Local government agencies ride social media wave

In our July 27 issue, we reported on how certain commissioners ignore the board’s social media policy and the need to revamp it – “Rules for Some, Not for All.”

Our summer intern, Sammi Sontag, also checked on how the City of Pensacola, Escambia Sheriff’s Office and Escambia County School District use social media.

City of Pensacola

Communicating in photos, videos and 140 characters or less

City of Pensacola Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart said social media allows the city to reach a larger audience and get messages out quickly and efficiently.

“Social media is an innovative tool because we don’t have to wait for the 5 p.m. news when dealing with certain topics anymore,” Stewart said. “Our office still sees the value in traditional news, but at the same time we want to cover all our outlets and social media is a major key to covering that ground.”

The city has rules for its employees, which culminates to reducing negative posts about the city, Stewart told Inweekly.

“It boils down to representing Pensacola and Mayor Ashton Hayward in a positive light,” he said. “We have content managers who post regularly and keep up with the Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram.”

City PIO is uncertain whether these platforms are reaching the local audiences desired, but numbers don’t lie. The city’s Instagram page has almost 20,000 followers, while the Facebook page has 11,000 followers and the Twitter account reaches almost 13,000 people.

According to Stewart, each platform offers a different look into the city.

Facebook is used for the feel good stories, images and live video streaming, while Twitter has become the quick, breaking news site, and the Instagram illustrates Pensacola’s natural beauty.

Stewart told Inweekly that the city would continue to keep up with the technological trends as the future unfolds.

“We are looking to incorporate more video footage and live streaming content,” he said. “We just want everyone to feel connected to the city because social media has that power.”

Escambia County Sheriff’s Office

Solving crimes, bypassing media

Tweeting, posting and video sharing has created unique challenges but copious benefits for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, according to Public Information Officer Amber Southard.

By cutting out the news media, the Sheriffs Department is able to relay important information to the county’s constituents quickly and efficiently.

“People are constantly sharing information we post on their personal pages. From there conversations are created, which helps us solve cases,” Southard said. “In one instance, we had a missing person case and people tagged the missing person in the Facebook post and told them to check-in with their family.”

The agency values posting accurate information, which is why they have special social media staff and limited employee access for each platform

Southard said, “There are a team of us who have control over the Facebook page and the other sites, and we make the call about what’s posted and what’s not.”

The Sheriff’s Office struggles to find a happy medium between “neighborhood watch” Facebook pages and the official department pages. She said citizens post on their neighborhood watch Facebook page and think they are reporting a crime to law enforcement.

“The crime has to be reported to the actual department for officials to respond,” Southard said. “It’s nice that these pages exist, but they are not there officially to report crimes to our department.”

Though this is a real challenge to the department, it is not shying away from social media use.

“We see social media as being an ever bigger deal in the future,” Southard said. “We are going to continue using it for live updates with traffic, weather and anything else we think the citizens might need.”

Escambia County School District

A Tool to Reach Parents and Students

School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said social media helps students reach out to him personally regarding issues they have at school. It essentially helps to control misconduct within the school district and create transparency between his office and the people he serves.

“Social media has really exploded within the past six or seven years,” he said. “But it’s definitely a necessity when interacting with parents in modern society.”

The district’s rules regarding social media use are not limiting, Thomas said. The district allows employees to express their thoughts and opinions via social media, but they are completely responsible for their posts.

“We try to walk a tightrope, but we don’t stop staff from using their social media accounts,” he said.

The pros definitely out weigh the cons when it comes to social media, Thomas said. The district’s Facebook page reaches about 2,500 people, targeting student’s parents, who are most likely to react to social media posts.

There are pitfalls. It’s hard to control rumors when they are spread over the internet.

“Two years ago someone posted that a friend of a friend was talking about how he had brought a gun to school and he was planning to bring it back to school,” Thomas said. “That rumor spread like wild fire, but it was completely false. Social media perpetuated that falsehood.”

Social media currently is a double-edged sword but, with time, could become manageable, he said.

The superintendent is pushing to integrate more social media platforms into the School District.

“When it comes to social media we are really careful with what we post because once it’s out there it’s no longer in your control,” Thomas said. “But it has become an everyday tool and we try our best to keep up with modern technology, using every platform that benefits the parents and those we work for.”