Times are changing. Facebook is no longer just a tool to connect with new and old friends. Twitter is no longer just way to follow the crazy thoughts and actions of celebrities like Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen. And YouTube is no longer just a frivolous way for college students to put off studying for finals. Instead, social media outlets such as these are turning into powerful tools used by local governments and school districts alike.
Cliff Lampe, an assistant professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, says there are three reasons why this is true.
The first is that Twitter and Facebook each provide a one-stop source for people to get all the information on their own individual interests — without the user having to put in much effort to receive all that information.
“Instead of having to draw people to the group’s own individual site, they can send a message out to a channel that people are already using, such as Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “This message will show up in a stream along with other messages from their friends. By doing it this way, the message is found in a place more central to people’s lives. It’s a targeted broadcast.”
The second reason involves savvy governments and school districts hoping to “crowd-source” knowledge from user bases and create grassroots participation. Crowd-sourcing is trying to find a way of completing a task or a solution to a problem by asking a wide range of people or organizations if they can help, typically by using the Internet.
The third is because social media is “kind of cool,” according to Lampe.
“It’s a newer form of technology, and it’s a source of self presentation,” he said.
And a larger demographic is beginning to utilize social media. It’s not just for the young kids anymore.
“More and more people are using social media,” Lampe said. “A recent survey showed that 61 percent of online adults are using social media, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds, especially as more people get access to computers.”
The use of social media also provides a cheap way to get a message out. Twitter and Facebook are both free to join. Essentially, all the governmental unit is paying for is the time it takes a person to send out messages.
“It provides a space to reach audiences without having a heavy technology base of its own,” Lampe said. “And these sites are where the people are. If you are trying to reach people, you need to go where they are participating.”
According to Lampe, another reason social media is popular among the public and governmental agencies is its “interactive nature” and the fact that people are able to put their feedback directly into the system.
This becomes even truer with the newest trend: mobile applications, or apps.
“This trend towards mobile apps continues to grow as more people continue getting smart phones allowing them to participate in social media wherever they are at,” Lampe said.
Promoting big events and finding lost dogs
Tami Flowers of the White Lake-Highland Business Association manages multiple Facebook pages, which she said she has found to be a great way to connect with the local community.
“I think in some ways, people have become disconnected with the local community and the news going on there. More people seem connected to the regional and national news as opposed to what’s going on in local areas,” Flowers said.
So far, she said she has found social media to be a “great way to reach out” over the past two years.
Flowers manages pages for White Lake Township, Highland Township, the Highland-White Lake Business Association, as well as for the association’s big events, such as Sparks in the Park, Women’s Enrichment Day, and Highland Hey Days.
The pages have been successful, with the White Lake Facebook page having 2,556 fans and the White Lake page having 1,115. All of Flowers’ pages also sync with a single Twitter account.
“I think people are really appreciating the chance to find out what’s going on in the area,” said Flowers, who posts links to local events and news articles.
One such post was a link to the Facebook page “Looking for Louie-Bring Loved Louie Home,” a page dedicated to finding a missing, adopted rescue dog. The owner of the dog had been visiting her parents in Highland Township when the dog disappeared in early July. With the aid of the Facebook page, the owners were able to spread the message about their lost dog, as well as providing a place for people to contact them and others about sightings.
“It was amazing the amount of people looking for the dog because they all were connected through Facebook,” Flowers said.
The dog made its way around Highland, Milford, Commerce, and White Lake before it was safely returned to his owners.
Meanwhile, Flowers continues to use Facebook and Twitter for connecting with the community, with the possibility of developing more pages for local events and maybe branching into Google+.
“I’m curious about it, but I haven’t had the time to explore it yet,” she said.
Local libraries have also found Facebook and Twitter useful in connecting with the masses.
Marika Zemke, the adult services librarian at the Commerce Township Community Library, said Facebook is a much more efficient way to communicate with patrons as opposed to mailing letters or even e-mail.
“It’s the only way to go now,” she said. “You’re reaching a greater number of people all at once, and more and more people are getting connected to Facebook and Twitter. And you don’t even have to have a Facebook (account) to go read our page. There’s an icon that links right from our library webpage.”
Both the Commerce and White Lake libraries started using these two social media tools about a year and a half ago. Both have said it’s a great way to promote the library, its collection, and their programs.
“It’s a great way to keep people instantly informed,” said Amy Posen, head of adult services at the White Lake Library. “We were able to do an update that we were closing early because of power outages due to storms. We’ve also been keeping people up to date on the progress of the refurbishment of the library while it’s been closed.”
Facebook is also a fun way to connect with the community.
“We recently posted something on ‘The Help,’ asking who was going to see the movie as it’s been such a popular book. We post about fun things to do in Michigan or links to summer books to read in 2011,” Zemke said.
“It’s the ease of use,” Posen said. “It has a big bang for a little buck. And things are instantly out there. It’s a great way to promote the library, and it’s fun stuff.”
Responding to the decline of daily newspapers
and the concerns of county motorists
The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) has also availed itself to some of the widely popular social media today as a means of communicating more effectively with the public.
“One of our constant challenges has been sharing information with the public and receiving feedback,” said RCOC spokesperson and the road commission’s go-to person in charge of social media, Craig Bryson. “In the past we communicated through traditional media, but it’s kind of a one-way means of communication. The news dailies have experienced a significant drop in circulation, so we were reaching fewer people than what we’d like to.”
Over the last two years, the RCOC has tapped into social mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to draw a greater audience, especially the younger generation.
“Younger people are less likely to read the paper and more likely to use social media,” he said. “While traditional media will always be critical, we now have other venues to reach people and receive instant feedback.”
The RCOC is in the process of seeking other interactive venues such as SeeClickFix, an online forum where the public posts concerns, as well as monitoring different forums.
“More sites are sure to come along and through constant monitoring we can see if there are any (benefits) to us so we can jump in,” Bryson said.
He noted that video blogs and postings through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are all formats that interact with each other — another added bonus. Each social venue also sets off a chain reaction that sends out postings into the stratosphere.
“These sites are echo chambers and are hard to monitor — we might get 400-450 postings on Twitter, but they may be forwarded on, so indirectly it could be sent out to many more than we think, and the same goes for Facebook and YouTube,” Bryson said.
While the leap into social media has overall been a positive experience, Bryson said at times it can be sobering.
“Some people aren’t satisfied with our service or the condition of a road even though we explain our funding issues,” he said. “People can be overly critical in their postings, but we use the venue to explain why we can or can’t do things. We try to inform people and sometimes they are receptive, sometimes they’re not.
“Regardless, it’s our responsibility to communicate with the public where they are, so in that respect it’s positive,” he said.
HVS remains cautious, but will delve
into the world of Facebook this year
School districts are also linked in to various forms of social media in order to engage students, parents, and the community, and to disseminate information. However, they must be cautious in their venues given Internet safety laws.
“We recognize social media has merit to enhance our communication, but we must be careful about Internet safety laws,” said Huron Valley School District Director of Community Relations and Fund Development Janet Roberts. “We want to build relationship with kids but maintain aspects of professionalism and appropriateness. Facebook, for example, blurs those lines.”
Individual Facebook accounts are discouraged, especially teachers “friending” students.
The district, as a whole, uses LinkedIn and Twitter for announcements, reminders and school closing announcements. Only certain departments — like Recreation and Community Education, and the Athletic Department, which developed a page for alumni — avail themselves to Facebook.
The plan is to develop a Facebook account for the district sometime this year.
“We’re proceeding cautiously and looking at the benefits and drawbacks, as well as how other districts are using it,” Roberts said.
The district currently uses YouTube as a means of engaging kids in the classroom.
“We use it, but again must be careful on the sites since YouTube is not as closely regulated,” Roberts said.
Other social media the district has found beneficial are Vimeo and SchoolTube, which mimics YouTube but prohibits inappropriate content.
“Our aim is to reach students or parents who are not tuning in to us and this is one avenue to do it,” Roberts said.
In Wixom, little is being done to pursue social media; rather, city officials rely on Wixom’s updated website as a tool of communication. Currently only the Wixom Business Association uses social media by tapping into LinkedIn.
“The website is pretty good and any exchange of communication can be done via the Internet and e-mail or for the business community through LinkedIn,” said City Manager Mike Dornan. “We may begin studying it, but Wixom isn’t big enough to have someone oversee it. Social media is only valuable if you keep up with it.”
Shaughnessy on social media: ‘I think this is
going to morph into something more’
West Bloomfield Township is very prominent in the lakes area when it comes to the use of social media.
The township has its own Facebook and Twitter pages that can be accessed through the township’s official website, wbtwp.com.
“It’s important that the township use technology to its fullest because our residents should be fully informed,” said Township Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy. “We need to let residents know of snow emergencies, downed power lines and other emergencies. We also tell about upcoming events. It’s informational and non-political.”
Shaughnessy even has her own official Facebook page under the name “West Bloomfield Township Clerk’s Office,” and her own Twitter account, @clerkcathy, where she posts items including agendas for township board meetings and notices about future events.
“It’s easy for me to post things on my page and I’m encouraging all departments to participate,” she said. “I formed a communications commission with my deputy, Joe Munem; our IT Department; Civic Center TV; our treasurer (Teri Weingarden); and our senior planner (Sara Roediger).”
The West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on July 18 approved a content policy for the township’s website and various other sites.
Under the policy, the township’s website and various media sites such as Facebook and Twitter will be used for providing emergency information as quickly as possible, information about basic township services, and upcoming events related to township government.
“The IT Department is in charge of the township page. Social media takes time and attention and we have to use it in an efficient way,” Shaughnessy said.
The West Bloomfield Township Community Development Department also has its own Facebook page, as does the West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation Department and the West Bloomfield Public Library.
Shaughnessy said that departments that have their own pages are responsible for them.
She added that the township is working with Civic Center TV on the possibility of linking up the township’s website with the station’s meeting archives so that residents can look up past meetings.
“We’re trying to make (our social media) more user-friendly. We want a resident who is at lunch to pull up a meeting agenda on their iPhone,” Shaughnessy said. “I think all this is going to morph into something more.”
Milford’s social media still in its infancy stages
Milford Township launched its own Facebook page about a month ago, according to Township Supervisor Don Green and Township Treasurer Cynthia Dagenhardt. A link is available at milfordtownship.com.
Currently, the township’s page lets its members know of upcoming events such as Milford Memories and the movie screenings in Central Park.
“We’re going to get input from citizens and let them know what’s going on, such as the construction at Milford and Dawson Road,” Green said. “This is a joint effort between the township staff. The clerk oversees the records.”
“To think, years ago we got a fax machine and we thought, ‘What are we going to do with this?’” Dagenhardt said.
While she said that it’s too soon to tell how the township’s Facebook initiative is faring, she said that the township is working on setting up e-mail and telephone alerts for township residents to receive if they decide to sign up for them.
And while Milford Village doesn’t have its own Facebook page, the village’s official website, villageofmilford.com, has a link to the Milford Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) Facebook page.
“It started about 3 or 4 years ago. Basically, we use it on a daily basis to inform people about our downtown revitalization and to have them ask questions,” said Milford DDA Executive Director Ann Barnette. “Most of the time we use (it) to promote events and to communicate to a larger audience. It’s very effective and a very fast, direct way to give a message.”
Barnette added that she manages the page along with the Franco public relations firm.
“We’re having such success currently. The demographic is growing and this is how young people communicate,” Barnette said.
She added that the DDA has had discussions about adding YouTube to the mix, but there are currently no specific plans.
The Milford Public Library also has its own Facebook page.
District: ‘It’s a useful tool. More and more
parents are interacting electronically.’
While the Waterford School District doesn’t have its own Facebook page, it does have its own Twitter account and YouTube channel, with links posted at waterford.k12.mi.us.
“It started about two years ago and we use them to promote and market our district’s programs and services,” said Rhonda Lessel, school and community services specialist and manager of the district’s social media.
The district’s YouTube channel currently has video postings promoting district programs such as Kindergarten Schools of Choice and Fuel to Play.
The district’s Twitter account, @wsdnews, shares news and information — such as board meetings and special events — about the district.
“It’s a useful tool, and more and more parents are interacting electronically,” Lessel said.
Currently, there aren’t any other plans by the district to expand its social media usage, according to Lessel.
“Managing and monitoring these sites takes time,” she said.
Waterford Kettering has its own Facebook page, as well as Kettering’s Student Council.
Straight from the superintendant’s mouth
The West Bloomfield School District currently has its own Facebook page, as well as broadcast e-mail, which allows parents who sign up to receive direct e-mail messages alerting subscribers to
school closings, special events and other news.
Links to those social media services are on the district’s website, westbloomfield.k12.mi.us, as well as a link to the Talk Sup’t blog, where Superintendent Dr. JoAnn Andrees gives her thoughts on district matters.
Pam Zajac, the school district’s public relations and marketing coordinator, said that the Facebook page was put up about two years ago.