Social media and the city of New Braunfels, Texas : foundations and guidance for implementing a social media strategy
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Many municipalities are deciding how to engage their citizens through social media while, at the same time, the universe of social media applications continues to grow and evolve. As of May 2011, the government of the City of New Braunfels, Texas, is not using centralized social media to interact with its constituents. This report considers whether or not social media tools are appropriate to help the city reach three identified service goals: 1) strengthening emergency management and communications services; 2) providing the capability to serve as a direct-to-citizen news entity instead of relying on traditional media for messaging; and 3) increasing public participation and engagement. Possible options and unresolved issues associated with each goal are presented. The community demographic profile of New Braunfels, the city’s status as a small urban community, and citizen access to high-speed Internet service increases the likelihood that residents will be online and engaged with social media on a regular basis. Data regarding the ownership of mobile phones and the use of these devices to connect to the Internet, combined with growing interest in social media, supports the exploration of social media for crisis communications. Three types of social media applications (microblogs/status-sharing applications, public alert applications, and blogs) present possible options for the use of social media to support emergency communications. Existing patterns of local press coverage provide the city with the possible motivation to innovate its message delivery. Possible options that could facilitate the city’s engagement of social media for messaging include hiring a public information officer, conducting an audit of the city’s brand identity online, and examining social media applications used by the city’s market comparators, including micromedia, photo and video sharing, and blogs. While data is limited with respect to existing levels of civic engagement, establishing social media policies and metrics capable of adapting to changing technologies could provide city administrators with a reasonable perspective on the value of social media for improving public engagement and participation.