County aims to enhance its social media presence

2 years ago
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Although technological advancements in the past decade have revolutionized the way governments and leaders interact with citizens, Tippecanoe County’s use of social media in years past has been muted — its activity on Twitter and Facebook sporadic.

That, however, may soon change.

Aspirations for a stronger online presence were made clear more than a year ago, when the Tippecanoe County Board of Commissioners dismissed Frank Cederquist, who had served as commissioners assistant since 2006. The job description had been updated to include fluency with social media and public outreach strategies, forcing Cederquist to reapply for the position. Instead of reinstating Cederquist, Paula Bennett was hired.

More than a year into the job, Bennett admitted Tuesday that social media development has taken a back seat in recent months. Public outreach through social media is only a small component of the assistant’s job, and Bennett said a more pressing project has been curating Tippecanoe County’s new website, which she claimed will increase government transparency and accessibility to resources.

The commissioners’ office is still discussing how Tippecanoe County can best utilize social media tools, Bennett said. While the governance is active on Facebook, its Twitter page has not been updated since summer. In addition, many county departments have their own Facebook pages where they post more tailored information regarding their services.

“Everybody is doing their own thing,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to get department heads to submit the information they want to put out there.”

Bennett’s vision of a more filtered, unified social media presence — as well as becoming a more interactive tool through which community members can provide feedback — is a long-term goal of the commissioners’ office.

Meanwhile, other departments — such as the Tippecanoe County Health Department — have made more efficient use of social media, promoting key agendas and programs.

Brianna Myers, office manager with the health department, supervises social media outreach. Its Facebook page, Myers said, has proved essential in spreading information about public health concerns, most recently the Zika and Ebola viruses.

Social media also has proved indispensable in promoting ongoing programs, such as immunizations for children and adults.

“I think we are reaching the younger generation a lot easier,” said Myers. “They’re looking online. If you look on Facebook and see a link about free services, you are more likely to attend. … We’ve reached a lot of people in that way.”

Although Myers has received no directive from the commissioners’ office regarding increased social media coordination, she said the health department would be happy to comply with such an edict, especially if it meant higher visibility and feedback for its programs.

While continued coordination of the Facebook presence falls to Bennett and the commissioners’ office, the county’s presence on other social media forums, including Twitter, has been assumed by Management Information Technology Services. The team primarily provides technological support to county government and its departments.

According to Bennett, however, technology services has been overwhelmed with projects more pressing than solidifying a social media presence for Tippecanoe County. The department has been swamped with redesigning the county’s website, developing an accompanying smartphone application and ensuring a complete transfer of all documents from the old website to the new one.

Dave Sturgeon, chief information officer, said the new website still is a work in progress.

“We are currently working on some of the content, and from this point forward, we will be working to add more community information and resources to the site,” Sturgeon said.

When asked about the lack of a Twitter presence for Tippecanoe County, Sturgeon admitted some failing on the part of technology services.

“The Twitter account has been created and online for a while, but we haven’t really done a good job keeping up with the content,” said Sturgeon. “The primary challenge of using social media is making sure that you keep the content fresh and consistent.”

Redefining Tippecanoe County’s social media presence will be a challenge for technology services and the commissioners’ office in this year. The value and importance of social media, however, is not lost on either department, and Bennett and Sturgeon said they see Facebook and Twitter as tools for greater feedback and information dissemination.

“Social media is very popular as a primary means of communication for many of the taxpayers of the county,” said Sturgeon. “By using it effectively, you can both convey important information and also maintain a dialogue with the public.”

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