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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

311 + Social Media = Great Article on Somerville Patch

I was happy to contribute a quote for Katie's great article regarding Somerville's presence on Facebook and Twitter! Be sure to check out her writing at Somerville Patch!~Courtney O'Keefe

Get the 311 on the City of Somerville's Social Media Savvy
By and large, residents are embracing Twitter and facebook as valid means of communicating with city services.
By Katie Lannigan

311 Someville's Twitter Page
 Notice a downed tree limb or a pesky pothole on your morning stroll? No need to bother calling the city any longer: voice your concern with an 140 character Tweet, an email, or a quick facebook post and the city will likely respond within a day—if not instantly.


During the past six months, Somerville's Constituent Services department has expanded beyond its walk-in center at City Hall and the “One Call, City Hall” 311 call line and now offers residents electronic options for contact.

Since January, social media savvy users have even been able to request work orders, ask questions and access important announcements through the platforms. While the City hasn’t yet started tracking the number of requests filed through social media, Steve Craig, Director of Constituent Services estimates that number to be more than 200.

“Part of it has to do with the community that we are in. We have a lot of tech-savvy residents here and you know, we saw that a lot of people were posting to third party sites…reporting information pot holes and downed tree limbs and stuff like that. So we decided that this is something that the need is absolutely there for,” said Craig.

The move to social media started out as a test program, with no official press release issued or campaign launched. Months later, @311Somerville has more than 600 followers on Twitter and more than 4,000 on facebook, double the number they had less than two months ago.

One of those tech savvy residents is Courtney O’Keefe who runs Ward5Online.com. O’Keefe said the several times she’s tweeted @311Somerville with a question the response has been prompt. So far she has raised concerns via the social media platform about snow plowing and asked a question about paint drop off at the DPW.

“I have messaged 311 on Twitter & got a great response,” she said with typical Twitter interview brevity. “I prefer to tweet because I'm on location when I do &; I think it's cool to send pictures,” she added.

O’Keefe also regularly tweets about the goings-on in City Hall. You can often catch her less-than-140-character updates about the Board of Aldermen and other important city information on the social media platform.

Another resident, Ed Mulrenian said tweeting the city was much easier than using the phone. Mulrenian said he sent a message to the city on Twitter and heard right back.

But, not all of those who tweet the city are prolific social media users. Nor is everyone as satisfied with the response they’ve gotten.

Frank McSorley said he only sends about one or two messages on Twitter every week, but after becoming frustrated with the snow-narrowed streets this winter, took to the social media platform to speak his mind. To his chagrin, he said the problem was never really addressed.

“I was happy someone got back to me, but its not going to do much good if they don't do what they say they are going to do,” he said. “I think a lot of it is just lip service, honestly. I think it just makes them look good that they've got ways to contact them but then they don't do anything.”

Somerville’s constituent services arm has not yet been online with social media for a full calendar year yet, but so far, most of the messages they’ve received, said Craig, were regarding the snow over this long, cold, snowy winter.

“It's tough to know long term what the most common requests are going to be. But so far--potholes have been number one and the second was snow related [tweets] because it's been a terrible winter,” he said.

As our society continues to become more and more wired, there’s no doubt electronic avenues of communication--email and social media--are the future. Craig said he thinks such methods of contact will continue to grow and the city will continue to embrace them.

“As technology evolves and newer forms of social media become available, we'll take them and look at each one and evaluate them,” he said. “Something that we're looking at right now is some of the social media tools that are out there for people who don't have English as a first language.”

For the less tech-savvy, have no fear, the 311 call line won’t disappear any time soon assures Craig.

“The 311 roots will always be in the call center. There's going to be segments of the population that either don't have access to computers, or who aren't as comfortable with some of the newer forms of technology, so we'll never abandon the call center,” he said.

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