Article News from the Institute for the Local Government by Melissa Kuehne

Boosting Community Engagement With Social Media: How One City Is Using Facebook Live

Melissa Kuehne is communications and development manager for the Institute for Local Government and can be reached at mkuehne@ca-ilg.org.


For years, cities have broadcast their city council meetings using public access channels and agenda management systems to increase transparency and access. Now, social media presents a new opportunity for cities to expand their reach even further and approach public engagement more creatively.

California cities are increasingly experimenting with Facebook Live to broadcast activities like community events, council meetings and public workshops. Facebook Live facilitates livestreaming of video content directly through a Facebook user’s account. Videos can vary in length and be digitally archived on the user’s account. 

The City of Lake Forest (pop. 84,845) in Orange County is not only streaming its council meetings through Facebook Live, but is also allowing for real-time public comment directly through the social media platform. Lake Forest began streaming council meetings in early 2018. After just a few meetings, the online engagement levels had surpassed the number of people watching the meetings on public access or attending in person. Lake Forest calculates that it reaches an average of 5,500 people through the social media platform during each meeting. 

As an added bonus, in its last biennial community satisfaction survey, Lake Forest received a 79 percent rating in “satisfaction with communications” — an increase of 6 percent. City staff attributes some of this growth to increased transparency and engagement fostered through Facebook Live. 

“The City of Lake Forest is constantly exploring ways to leverage technology so we can reach our residents quickly and consistently,” says Lake Forest Mayor Mark Tettemer. “Facebook Live has become an effective and convenient method to engage with our community in a more meaningful way.”

Lessons Learned

At a recent meeting of the League’s City Managers’ Department, Lake Forest staff shared a number of lessons learned about using Facebook Live to stream public meetings: 

  • There may be some upfront and labor costs. Lake Forest invested roughly $2,000 in high quality production equipment and software to launch the endeavor. The remaining costs included the time for one staff member to set up the feed for each meeting and one staff member to act as moderator and read the public comments. 
  • Accepting or reading public comments through Facebook has pros and cons. Though Lake Forest has experienced success so far, the practice is relatively new and not without some potential risk. Cities should identify and evaluate the pros and cons before testing this approach in a public forum. 
  • Social media policies should be reviewed and updated before integrating Facebook Live into a city’s communications plan. If the policy is up to date and accessible to both city staff and residents, staff will more easily be able to moderate online discussions and determine whether and how to respond to comments.
  • Cities should establish clear ground rules for accepting online comments. In Lake Forest, only comments marked “COMMENT FOR COUNCIL” are read aloud and included in the meeting minutes. Any other comments are omitted from the public record but remain on the stream, viewable any time the meeting is accessed on Facebook. 

Lake Forest staff agrees that using social media involves a unique combination of risks and rewards. “We are trying to reach a balance between risk and innovation,” says Lake Forest City Manager Debra Rose. “So far, this risk has paid off with increased community engagement and has inspired staff to explore new ways to use technology to reach our residents.”


More Resources for Engaging Your Community

Enroll in ILG’s TIERS (Think, Initiate, Engage, Review, Shift) workshop and learn a step-by-step framework to successfully launch your next public engagement effort. This training program helps cities better implement community outreach by addressing each agency’s unique priorities. The workshop offers ways to integrate public engagement into social media strategy, General Plan updates, climate readiness planning, budgeting activities and more. The next TIERS workshop will be held Sept. 5–6, 2019, in San Diego. Find more information at www.ca-ilg.org/TIERSLearningLab