Social Media’s Role in Local Government Operations

Eric Rabe will serve as presenter and seminar facilitator at the upcoming Congress of Cities and Exposition seminar, “The Rise of Social Government,” on Novemember 29 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Office of the Mayor in Chicago uses social media tools to host virtual town hall events and gather public reaction to budget proposals.  In the much smaller city of Arvada, CO residents need only turn to their smart-phone applications to flag a service need to the city’s 311 department.  In Boston, public sector employees are deploying an online blog tool and publishing platform to help streamline project management and improve internal communications for government projects.  In Santa Clarita, CA, city staffers are harnessing the location-based social media application, FourSquare, to drive increased attendance to the city’s community events on Main Street.

As with the rise of the personal computer, mobile phones and the Internet, the ascent of social media is historic and transforming the way people think, behave and communicate. In few other places is this transformation more revolutionary than in the implementation of social media in government administration.

Not only are local governments utilizing social media more than ever before, but governments are now employing social media in a way that meets core operational goals far beyond more traditional communications and marketing tactics.  In an increasing number of communities, social media is becoming fundamental to the very notion of ‘government,’ and it is helping cities and agencies provide new or improved government services more and more frequently.


Yet best-in-class cities recognize the need to plan carefully and set objectives before jumping on to the latest social media hot site.  “Don’t get distracted by the shiny new technology in the room,” says Kevin Hauswirth, director of social media, City of Chicago’s Office of Mayor Emanuel.  Instead, the following five steps can help to serve as a guide as cities expand or create new social media channels:


·         Take the time to clearly identify your city’s objectives.

·         Listen to the social media conversation in order to discover where your city or mayor is already being talked about online and by whom.

·         Critically evaluate how any new social media applications will help meet the desired objectives. 

·         Carefully and realistically assess resources to determine if both the staff time and funding are available to launch and maintain the new social media program.

·         Finally, be sure to reach out to peer cities and conduct research about the new technology or channels being considered for your city or agency.


 As social media adoption continues to increase, the integration of social media tools into core government operations will become even more prevalent.  Successful cities and agencies will be those that act with thoughtfulness and plan carefully.

Eric Rabe is Senior Advisor of Fels Research and Consulting, at the Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania.

Details: Learn more about this and the full set of Leadership Training Seminars being offered at the upcoming Congress of Cities and Exposition. For questions, contact Laura Lanford.  

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