Getting the Most Out of Electronic Communication
One of our key responsibilities as elected officials is to communicate effectively with many audiences — our constituents, our representatives at the state and federal levels, our colleagues, local leaders and the media, to name a few.
Digital communication offers us a broad palette of choices in terms of how we communicate with these audiences. Beyond basic e-mail, city officials are also using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to stay connected and track news and local information of interest. New tools make it possible for us to more easily keep track of incoming items and respond quickly and efficiently.
Make Technology Work for You
Such tools help us serve the public more effectively in several ways. In addition to the ability to respond promptly to requests and comments from our city residents and local businesses, staying connected electronically helps us keep informed about late-breaking news and issues that affect our communities.
Rather than casting a wide net and, in effect, trawling for news items that may or may not be relevant, we can use today’s communication tools to track specific issues and customize the flow of incoming information in a way that best supports our needs and our communities. The article “Meet Twitter: Social Media for City Officials Short on Time” describes how you can set up and manage your news feeds from social media in a way that streamlines the way you stay informed. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these tools, which can be extraordinary time-savers for very busy people.
Enhancing Transparency in Local Government
Electronic communication also offers the advantage of sharing information with very large groups of people simultaneously and rapidly. When considering techniques your city can use to increase and enhance transparency in local government, you will discover that social media and electronic communication provide valuable means of sharing information about your city’s activities and priorities.
To maximize the usefulness of these tools, it’s wise to develop and adopt a social media policy for your city or agency. You can find helpful information on how to do this in an article titled ”Social Media and Public Agencies: Legal Issues You Should Know About“ (Western City, June 2010). The League website also provides a variety of social media resources geared to the needs of local officials at www.cacities.org/socialmediaresources.
It’s also worth noting that electronic communication between elected officials has the potential to violate the open meeting provisions of the Brown Act. Be sure to read “The Brown Act and the Perils of Electronic Communication” to make certain that you clearly understand the legal limitations associated with such communication.
Furthermore, if you are involved in advocacy-related activities, remember that such work must be done on your personal time and without the use of public resources. In the context of electronic communication, this means that you must use a personal account for your e-mail and other online exchanges of information. The new tools described earlier in this column make it easier than ever before for local officials to comply with these requirements.
Something Fun: The Boundaries Are Blurring
I’d like to share a personal experience that illustrates how the traditional methods of communication are being transformed by social media. Recently I issued a press release to the local media announcing, “Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour is searching for 50 teens in Modesto who demonstrate a strong commitment to serving others, have overcome adversity or unique obstacles in life, achieved a significant accomplishment, or serve as positive role models for their peers. These teens will be named to the inaugural Mayor’s Top 50 Teens program, which aims to boost confidence, provide additional opportunities to get involved in the Modesto community and develop leaders.” A TV news station picked up the release and posted it on its Facebook page — something I had not anticipated, but it significantly increased the likelihood of getting the information into the hands of the people we were trying to reach. This example also underscores the fact that traditional media and the new social media are complementary and symbiotic in sometimes unexpected and delightful ways.
I urge each of you to take advantage of the expediency provided by social media and the communication tools that help us serve our communities more effectively.