How This Arizona City Gets More ‘Social’ With Residents
By Tammy Vo, M.B.A.
Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who wasn’t paying attention or who refused to engage in the dialogue? Being stonewalled is frustrating and annoying because you feel you aren’t being heard. Conversations on social media aren’t any different.
Communications professionals who work for local governments have a responsibility to make sure their residents feel heard. As digital communications director for the City of Goodyear, Ariz., I sometimes hear that other local cities reject social media communication. But social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are valuable tools to inform, educate and engage with residents.
Social media takes work but, as PR pros, we do the public and our organizations a disservice when we don’t communicate through these interactive sites. We learn a lot about our residents by engaging with them on social media. It wasn’t always this way at the city of Goodyear. Our digital communications department has been transformed in the past four years.
When I joined the city in October 2018 as the department’s first director, the department had been a division within the City Manager’s Office. There were five staff members, and only one person managed social media.
At the time, typical city communications were limited to news releases, a monthly magazine, a weekly internal email to city staff and the occasional social media post. Our staff didn’t interact directly with residents very often. Boy, has that changed.
Responding to residents
When serving the public, we must embrace change. Our team wants to meet people where they are. Fewer residents are picking up the phone to call us with questions or comments — or even sending emails, for that matter. Increasingly, they’re using social media to connect with us, offering an incredible opportunity to interact with our residents in real-time.
Not only do we share important city news and updates as they happen, but we also reply as quickly as possible to resident comments and questions. Residents feel heard, not like they’re shouting into a void.
According to Sprout Social, between 2020 and 2021, there was a 110% increase in consumers who said social messaging is their preferred way to ask questions and resolve customer service issues. Businesses agreed that social media is the primary way they connect with customers.
We strongly believe that social media applies as a primary communications tool for local governments too, a conclusion that our own data supports. In fiscal year 2022, we saw a 60.8% increase in the number of comments and direct messages that we received on the city’s social media accounts, compared to fiscal year 2021 — from 12,130 to 19,510. That number continues to increase in the first quarter of fiscal year 2023.
Creating a two-way dialogue
In today’s digital, always-connected world, people expect instant, meaningful interaction from organizations via social media. The city of Goodyear’s digital communications department has become a customer-service powerhouse, thanks to support from the Goodyear City Council and city leadership.
Today, Digital Communications is its own department with a team of nine employees. We have broadened our social media efforts. Everyone on the team is expected to contribute timely, engaging and relevant content on a weekly basis. We check in with one another daily to plan our social media posts down to the hour, ensuring that our content reaches audiences at optimal times.
We also pay close attention to comments and direct messages we receive from residents on social media. Together, the members of our digital communications team are responsible for responding to every comment we receive on social media, good or bad. Our goal is to respond as quickly as possible, within 24 hours.
Since we recently started tracking our social media responses, we discovered that our average response rate is 99%. With help from social media-tracking software, each team member can filter through thousands of comments per month via a tagging system, so no comment is swept aside by the continuous influx of new comments.
Our shift toward social media communication has created new expectations and more work for our staff. They often have to contact other departments to find answers to our residents’ questions. Doing so takes time and effort for us, but it’s worth it. Every day, we learn a little more about the subjects that we research.
The continued growth of our social media accounts shows that people like being heard. Between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2022, the number of our social media followers has increased by 321%. Our social media engagement rate has more than doubled, from 3.4% to 7.9% — extremely positive growth according to industry experts cited by Hootsuite.
In addition, our comments and direct messages have increased by 418%, while our number of responses has risen by 201%.
Adopting social media as a primary communications tool didn’t happen overnight for us. To see if we’re doing it right, we’ve leaned on technology to develop workflows and track data. We’ve pushed for funding and resources to handle the increased workload, aware that this is a team effort.
For your social media strategy to succeed, it’s vital to secure support from your organization’s leadership. Encourage employees to be active ambassadors by sharing company posts on their own social media accounts.
Develop a strategy for your social media content. What does your community need to know? How often can you post and what’s your plan for responding to comments and direct messages?
To make the most of your social media efforts, dive into the data. Subscribe to a social media-tracking platform that shows whether your content is working and if your responses to follower comments are effective.
The ways that people get their information are ever-changing. But communication should always be a two-way conversation. No one wants to feel they’re not being heard.