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A Social Media Primer

December 26, 2013
Good to see you again. Last month we talked about what makes social media so “social.” This month, I want to talk about why it’s so important, fiscally, to be a part of this phenomenon. 

Here’s what I feel is the most important and simple concept for government leaders to understand when it comes to social media: These tools are low- to no-cost for thousands of interactions. 

Whenever I think of how to use taxpayer dollars or personnel resources on projects, I think in terms of return on investment (ROI) – cost vs. measureable reaction. So, for example, when the City of Milton Police Department comes to me to promote the Citizens’ Police Academy, I have several options (In this example I’m simplifying things – I almost always use a mix of all these methods, budget permitting, to cover as broad a spectrum as possible). 

I can, for a few bucks, print out some flyers here at City Hall or posters for local businesses and have them available for people who walk in. Not the most elegant method, but it works, and I know I’ll get several hundred interactions based on the traffic flow here at City Hall. However, I’m only reaching those people who NEED to come to City Hall – so I’m not really getting good penetration into our largest segment of residents: people who can’t come, or don’t want to come, to City Hall during normal business hours.

I can go old school and set aside a couple thousand dollars for advertisements in our local papers and combine those ads with a press release. We know our older residents, in particular, read the papers. But again, I’m only hitting a well-defined segment of the population, and frankly, we want all ages in the class. Additionally, I have only a nebulous idea of the amount of people who could respond to the ad based on circulation numbers.
Or, I can do what I’ve seen work again and again: I can create a “press release” that goes to both newspapers and residents, send it through e-mail, and share that info across multiple social networks and the City’s Web site. This costs me virtually nothing ($60 a month for an e-mail service) and I am guaranteed thousands of interactions. I can measure exactly the number of people who opened the e-mail, and I can see the number of comments, shares, retweets, views and impressions on social media (not to mention the placement it gets in traditional media outlets).
Additionally, the largest growing section of social media users are older (45-54). Recent research suggests Facebook tends to skew older, while Twitter and YouTube pull younger users. So I can, for nearly no cost, touch a vast number of residents across a wide spectrum of demographics.

I can get in their homes, in their children’s schools, where they eat lunch --- heck, where they go to the bathroom -- because everybody is on their phone all the time. And I’m there, every day, telling them about the City of Milton. 

In the next column, I’ll discuss how to strengthen your brand using social media. See you then. 
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.