Dangers and Pitfalls of Social Media for Municipal Communication

Dangers and Pitfalls of Social Media for Municipal Communication

Social media seems like a good way to communicate with anyone – it’s fast and free.  It works great for sharing pictures of your grandchildren, or of your recent trip to Florida, with friends and family.  However, municipalities need to recognize the potential for significant risks and pitfalls of using social media to communicate with residents about local government news and alerts.

Since many users of social media follow hundreds of pages of people, places, stores and restaurants, there is no way for all of this information to be displayed.  As a result, Facebook and Twitter have algorithms in place that help determine what information is displayed to a user.  On average, only 10% of your followers will ever see the content that you post.  If your municipality has an urgent message to share with residents, this statistic is poor.  Your residents won’t likely see what you are posting, and your information is buried among other posts.

Another issue with social media is the problem that can occur with two-way communication.  There are numerous examples where a municipality will post something about a very positive event – such as a family friendly event—and a resident will “hijack” the post.  This is when someone posts a response that is off topic, and often harassing.  In the case of municipalities, these hijacked posts are often regarding issues that a resident is upset about, and wants addressed.  When this occurs, the municipality needs to decide if to respond in a public forum, or to ignore the response.  Neither of these decisions are ideal.

Copy cat accounts and resident created community pages are another issue with social media.  Sometimes a resident will create what looks to be an “official” page for the municipality, however, it is filled with rumors and misinformation.  In addition, most municipalities have several, if not dozens, of resident run pages for their communities.  Unfortunately, these pages do not contain important and key information directly from the municipality, and results in greater frustration and miscommunication.

In conclusion, municipalities need to be aware of the problems that may occur in using social media for resident communication.  Not all forms of communication work best for local government.


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