Engaging residents through social media

With social media, the goal is no longer just who you know (or friend or follow), it's all about how you engage them. In its early forms, social media was often used as merely a one-way communication tool to push information out from a city to its residents. Posting meeting announcements on Facebook or using Twitter to route drivers around a wreck were early uses of social media in local government.

While dozens of South Carolina cities and towns have launched a social media presence in recent years, several cities have found especially creative ways to strategically engage residents through social media beyond just sending them information.

During the 2014 holiday season, Mount Pleasant used a combination of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to engage residents in its "official holiday weekend." People attending the annual Christmas parade got to vote for the "people's choice" float award using the hashtag of #votethefloatmp.

Twitter voting 


According to Mount Pleasant's Assistant Administrator Katherine Brackett, the contest was a really easy way to engage people beyond just attending the parade. "We just counted the votes cast on all of the social media sites and determined the winner," she said.

Several of the float participants also got in on the social media action by promoting their businesses' floats on Instagram and Facebook by "campaigning" for votes before the parade. The Mount Pleasant Sticky Fingers restaurant posted "preview" photos on the town's Facebook page of its float being built, while the Vanity Salon staff used Instagram to let people know their float number and ask for votes.

The town used another hashtag, #MPHolidayMagic, to engage people in its holiday movie under the stars and its holiday market and craft show. All the social media activity ultimately drove visitors to the city's highly interactive website.

The City of Greenwood is using a wide-ranging social media strategy to drive visitors to the city's website, specifically its calendar page.

"We launched the Minute with the Mayor videos in October 2013, and one of his most recent messages has been viewed well over 2,000 times," says City Manager Charlie Barrineau, who manages the city's social media presence. "It has been the perfect way for the city to reach young professionals. His messages, many times delivered in a comical manner, show the city as hip and progressive. We have had great success using his message to promote city events."

Minute with the Mayor video 


The city uses a combination of Twitter (both the city's account and the mayor's account), Facebook and Instagram to promote the video and ultimately drive people to the city's online calendar.

In Woodruff, City Manager Stephanie Tillerson hosts a weekly Facebook chat to interact with people who have questions or concerns about city programs and services. She stays online from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and responds to Facebook inquiries as diverse as parking problems to holiday trash pick-up schedules. 

Woodruff Facebook chat 


"The great thing I didn't consider is the fact that people start communicating with each other," Tillerson said. "For a small town with no local paper, you have to get creative, and this is working really well."

Last January, the City of Columbia launched a photography contest using social media to bring attention to the work of local photographers. Using the hashtag #LoveColumbia, more than 300 people used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to enter their photographs that illustrated what they love about Columbia.

A panel of local artists judged the photographs picking a winner from each social media platform. The three winning photographs were displayed in a downtown art gallery for three months and now hang in City Hall.

In addition to bringing attention to local artists and promoting the city's social media presence, the project also was recognized by the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce as a finalist for the 2014 Palmetto Pillar Award in the category of Public Service and the Arts.

"All of these examples illustrate that taking the time to strategize about these social media tools rather than just posting randomly is a great way to shore up the city's ability to communicate with residents and businesses," says Reba Campbell, deputy director of the Municipal Association who manages social media for the Association. "Social media shouldn't be done in a vacuum. It's got to be part of a bigger communication strategy."