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Capital Region News

Capital Region Localities Turning More To Social Media

A screenshot from the Town of Niskayuna's YouTube channel.
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A screenshot of the Town of Niskayuna's YouTube channel.

Local governments have been stepping up their online presence, employing technology as a tool for communicating transparency.

Once the internet jumped from novelty to necessity, officials realized government could go online, increase engagement with citizens, and get word out faster than it could spread by newspaper.

"We've always looked at social media as a way to better connect residents and families and business owners with city hall."  John Salka is Deputy Director of Public Information for the city of Troy.   "Social media accounts can be critically important tools in advising the public and local media outlets of important announcements or information, especially during emergency situations. In January 2016, the city hall's Twitter account was critical in sharing updates minute by minute on the status of a major water main break in North Troy. So we were able to share phone numbers for local emergency services, locations of warming centers, time frame for repairs and other essential information that people were looking for online."

Publishing content online means citizens can access public events like city council meetings on demand, and it lives on as an archive.  Early starters include Saratoga Springs, whose web archive goes back to the year 2000.

Many local governments used to rely on public-access television, which was created in 1969 and eventually fostered the presence of local government on cable.

Nowadays with a multitude of social media platforms available,  municipalities have engaged Facebook and Twitter — and many now employ Instagram and YouTube to reach more people.

The Schenectady County Town of Niskayuna recently began livestreaming town meetings on a dedicated YouTube channel.

By opting to stream online, Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed eliminated $5,000 budgeted for three public access television channels used by the town. Syed says residents wanted something more convenient and accessible than cable, and the feedback has been positive.   "What I found in talking to people is increasingly, as a society, we're becoming cord-cutters and we're moving more toward streaming video and less toward cable providers. So knowing that, and kind of seeing the handwriting on the wall, I wanted to make sure that we are moving with the times and that we're also keeping up with other towns around us. You mentioned Saratoga, it does a fantastic job, I know the Town of Colonie livestreams their videos as well and posts them to YouTube. So I wanted to make sure that the Town of Niskayuna is keeping up with the times and that we're advancing in the future."

Salka says for Troy, social media is an extension of the city's overall communication strategy.    "The City of Troy has had an active presence on social media for a number of years, definitely pre-dating the current administration, at least on Facebook. In recent years, specifically since 2016, we've taken a specific focus on integrating social media into our overall communications strategy. My office actually worked very closely with the city council majority to launch their first YouTube page to ensure that all public meetings can be streamed online. We take online communication very seriously and we want to make sure that the greatest number of people are able to find the information they need in the shortest amount of time, and social media is just another extension of that effort."

According to an August 2018 GovLoop/Hootsuite survey of federal, state and local government employees working on social media, 55 percent of respondents said social media fosters a better understanding of citizens' needs, while 53 percent said social media has increased positive sentiment toward their agency.

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