Town departments are hoping to step up their presence in the community by boosting their presence on social media.
Adding to a growing network of local information, the Zebulon Planning Department joined both Facebook and Twitter (@tozplanning) earlier this fall. Senior planner Julie Spriggs, who manages the department’s pages, said it made sense for a town branch that can hold up to five meetings per month to use the popular sites to provide the public with updates.
“It’s a direct benefit to our citizens and that’s the main reason we are here,” Spriggs said. “We just noticed a trend with other towns doing rebranding and social media and we wanted to keep pace.”
The social media sites have also allowed the planning department to introduce a new logo for Zebulon that was created as part of the town’s pursuit of a Unified Development Ordinance. Spriggs said social media will come in handy as the town gets further into that UDO process – as town leaders form a manual for development that will steer the appearance of Zebulon for years to come.
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“We wanted to be able to push a lot of information out,” Spriggs said. “This seemed like a way to reach a broader audience rather than just have people calling in.”
The planning department is not alone. The Zebulon Fire Department has been on Twitter (@ZebulonFD) since the spring of 2012 and on Facebook for nearly a year. And the town’s parks and recreation department has posted regularly on Facebook since joining the site in the summer of 2011.
Just as friends “like” and share online posts, each of the three departments is using their pages to promote the others’ updates. Spriggs also recently created and started using the hashtag #toznc (Town of Zebulon, N.C.) to help with searches for town-related posts.
Engaging the public
Audience-tracking and building tools are proving to Spriggs the outreach is worthwhile. The planning department received its 100th “like” on Facebook last week.
“On Facebook, I’m able to see when people are looking at our page, so I’m able to post things at a time that helps me reach as many people as possible,” Spriggs said.
The ability to connect with droves of people at the click of a button, and at zero cost, is what keeps Zebulon Fire Chief Chris Perry updating his division’s social media sites.
In less than a year, the fire department’s Facebook page is already approaching the 1,000-“like” mark.
“What has really kind of drawn us to it is we can put out these messages and it’s not uncommon for 1,200 to 1,500 people to see these messages within a matter of days, which is a huge tool for us,” Perry said. “It actually played into our (insurance) grade, because we were asked to show the inspector what we do to get out public safety messages.
“One of the most active ways we do that is through our Facebook messages. We’re reaching thousands of people on a given week and it doesn’t cost us a penny.”
One town profile
Perry said he can see the town consolidating all its departments’ social media posts under one roof, like other towns commonly do, but he still thinks the separate pages serve a purpose based on audience.
“A part of our audience isn’t looking for the other town aspects as much as they do the fire aspect, and I would assume with some of the other departments that would also apply,” he said.
Spriggs said a social media merge may be more practical further down the road.
“We don’t have a position for a social media expert or IT person,” she said. “Each department is responsible for what they (post). If we can show that it’s working and getting a lot of interaction, it might be something we can prove is going to be beneficial in the future.”
The Zebulon Youth Council, organized through the Parks and Recreation Department, also joined Facebook Oct. 3.