Use Social Media, Websites, and Apps to Create Widely-Used and Trusted Online Information Sources for Residents That Will Help Maintain and Enhance Residents’ Confidence and Become an Antidote to Inaccurate News.
- Put detailed information online quickly (1A)
- Provide information that residents will find useful (1B)
- Publicize the social media sites ahead of time (1C)
- Use an authentic voice (1D)
- Use multi-media (1E)
- Use hashtags (1F)
- Get verified (1G)
- During unrest particularly, put forth a message that can unify all groups (1H)
- Develop strategies to reach each key group, sources that will resonate with each, and a list of critical people to get out messages (1I, 1J, 1K)
- Create and announce policies for staff using social media (1L)
- Develop an on-call staff list (1M)
WHY IMPLEMENT THESE IDEAS?
Community leaders across the nation are putting information online in efforts to serve residents’ needs, build trusting relationships with them, and counteract inaccurate news. Putting information online requires additional effort. Because social media use differs by age and income, leaders will have to continue to use traditional information sources as well. Yet, despite the additional resources required, leaders who implement these approaches seem to be pleased with the outcomes.
Among local public officials, law enforcement has made the most extensive use of social media. The International Association of Chiefs of Police reports that 96.4% of police departments used social media variously for crime notifications, public relations, or citizen engagement. Police departments used multiple social media platforms: Facebook (94.2%), Twitter (71.2%), YouTube (40%), Apps (33%), LinkedIn (26.5%), Nixle (24%), Instagram (21%), and Nextdoor (20%). Other divisions of local government and other leaders have been active as well.
Social media’s surging use over the last few years provides community leaders with this significant new means of direct communication between local leaders and residents. Use has jumped sevenfold in the last decade. It is even increasing dramatically among those who were reluctant initially to try social media — those over age 65. The Pew Research Center concluded that 65% of U.S. adults and 95% of U.S. teenagers use social media. Eighty-six percent of 18-29 years olds use social media every day.
Particularly pertinent to community division, people increasingly depend on social media for news, thus expanding the effects of inaccurate news postings. Sanford, Florida’s City Manager, Norton Bonaparte, discussed the significant role social media played in bringing national attention to the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012 and noted, “The challenge we continue to have with social media is accuracy of information.” Gone are the days when most people used and trusted newspapers or television news broadcasts to develop their understanding of news (though some newspaper subscriptions surged following the 2016 elections). Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults read their news online. These online users do not all flock to news organizations sources. Instead many rely on peer evaluation. When 18-59 year olds get news online, only 17% visit a news organization website. Social media users are more likely to trust information about politics and current news shared by friends on social media. Fifty-seven percent of respondents stated that shared information was trustworthy, where as only 48% trusted other forms of news delivery.
When they use social media, community leaders communicate directly with residents (and interested nonresidents), taking advantage of their new means of quick access to them and reaching them with accurate information. There are indications that residents are responding by using the information. In early 2017, the Seattle Police Department has over 333,000 followers on Twitter; Dallas has 248,000 followers. The goal is to improve residents’ trust in their leaders. Eighty-three percent of police departments report that social media has improved police-community relations in their jurisdiction, according to the International Association of Police, though these perceptions have not been independently verified. Thirty-five percent of users stated that following political leaders on social media made them feel more personally connected to those they follow.
The need for community leaders to reach their residents quickly and effectively through social media continues to grow. Advocates for various viewpoints already use social media to display video and provide a narrative that can trigger feelings of injustice, group identity, and anger, and promote social movements. The use of a hashtag, such as #BlackLivesMatter, can give people a sense of a common voice. Advocacy group leaders can draw from this online discourse to create messages that will resonate in public meetings. Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor noted these phenomena in social action regarding alleged police misconduct, especially how advocates combined incidents to demonstrate patterns. National and even international viewpoints may be shaped on social media before any public sources release information, and, if inaccurate, may be hard to correct later.
COMMUNITIES HAVE EMPLOYED A NUMBER OF APPROACHES TO INCREASE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT THE INFORMATION RELEASED THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WILL REACH AND BE TRUSTED BY RESIDENTS AND OTHERS:
That is what brings users to the information. In one study, 41% of those using elected officials’ websites did so to “find out about political news before others.” Boston’s quick, detailed, accurate, and ongoing online releases in the midst of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 provides an example of how community leaders forestalled panic and gained the appreciation of their residents. At times when people may not trust a public source, the detail provided permits people to draw their own conclusions and makes the information more credible to them. The Major Cities Police Chiefs Association said, in a February, 2017 policy statement:
To promote accountability, public trust, and public safety, agency practices should seek to offer a narrative early in the investigation that is based upon facts and evidence. The best, most accurate information, if shared timely, can both mitigate attempts by those outside of law enforcement to “write the story,” and calm community tensions that might otherwise be fostered by agency silence in the midst of media or third-party supposition. This is not to say that agencies should rush to judgment or jump to quick conclusions, but rather should engage and educate the public early in the life of a critical incident with basic factual explanations, supported by evidence. Importantly, agencies should also explain why certain information cannot yet be shared.
Some leaders post not only traffic, construction, school closings, and other daily concerns, but also create data sets that residents want to see, and make them downloadable. Some media experts suggest that they also refer residents to places that may help them find jobs or training. Houston Interfaith Ministries hosts a blog that deals with such day-to-day subjects as how to obtain “meals on wheels” and special help during flooding, an approach that can lead to people going to that site when a hate crime or other interfaith crisis occurs. By becoming the “go-to place” in tranquil times, community leaders can increase the chances that residents will go to their social media sites during times of crisis. For example, during Hurricane Irene, a pertinent county website’s hits increased 3,000% increase and its Facebook page “likes” increased by 135%.
Columbus, Ohio, for example launched and publicized “myColumbus,” a mobile application that “puts City Services at the fingertips of residents and visitors…”Explain ahead of any crisis how community leaders will communicate should an event happen and how residents can get in touch with public officials. The Major City Police Chiefs explained in a February, 2017 policy statement that if there will be a delay in posting police web cam videos or other eagerly sought materials, it may build public trust to post the policy well ahead of a crisis, including an explanation of how it was adopted (with input from the public, if applicable) and when the posting will occur.
Social media users are accustomed to a more informal style of communications that community leaders can adopt to “connect” more effectively with users. Here are some specific ideas:
Use an informal voice (showing personality). A case study suggests that conversational updates performed better. For example, a recent exchange over an interruption in service on San Francisco’s BART produced a widely-followed exchange that conveyed information about the system, as noted in a San Francisco Chronicle article:
Celebrate when the community is celebrating and commiserate when the community is sad. “Don’t only respond to tragedy. Be a presence through the life of the community, the ups and the downs,” counsels social media expert Colin Rule.
Humanize communications by posting photos that demonstrate leaders’ interest in the community.
Be compassionate, empathetic, open to complaints, and accountable for errors. The informality of social media allows for this more human connection. People who apologize or take responsibility for errors convey respect for the persons they interact with and attention to accuracy. Once they feel a connection, people are likely to trust the communications.
GCRTA External Affairs Administrator Jose Feliciano Jr. interacted with riders on Twitter, in exchanges that were captured by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Mountain View California Police Department posted an announcement that one of its officers had been charged with possession of child pornography, responding to each of the posts that followed that announcement, including, for example:
Use communicators who are experienced in digital communications and intuitive in its use.
Cynthia Schmidt notes, “We are finding at the University of Central Florida that young people are more driven by images than written text.” Tweeting what is posted elsewhere may also generate responses that will increase “likes” and therefore the impact of your postings, she adds. Scott Paine, Florida League of Cities, adds a caveat that it is important to include enough of the context for images so that people will know where an event occurred and will not worry unnecessarily about their own safety.
1F. Use hashtags, including those hashtags already in use elsewhere by those interested in a topic
Hashtags may bring more residents interested in the topic to community leaders’ sites and therefore to accurate information. Sanford, Florida’s Communication Officer Lisa Holder suggests creating hashtags specific to a cause, event, or purpose also facilitates measurement of the effectiveness of the communications.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer to verify the accounts of those that generate public interest and place a checkmark to legitimize accounts.
For example, frame the issues in a manner that does not put protestors at opposite ends with law enforcement and that reflects the depth of residents’ feelings. Thus, community leaders can characterize a protest by 20,000 peaceful marchers and 75 looters following announcement of a federal immigration policy as “a demonstration expressing concern about immigration policies” rather than “a protest conducted by thugs.” Defining the issues this broadly gives some portions of the community confidence that their leaders appreciate the depth of their concerns and also helps leaders explain those concerns to other parts of the community.
“Connecting with people who are influential in the community is really important,” explained Giselle Lopez of PeaceTech Lab. “Often these are not the people you would expect. They might not even be physically in the community, but might be located elsewhere.” For example, many people within the community may follow a well-known athlete who has been active on a particular social issue and gained credibility in speaking on that issue. You can use social media to identify networks that point to these individuals and reach out to them as potentially powerful allies. Jonathan Tolbert, Social Media Expert for Columbus, Ohio, suggests that information should sometimes be targeted to particular individuals, with direct messaging, for example, through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Nextdoor. Nextdoor for Public Agencies allows them to target specific locations. The targeted communication might ask particular local bloggers and tweeters to re-tweet and repost the message, thus broadening the reach and improving the likelihood that social media users will trust the message.
An email from Lisa Holder, Sanford, Florida Communications Officer to social media leaders with substantial followings within that community, as part of an initiative to create moderators who have an accurate understanding of government decisions and can discuss ongoing city issues:
1J. Use sources that will resonate with users.
When people are angry with local officials, faith leaders or community representatives may be the most effective people to communicate through social media. Individual police officers may connect with residents more effectively and authentically about their own work than public relations staff. Consider whether someone other than the police should respond during a time of crisis. For example, some portions of the public may trust the mayor’s statement more than the police chief’s when a protest relates to a police action. Social media leaders can become thought leaders in a matter of hours even though not previously recognized as leaders, as occurred during the Arab Spring.
1K. Maintain a list of critical people who can use their own social media to get the same messages out at a time of crisis, thus reaching more people with a source that they consider reliable.
Depending on the crisis, these may include respected individuals in various groups within the community as well as social media users who have amassed large followings and can promote messages that people would not otherwise see. For example, Deray McKesson of the Black Lives Matter movement has more than 750,000 followers on Twitter and over 21,000 likes on Facebook. Shaun King of Black Lives Matter has about 640,000 followers on Twitter and over 1.4 million likes on Facebook. The local and state bar associations in Missouri used their websites, where people often go to look for attorneys, to announce that over a hundred lawyers were available to those affected by the unrest in Ferguson in 2014:
For example, they should understand the importance of releasing accurate information quickly so that the public goes to this source rather than to other social media sources. These policies can take into account privacy rights and concerns. The Major Cities Chiefs Association emphasized the importance of securing community input into such policies in a February, 2017 policy statement. The policies may have to indicate optimal choices when there are competing legitimate concerns. For example, Margarita Quihuis of Stanford University’s Peace Innovation Lab, pointed out that the policies do not permit quick responses in the midst of critical events if they require levels of approval. She notes, “Policy makers will need to weigh the risk of fast responses that may not be on point versus slow or no response that may be perceived as indifference in the public eye.” Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker notes, “Building trust in government is tough (especially today), and that speed of delivering information needs to be balanced with doing everything possible to be accurate. That is difficult, especially during an emergency. Once trust is lost, it is hard to regain.”
A list of potential additional staff/consultants will make it feasible to deal quickly with volume at times of residents’ concerns.
 Int’l Ass’n of Chiefs of Police, 2015 Social Media Survey Results (2015); see also Int’l Ass’n of Chiefs of Police, 2016 Law Enforcement Use of Social Media Survey (Feb. 2017). The issue of police monitoring social media for criminal investigations is not covered in this report.
 Andrew Perrin, Social Media Usage: 2005-2015, Pew Research Center (Oct. 8, 2015).
 Bertot et al., The Impact of Policies on Government Social Media Usage: Issues, Challenges, and Recommendations, 29 Gov’t Info. Q. 30 (2012) (citing Mary Madden, Older Adults and Social Media, PEW Research Center (Aug. 27, 2010).
Norton Bonoparte, City Manager for Sanford, Florida, Remarks at the Divided Community Project Meeting at the OSU Moritz College of Law (Nov. 3, 2016).
 New York Times, WSJ Subscriptions Surge After Election, Advertising Age (Nov. 15, 2016); Pete Vernon, Subscription Surges and Record Audiences Follow Trump’s Election, Columbia Journalism Review (Dec. 6, 2016).
 Jeffrey Gottfried & Elisa Shearer, News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016, Pew Research Center (May 26, 2016).
 How Social Sharing is Reshaping the 2016 Race: Key Takeaways from Our Research for BuzzFeed, Echelon Insights (April 22, 2016), .
 Twitter users or Instagram users who has subscribed to an account in order to view the account’s Tweets or pictures in their timeline.
 Seattle Police Department (@SeattlePD), Twitter, https://twitter.com/SeattlePD (last visited Mar. 28, 2017); Dallas Police Department (@DallasPD), Twitter, https://twitter.com/DallasPD (last visited April 9, 2017). (Both Twitter and Facebook require departments to pay to reach the entire audience and they do not have the budget to do so. The average Facebook fan only sees 3 to 6% of posts.)
 The City of Columbus, Department of Technology, https://www.columbus.gov/technology/innovation/Mobile-Application (last visited Mar. 28, 2017).
 Monica Anderson, More Americans are Using Social Media to Connect with Politicians, Pew Research Center (May 19, 2015). A similar approach was used by advocates during the Arab Spring. See Heather Brown et al., The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings, Pew Research Center (Nov. 28, 2012).
 Anealla Safdar, Black Lives Matter: The Social Media Behind a Movement, Al Jazeera (Aug. 3, 2016).
 Pew Research Center, More Americans Are Using Social Media to Connect With Politicians (May 19, 2015).
 Edward F. III Davis et al., Social Media and Police Leadership: Lessons From Boston, New Perspectives in Policing Bulletin (Mar. 2014). Mass. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, After Action Report for the Response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings (2014).
 Major Cities Chiefs Association, Policy Statement: Release of Information and Video in the Wake of a Critical Incident (Feb. 9, 2017).
 Interfaith Ministries, About Interfaith Ministries (Mar. 28, 2017).
 Fairfax County, Hurricane Irene Web and Social Media Metrics Report, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergency/metrics/hurricane-irene-metrics.pdf.
 The City of Columbus, Department of Technology, https://www.columbus.gov/technology/innovation/Mobile-Application (last visited Mar. 28, 2017).
 Major Cities Chiefs Association, Policy Statement: Release of Information and Video in the Wake of a Critical Incident, (Feb. 9, 2017)
 Kale Williams, BART Gets Candid in Twitter Exchange With Riders, San Francisco Chronicle (Mar. 17, 2016).
 Evan MacDonald, RTA Social Media Guru Gets an Earful on Twitter During Cavs Parade From Angry Riders, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Jun. 24, 2016).
 Mountain View Police Department, An Open Letter to the Mountain View Community About Officer’s Arrest (May 14, 2014).
 Karen Freberg et al., Using Value Modeling to Evaluate Social Media Messages: The Case of Hurricane Irene, 39 Pub. Rel. Rev. 185 (2013).
 A word or phrase preceded by the “#” sign. Hashtags are a simple way to mark the topic of social media messages and make them discoverable to people with shared interests. Clicking a hashtag will reveal all of the public and recently published messages that also contain that hashtag. Hashtags first emerged on Twitter as a user-created phenomenon and are now used on nearly every social media platform.
 Hodder adds that best practices would indicate using relevant keywords with no more than three hashtags per tweet.
 See, e.g., Twitter Help Center, Request a Verified Account, https://support.twitter.com/articles/20174631 (providing instructions for securing verification).
 Jonathan Tolbert, Remarks at the Divided Community Project Meeting at the OSU Moritz College of Law, Columbus, Ohio (Nov. 3, 2016).
 A Tweet that is re-shared to the followers of another user’s Twitter account. A Retweet allows another account’s followers to easily favorite the original Tweet. It is considered good etiquette to use this method rather than Quote Tweeting unless there is something valuable to add.
 Note to authors from Margarita Quihuis, Stanford University’s Peace Innovation Laboratory, February 16, 2017.
 Deray McKesson (@deray), Twitter, https://twitter.com/deray (last visited Mar. 31, 2017); Derry McKesson, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/dmckesson(last visited Mar. 31, 2017).
 Shaun King (@ShaunKing), Twitter, https://twitter.com/ShaunKing (last visited Mar. 31, 2017); Shaun King, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/shaunking/ (last visited Mar. 31, 2017).
 Major Cities Chiefs Association, Policy Statement: Release of Information and Video in the Wake of a Critical Incident, (Feb. 9, 2017).