Developing a Social Media Strategy for Cranbrook
By Michael J Morris
Some years ago now I was a speaker at the annual convention of the Canadian Association of Journalists in Toronto, giving my views on the internet's future role in defeating politicians or au contraire helping them win.
Without hesitation I took the position that most certainly it could, but in all honesty, my views were not met with much approval in a room full of journalists.
In fact, journalists and most of my colleagues on the faculty at College of the Rockies were not convinced that email would prove popular in 1994, the year that I taught Writing for New Media, which would now be called social media, as a prelude to the launch of the college's New Media Communications Program.
Maximizing the potential of the Internet was a tough sell in the declining years of the 20th Century, and despite the fact that Facebook, for example has over one billion users globally, it still is, so politicians may be safe for a little while longer.
But the times they may be a changing given the success of Barack Obama who is the best example of a relatively unknown politician being elected not once, but twice as president of the United States.
In Canada, right now I am impressed with how Justin Trudeau, the leader of the federal Liberal Party is using web site, email, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook -- and has just launched real time video question and answer periods with folks on various issues. Yes, the Harper Conservatives have been good at using it too, but mostly for attacks.
However, this week at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Vancouver, which I am sure was attended by at least some members of Cranbrook city council, a session on the use of social media was held.
According to an article by Jeff Lee in the Vancouver Sun, Shachi Kurl of Vision Critical talked about how to properly engage citizens including going online to Twitter and Facebook or offline through community meetings.
Interesting, but a quick look at the use of Facebook, or lack thereof, by Cranbrook municipal politicians, indicates they are not much interested in engaging citizens in any real way online. Maybe that will all change if they attended the Shachi Kurl session.
And yes folks, 2014 is a municipal election year, and UBCM approved a resolution calling for four year terms. If approved that's asking citizens to give municipal politicians one more year without going to the people.
On September 18, I searched on Facebook for each member of Cranbrook city council. Without sharing all my findings, because if you are on Facebook, you can look for yourself, I concluded that all Cranbrook city council members are not coming even close to effective citizen engagement through social media.
And the City of Cranbrook does not have a Facebook or Twitter presence other than one automatically created by Facebook. But Cranbrook is not alone on that one.
Now, that is not meant necessarily as a criticism. I know they are busy. I know they are communicating each in his or her own way with citizens, and the ones I know well have always been readily available for coffee or a telephone chat, and answer email.
And yes, I know about Coffee with the Mayor and Brown Bag Lunches.
But let me suggest that they move forward as a council to develop a social media strategy for the city -- and I am aware the city's web site has been revised.
Why a social media strategy?
Here is a quote from 'A City's Guide to Social Media' which was prepared by the county and city of Honolulu and Code for America.
"It's fast, it's viral, it can spark civic engagement and it's free.
Social media helps cities in their core mission of reaching more constituents to more broadly share government information and activities... It's the quickest,cheapest way to communicate and interact with your community... social media can also increase government transparency, and it allows you to communicate directly with residents".
And, a caution:
"Don't use social media if you simply want to broadcast your message; it's a conversation, and you have to participate by providing information and listening to feedback".
Full disclosure: I am not now and never have been a member of the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society; however, I did conduct a workshop for its members for which I was paid.