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Voices. Knowledge. Solutions.

Spreading the Word: Cities Communicate Services, Finances, Planning

In a world now full of trending social media posts, scrolls and stories, trying to get residents to pay attention to the latest information about a city’s sewer improvements can be challenging at best.

Many cities are using all of the media platforms at their disposal, from social media to video to printed newsletters, to get their messages to residents about everything from events and what’s new in recreation to where work is being done on sewer lines.

Goose Creek interview
Adam Kelly, Goose Creek's marketing, branding and design assistant, interviews Crystal Reed, the city's recreation director, at Central Creek Park. Photo: City of Goose Creek.

The City of Goose Creek is one of several cities that have found a sweet spot of engaging their audiences while getting essential information to residents.

The city’s video series "This Week in the Creek" offers a news-program-style presentation spotlighting local successes from student achievements to fire department milestones.

Led by Adam Kelly, the city’s marketing, branding and design assistant, the series and other social media posts help bring in younger audiences with Instagram and TikTok.

Kelly said much of his inspiration comes from watching other content.

“If you want to create this fun content, you've got to know what is happening right now,” he said. “You have to be the one that's watching. Do you see one video then you scroll, and you see tons of people doing the exact same thing, and the date is within the last week? Then that is something that is currently trending. But then I have to then decide whether or not that is appropriate and workable for the city.”

He also follows the social media accounts of other cities to see what they are doing. One recent series of posts he did for the city’s parks department was inspired by another city. 

The social media team for the parks and recreation department in Mansfield, Texas, used the excitement around the July opening of the “Barbie” movie to showcase different facilities around town.

“They took [the Barbies] to different parks and playgrounds doing things and dressed up, but had them really close up,” Kelly said of the campaign. “And it was like, ‘This Barbie is doing this at this park.’ So, I took my interns and we executed the idea as well.”

Kelly said he has the trust of his departments now when he calls with ideas about how to spotlight their employees or their news, but it took time to build that rapport.

“It's taken me a year to build relationships with our public works team, our fire team, to let them know, what I do,” he said. “With our content, with our employee newsletters and things like that, I can now reach out to some of them and say, ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ If you can get them to trust that you will make them look great then they'll be more on board with your plan.”

It’s essential to know what the audience wants, Kelly said.
“If you want to get more people coming to your events, if you want more people to utilize your resources … the only way to move it forward and get that content to reach your audience is to cater it to what they're watching,” he said.

The City of Florence also blends traditional and new communications to ensure transparency and community engagement. The city coordinates its social and web presence to help educate residents about complex municipal finances, such as road funding campaigns and its recent stormwater master plan. 

The city worked with its stormwater engineering consultants to create a portal that residents can look at to see where work is being done, what has been completed and what is planned.

“We have made a concerted effort to try to keep the public abreast of projects so that they can see their tax dollars at work,” said Amanda Pope, the city’s marketing, communications and municipal services director. “It’s easy for people to find where projects are, when they're happening, timelines and that sort of thing. And we're trying to also take that project information and share it through social media outlets, Facebook and Instagram, and in our biweekly newsletter.”

The portal has been so successful that the city plans to use the same format to show residents what capital improvements are being done with the recently passed penny sales tax increase.

“When you talk about raising fees, like the stormwater fee was raised and you talk about adding a penny to the sales tax, we want to show people that we're working in the neighborhoods and making progress, so the public has a visual of that work being done,” Pope said.

City of Florence infographic
The City of Florence took to social media to explain many of the issues of road funding for which residents are often not aware. Photo: City of Florence. 

The city also uses social media to share the information that it also sends to traditional media outlets — things like city council meeting agendas. It also invites residents to participate in City University, an intensive multi-week experience where residents meet department heads and see for themselves how their departments operate. It has now had two sessions of 25 participants each. 

“It has been amazing to see the interest in this program,” Pope said. “It really gives residents the opportunity for one-on-one conversation with city departments and gives them a behind-the-scenes look at daily operations in the city.”

Hanahan social media
Among its other functions, Hanahan's social media celebrates the city's employees and their careers. Photo: City of Hanahan. 

The City of Hanahan has also broadened its resident outreach, realizing that traditional channels of communication just weren’t getting the job done. 

“We pride ourselves in being transparent and having great communication within the community, and we worked our hardest to communicate at council meetings, on our website, trash-can fliers and with mailings, but we realized that our efforts on our social media sites had room for growth,” said city administrator Courtney Soler.

There was no room in the budget to create a new position, so the city converted one full-time position to two part-time positions and one of those became a social media coordinator role at 12 hours a week. The city hired Paige Turner, who also works in marketing at a credit union.

“Hiring a social media coordinator was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a city,” Soler said. “To have that unified  voice on our city social media pages, and to be able to communicate well with our citizens is such a valuable asset.”

The position has paid off. Since Turner started working in August 2022, Facebook followers have grown by 16% to 10,815 and the city has reported more than 110,000 profile views. For its 50th anniversary celebration, the city created video testimonials from elected officials about what living in the Hanahan meant to them. The three-minute video was seen more than 800 times on the city’s Facebook page. 

Having someone already plugged into the community in that role was key.

“On a practical level, a lot of time and energy would be spent getting the person up to speed on the city’s happenings and events, if they are not already an active member of the community,” Soler said.

She added that having someone with a media and marketing background was important as well. 

“Speaking on behalf of any organization takes a particular skill set, especially when some of the information that you share is linked to ongoing police investigations or other sensitive topics,” she said.