Cities and towns are accelerating their adoption of social media as a communications tool, and the panel at a social media session during the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting showed how this can involve many people involving the city’s leadership and staff.
The panel featured Newberry Mayor Foster Senn, whose Twitter account works alongside all the City of Newberry channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Christopher George, meanwhile, serves as communications manager for the City of Spartanburg (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram); and Shawn Bell serves as city administrator, complete with social media duties, for the City of Fountain Inn (Facebook).
Over time in Spartanburg, George said, “social media has become, without a doubt, our number-one way of reaching people.”
He said the original build-up of the audience occurred around 2012.
"We were very keen on pushing downtown development at a time when it [social media] was really just getting started for us," he said. "The local media wasn’t paying quite as much attention to it. They are now."
George added that business development may have gotten the audience subscribed, but they are now engaged in communication on other topics. Spartanburg routinely gets thousands of views for city council meetings on Facebook Live.
In Newberry, Senn’s use of Twitter is not unusual for an elected official. Pushing out information, he said, promotes transparency and helps residents to be informed.
"They want to know about their town, they want to know that they’re a part of it. If they’re informed, they feel more a part of it," he said.
Social media channels now do much of the heavy lifting for special event promotion, and Bell drew attention to Fountain Inn’s Facebook promotions of its Saturday farmers market, Fourth of July celebration Christmas events and Coffee with Council gatherings. He also uses it to promote Ask the Administrator sessions, a quarterly appointment for Bell to answer questions on Facebook for a couple of hours on a Thursday evening.
Social media is a two-way communications tool. The panel discussed the careful and thoughtful responses to negative posts, and addressing those posts that are blatantly abusive of profane after documenting them, as social media is subject to the SC Freedom of Information Act.