Marketers are instinctively curious about how different industries in the private sector use social media (See earlier posts about event planners, law firms, etc.). However, it can also be extremely beneficial to take a look at what our colleagues in the public sector are doing, as well.
For example, researchers at the University of Illinois recently ranked big city governments on their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube performance, and the results are quite intriguing. When the researchers compared 2009 data with findings from March through May of 2011, they noted several significant shifts, including:
- A 62 percent increase in the number of cities that have Twitter accounts –from 25 percent in 2009 to a whopping 87 percent in 2011.
- An even greater surge in the big city Facebook accounts, from 13 to 87 percent.
- A 16 percent jump in YouTube use. Three out of four (75 percent ) of the city websites analyzed now include YouTube links.
Of the 75 cities in the study, New York City and Seattle lead all others in social media usage, followed by Virginia Beach, Portland (OR), San Francisco and Kansas City (MO). Chicago, where the research was conducted, came in 17th (tied with San Diego and Minneapolis), and Toledo finished last. In addition, 12 of the cities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., provide open data portals on their sites, repositories for such information as crime statistics, document requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, budget details, information on vacant land and so forth.
The cities embracing social media use the sites primarily to promote transparency, provide information on topics such as budget and economic development initiatives, and invite public engagement. In terms of the latter, a number of city governments allow constituents to comment on blog posts and other social networks and encourage them to make suggestions, voice concerns and keep informed on neighborhood or citywide issues. Among the more creative applications include Chicago’s use of Twitter to solicit budget input and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s “Talk to Greg” Facebook and Twitter chats.
“First-place winners in New York and Chicago addressed traffic and parking,” Karen Mossberger, head of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s public administration graduate program, said. “But in Chicago, another winning app allowed residents to contribute ideas for a park. Other apps have been designed to track lobbyists in Chicago.”
Considering that we often think of government entities as slow moving bureaucracies, I find it noteworthy that many of the cities in this report are miles ahead of big business when it comes to employing social media, and that they got to this point in a relatively short period of time. These cities are using online channels to communicate, improve public relations and enhance “customer service,” and businesses would be wise to follow their example. After all, if New York City is willing to reach out for and then manage residents’ online feedback, can’t your company do the same?