Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults are on Facebook. Of them, 74 percent visit the site at least once a day. (Truth be told, it’s probably more for most of us.) There are many social media outlets, but Facebook and Instagram are the two main drivers in virtually every aspect of today’s culture, across all demographics. They influence opinions and perceptions of organizations and people (such as cities and city officials), drive where we do business, eat lunch and go on vacation, and they deliver our news and information.
Why should this matter to you as a city official? Because social media platforms are a necessary part of doing business. Gone are the days of avoiding a Facebook page for fear of bad comments.
Kentucky League of Cities research recently completed the 2019 City Census, which had an 83 percent participation rate among KLC members. It revealed that among those respondents, 65 percent of Kentucky cities have a Facebook account, and 64 percent use social media to communicate with constituents.
If your city isn’t using Facebook, you may want to dip your toe in the water. For most cities that do have a strategy, you may want to dive a little deeper into what’s possible with social platforms.
Here are five ideas and interesting trends.
2020 TIP NO. 1: USE HASHTAGS
There are several things that hashtags do to expand and extend the life of social media posts. Hashtags started on Twitter, so it’s the perfect platform for them. Instagram hashtags are frequently searched, so your chance of discovery is also high. On Instagram, you can use up to 30 per post — but you can hide them. While hashtags on Facebook are not as frequent as on Instagram or Twitter, they are still effective.
Hashtags serve as an identifier about your organization. The City of Soldotna, Alaska, uses #SoldotnaAK on everything, including its entryway signage. As people drive into town, they have a hashtag to use with photos on social media. The city also has small cards with the #SoldotnaAK on check-in counters of local hotels.
Second, hashtags can create a brand hook. For example, #quiltcity is used on social media by a number of vendors and others in Paducah, given its international draw among artists and quilters. A city doesn’t even have to start a hashtag to benefit from it. When Hopkinsville celebrated its worldwide position as the best place on earth to watch the 2017 solar eclipse, the city, tourism groups and businesses used #eclipseville to promote the once-in-a-lifetime event. Across multiple platforms, #eclipseville helped connect hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.
Finally, hashtags tell a story about your city. Particularly for tourism and branding efforts, hashtags can help create or enhance an identity that you want. One key to a good hashtag is to keep it short and memorable. (The most used hashtag is #love.)
Also, try project- or event-specific hashtags:
• Want to promote hiking? — #hikeCITY.
• Got a festival? Use its hashtag in your city posts.
• New business downtown? Use #welcomeBUSINESS.
One final tip: Cities seeking to protect the use of any hashtags should speak to their city attorneys about how to register them.
Bottom line — hashtags are a multiplier.
2020 TIP NO. 2: USE PICTURES AND VIDEOS TO TELL THE STORY
A picture is worth 1,000 words, especially on social media. Visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media platforms and 150 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter. And, according to Cisco.com, 80 percent of mobile consumption is video.
For photos, the key to success is a good image. It’s OK to post photos of meetings or people grouped together, but how about a photo of your public works guys on the job? Their neon vests will pop, and you’re showing your constituents what the city staff does for them. Plus, unexpected posts get lots of shares from the friends and family of people in the photo. The goal is to think about what makes a post appealing. Post photos of shiny firetrucks, your farmers market, kids at a parade*, people enjoying a festival. Close-ups and unique angles are best.
You get the picture — make your photos interesting. Videos are also a great tool to engage viewers, but they should preferably be less than 30 seconds in length. You don’t have to use fancy equipment. A cellphone video is just fine, but you may want to spend a few minutes on editing. There are cheap apps and software you can download. For recommendations, ask your children or grandchildren. Many cities now broadcast meetings via Facebook Live, which is another way to engage the public.
Speaking of pictures, let’s talk about Instagram. The KLC City Census showed only 8 percent of Kentucky cities currently have an account, but those that do are awesome. The cities of Berea, Calvert City, Clarkson, Jamestown and Russell Springs have very active Instagram pages, just to name a few examples.
Bottom line — Instagram is about visuals.
2020 TIP NO. 3: RECRUIT EVANGELISTS
Social media is “social” and is all about connecting people and sharing. Local people can be your best promoters. Anytime you partner with your chamber of commerce, school system, Rotary Club or faith organization for events or initiatives, be sure to ask them to promote what’s happening on their platforms — and create a hashtag.
Think strategically. If you are trying to promote a new city bike trail, ask a local bike shop or sporting goods store to help promote it on their social accounts. Beyond Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, niche social platforms can further your reach and promote events. Different platforms serve different audiences and can help you tap into the online “tribe” with specific interests. Here’s a short list of examples:
• Myspace: Music
• Pinterest: Hobbies, food
• Flixster: Movies and film
• Motorcrush: Car enthusiasts, car shows
• Campendium: Rivers, camping
• DeviantArt: Art lovers and artists
• Dogster: Dogs (of course)
Bottom line — strategically engage people, groups and niche platforms.
2020 TIP NO. 4: TRY TOURISM TRICKS — SELFIE TRAILS AND INSTAGRAM MAPS
Cities across the world are creating selfie trails and Instagram maps, identifying the best places in the city for selfies and great photos. Some places are even putting up markers and selfie shelves where people can place their phone for the perfect angle. Selfie trails and photo maps are especially good marketing tools during festivals and other peak times when you have a lot of folks in town. Simply designed maps or lists are an easy way to promote your history, downtown, tourism attractions, restaurants, antique shops, the list goes on. Be sure to create a hashtag and add it to both your own social media pages and your website, as well as promote it in local hotels and businesses.
Bottom line — shepherd visitors with trails and maps.
2020 TIP NO. 5: CREATE A CALL TO ACTION
Links are not enough. If you want readers to do something, you’ve got to ask. If you use Facebook as a place to post information or surveys, include a call to action phrase like “share your opinion” or “complete the survey now” and your link. It sounds simple but using a short call to action phrase gets far more results than a static post. A call to action ties into other efforts and can also be fun. Got a new dog park? Ask visitors to post their pup on social. #puppostCITY
Bottom line — if you want people to take action, ask!
How much time should you spend on social media? Maybe an hour a day. Who should post on your social platforms, and who should monitor it? You should have an assigned person(s). Got a policy for your city’s social media? You need one. KLC Personnel Services can help. If you post one photo on Facebook and Instagram a day, you’re good. You do not want to overpost. Analytics show that the very best time to post on Facebook is Thursday night. Not sure why, but it is what it is.
Finally, social media is a way of life because we consume a lot of information, but we don’t want lengthy information. In fact, we humans actually have a shorter attention span than goldfish. A good strategy can help your city not only push out basic information but also create a following, engage constituents, promote what the city does for people and build a city brand. So, give one or two of these tips a try. Monitor your likes, comments and follows regularly and see where it takes you. #goodluck #citiesareawesome #ilovegoldfish
*Always obtain a signed photo release form when using images of children. Contact KLC Communications for a sample form.
Pew Research, 2018, 2019, Snowball, Secureyourtrademark.com, Destination Development Association — Roger Brooks, Socialnomics 2019, Sprout Social