Today’s Poll

City of Nelson cautiously enters social media era with new Facebook page

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
July 29th, 2014

The City of Nelson’s Facebook page has gone from from 50 to 1187  “likes” in the past ten days. The page was started in May.  

“I am really impressed at how quickly our numbers jumped,” says Ginger Lester, the city employee who is administering the page and writing the updates. “We’re very happy.”

Lester says that the largest percentage of the likes is people in the 35-44 age group, and that a surprising number live outside the province and the country.

“I think that is because people really like Nelson in general,” Lester said. “I think Nelson has a following out there.”

Getting into social media has come none too soon for the city.

“We have finally entered the 21st century,” Mayor Dooley said when the page was announced at a recent council meeting.

One of the barriers to getting into social media for the city has been staff time, says Frances Long, the city’s manager of legislative and administrative services. She who wrote the policy that underpins the Facebook page.

“We don’t have a full time communications person on staff, and when I have gone to conferences this conversation comes up a lot, and in general the only municipalities that are doing Facebook are those that have full time communications staff.”

Long said the city’s intention was to set up one-way communication—use Facebook as a mechanism to get information out to the public. They were wary that with two-way communication they would be overwhelmed by comments and discussions that they would not have time to attend to.

But Facebook doesn’t work that way. There is no such thing as one-way communication, because even if the public can’t post on the site they can still comment on the city’s posts.

So now a few comments are starting to appear. In a recent post about the dramatic measures Nelson Hydro will be taking this summer in trimming trees around power lines, including in residents’ yards, a commenter said:  

It’s pretty extreme. Is three metres really and truly necessary? If you consider the aesthetic, shade and air quality value those trees generate, I think that might outweigh the need for that much of a buffer.

Lester replied two days later with:

If you have questions or concerns regarding Nelson Hydro’s Vegetation Management, please call (250) 551-8733.

Fair enough, since she says doesn’t have the knowledge or the authority to advise the public on the vegetation management program.

Lester has been posting several times a week with information about city events and programs.

Social media experts say that the most effective use of Facebook by municipal governments is for individual politicians to use their own Facebook accounts (not the city page) to discuss politics with the public, and not just during elections. Many mayors around B.C. and elsewhere do this, and they report that this has revitalized their jobs by putting them in meaningful contact with people they would otherwise never encounter, and creating community discussions of issues where none existed before.

Although several Nelson city councillors have personal Facebook accounts, the only frequent user is Mayor Dooley, who often posts photos of his family, his holidays, and civic events. He has yet to venture into asking citizens what they think of water metering, backyard chickens, or the revamping of Hall Street. 

Note: This article was updated on July 29 to remove some inaccuracies with regard to the process of setting up the city’s Facebook page.

Categories: GeneralPolitics

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