Social media offers cities and towns the attraction of easy, instantaneous communication with constituents. But that connection goes both ways. Residents can use social media channels to bring questions and concerns to their local governments, often after hours and on weekends. Consequently, many local government social media communicators are still figuring out how to effectively plan and allocate staff resources to best handle the demands of social media on staff time and attention.
CJ Tamasco is the senior social media strategist for the University of South Carolina, which has a vast and multifaceted social media presence that unfolds across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In describing the purpose of the university's social media effort, she noted that it increasingly requires more than just a focus on reach or impressions — it needs engagement with the audiences too. When engagement — people responding to or interacting with posts — is not happening, she said, the social media platforms will reduce the likelihood that future posts from the university will be seen by social media users.
"That requires that we are online when they are online," Tamasco said, adding that those times are "often not between 8:30 and 5."
Tamasco said audiences often set expectations about responsiveness in accordance with their motivation for reaching out. Someone reaching out with a specific customer service issue, for example, would be looking for a faster response than someone who is simply looking to vent about a problem. Explaining how the difference in a person's motivations could work in municipal government, she said someone making contact about a water system emergency would be looking for a very fast response, while someone sending a message about the condition of a park restroom would likely be satisfied with an email response the next day.
The university's social media team is set up for monitoring and responding to readers as appropriate on weekends and holidays, something which is often not possible or easy for small organizations. Tamasco pointed to the need for establishing time when the person primarily responsible for social accounts is allowed to "unplug" from them and for that person to be willing to unplug.
"I take 'unplugging' very seriously," she said. "It's not checking in just to see what's up. It's not checking in because I'm curious. It's the discipline required when this is part of your everyday life."
Tamasco also cautioned against the temptation to make social media something that staff members can simply handle in their free time.
"I can't say enough about the importance of resourcing appropriately," she said. "If social media is a stake that someone wants to put in the ground, whether you're a tiny organization, a midlevel organization, or an organization the size of [the University of] South Carolina, the resources have to be there, or the results will not."
Social media responsiveness by the numbers
- The average response time for companies on Facebook is about 28 hours, but 85% of customers on Facebook expect a response in six hours (Source: Hubspot).
- The average response time for companies on Twitter is about 31 hours, but 64% of customers on Twitter expect a response within one hour (Source: Hubspot).
- Only 20.8% of U.S. internet users say that social media is the best channel for customer service, but 69% of U.S. residents say that messaging a company directly on social media makes them feel more confident about that brand (Source: Hootsuite).