Make being in touch with your constituents your new year’s resolution

Happy new year!

Advances in technology make things more efficient, affordable and accessible. This is something of a obvious statement that’s been clear for the last two hundred years or so, but it bears repeating. We have better methods of tax collection, project management, elections preparation, but most are still lacking in constituent communications modernization. I know, you have a Facebook page. Great. What do you post? Do you monitor it? Do you get feedback? Is Facebook the extent of the interactions with your residents? Do you know how much you’re missing by not using other tools?

We already know how different local government is from the federal government, so for the most part we’ll leave much of the federal government media discussion at the door. We also need to recognize the separation between technology and communications. Remember, you can have all the tools in place but they won’t help you if you don’t know what to do with them.

Don’t assume that your IT staff will have the capability to monitor and respond to social media just because it happens over the computer.

This year I’ll be exploring and writing about creation and use of mobile apps, virtual town hall meetings and live video streaming, uses of QR codes, 311 type systems, and constituent interactions on Facebook and Twitter by talking to government officials and staff who have used these tools with success. (Are you up for reelection this year? Hint, hint!) Here’s a great primer on local government mobile apps from GovLoop.* It’s a year and a half old, but it actually makes a perfect reference point for starting 2012.

If you’re like me, you spent the past few weeks reading list after list of “Top ten cool social media things of 2011″ and the current crop of “Top ten social media trends of 2012″ lists. Now, you may be wondering how to adapt them to fit your department’s and constituents’ needs. I certainly have. Just about all of them speak to the general public and the private sector. It’s interesting to watch how quickly communications technology changes for the better, and then watch as local government steers clear of some of it.

I spent nearly a decade traveling around the country communicating with county governments. Some counties didn’t have web sites, officials didn’t use e-mail, and long distance business calls were frowned upon. This was 2003. I’m glad to see than nearly all of that has changed. We’ve got almost everyone covered with the basics by now.

The Internet is here and accessible. It costs little to nothing. It is host to a growing array of media and marketing tools. Are you using it effectively?

Keep in mind that for any of these tools to really work, feedback isn’t just welcome, it’s necessary. Leave your comments and questions on this post, or contact us directly with questions about your plans.

~emily

*Full disclosure: I will be writing about social media and local government for GovLoop this year. Although I had nothing to do with the piece I linked to, I think it has a great amount of information.

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