected their updates. We found this to be a bit unusual given the transparency and sunshine laws effective in most states. Permission to view their updates was not requested, so we are not sure if it would have been granted or not.
We contacted a number of cities to determine whether they have established objectives for their use of Twitter. Lawrence, KS, @lawrenceks, responded that they do have established policies, which you can tell from their feed. It is consistent with links to the news archives of their web site; tweets about other Twitter accounts or web sites that may be of interest to locals, such as @TopekaMetroKDOT, @lawrencelibrary, and http://lawrencetransit.org/; and responses to citizen’s questions.
San Francisco’s @SF311 came on-line on June 2, 2009. @fasttrackgov asked one of the Twitter support reps whether the SF311 site was integrated with any of their back office systems, or if there were any costs associated with the establishment of @SF311. The city responded that since Twitter is a free service, there have been no costs to the city of establishing the service and it is not integrated with the back office systems.
Albuquerque’s @cabq came on-line on June 26, 2009 with this feed: CABQ 311 is now available @cabq! DM or @ us your questions, requests for service, or pics of problems. We’ll write back ASAP. http://www.cabq.gov/8:17 AM Jun 26th from web.
As far as we could tell, none of the 44 counties we researched is using Twitter for 311 Service or dedicated two-way communication with their constituents. Many of the counties are using the site to post interesting information combined with news about the county. Road closings, construction projects, and crime topped the list for news.
The utilization of Twitter by more cities and counties for citizen communications and for 311 Service is certainly expected to be seen in the future. The explosion of Gov 2.0 has both positive and negative aspects. Positively, it provides innumerable ways to rapidly disseminate information, the ability for others to spread your message for you, and a low-cost medium for communicating. Negatively, you have no control over what is being said about you by others, whether it is good or bad. Governments can follow the lead of major corporations and monitor their “brand” by establishing their own Twitter account. This is a way of following what their constituents are saying and keeping their thumb on the pulse of the community. With the current fiscal crisis faced by many, a free service that can help you distribute information to your constituents, immediately find out what they are thinking, and converse with them (in transmissions limited to 140 characters or less) can be a very beneficial tool.
¹ “Facebook Overtakes MySpace”, JUNE 18, 2009 http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1007145
² Source: United States Geological Survey. URL: http://gnis.usgs.gov/
³ Many thanks to GovTwit, which is an excellent source of Twitter information regarding all things government. All of the organizations listed above are not listed in the GovTwit Directory. If you would like to be listed, please tweet @GovTwit.
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