While social media is a wonderful tool to create a sense of community, it also can be a challenge for city communicators who face negative and profanity-laced comments and First Amendment auditors, according to Candice Temple, Public Media Relations Director for the City of Palm Beach Gardens and President of the Florida Municipal Communicators Association (FMCA). Temple recently shared her expertise at an FLCitiesStrong webinar hosted by the Florida League of Cities (FLC). Click here to view a recording of the webinar.
To avoid problems, Temple makes these suggestions:
Determine your audience.
To determine which platforms to use, ask yourself whom you are trying to reach and engage with through social media.
In Palm Beach Gardens, members of the community are using Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn and Instagram, so the City selected those platforms.
Look at the demographics of different platforms, such as gender and age, Temple suggested. “And we tailor what we communicate where based on who we’re trying to reach.”
Archive your social media.
You must be able to access and produce your past social media posts if a request is made under the Sunshine Law, Temple said. Palm Beach Gardens uses ArchiveSocial, and Smarsh is another available service. When selecting a service, ask about the backup for the service they provide and find out how easy it is for them to retrieve records.
The archive should be independent of the platform, Temple said. In addition to having an archive, you can search social media for past posts, but it can be a slow process to search several years, she cautioned.
Educate city staff and elected officials about media relations.
Palm Beach Gardens provides an orientation for each department and newly elected officials that includes information about media relations.
It’s “to show them behind the scenes how we are doing our job, what resources we can provide to them as elected officials,” Temple said.
She encourages city staff and newly elected officials to follow the City’s social media accounts. “People may ask them about or reference something they’ve seen on social media,” Temple explained.
If an elected official wants their own account as a city official, encourage them to share city posts rather than post their own information, Temple advised. Sharing the city post will mean that updates to that post also appear on the elected official’s page.
Look at social media as a tool for transparency.
Post items such as your budget, Temple advised. It’s important that residents be able to access it even if they don’t go to the website, she said. Also, the post can be used to drive traffic to your website.
Consider all types of messaging.
To build your reputation as a trusted source of information, be open to different types of posts that will draw people to your platforms, Temple advised. For example, catchy tunes or police officers dancing help to build and engage your audience “so in the times that you really need them to listen to you, they’re already connected to you,” she said. They might even like you, Temple adds.
Have a formal written policy about bad actors.
Cities should establish rules for social media because it is a public form, Temple said. People are entitled to post publicly, and while you can’t censor them, you can establish parameters, Temple said. As long as you’re applying rules evenly, you can determine which posts are not acceptable.
Palm Beach Gardens worked with a consultant who had written social media policies for several municipal governments. The City Attorney reviewed the policy.
One piece of the policy helps address the growth in appeal of First Amendment auditors, or people who test their ability to speak out against cities or their leaders. Many of those auditors use social media to drive residents to a website such as their YouTube channels, Temple said.
The City recently “edited our social media policy to disallow posting external links on our page,” she said. “That cut down a lot of bad actors.” This policy preserved valuable staff time, Temple said. “It’s time-consuming to go through messages and posts.”
The policy is a “living document” and is adjusted as needed, she said.
Palm Beach Garden’s policy says no posts are deleted. However, Facebook has a new moderator tool that allows a city to put filters in place. These automated filters can be set to bar posts with profanity, for example.
If a post is submitted to the City page and it contains profanity, Facebook will automatically hide it. The general public can’t see it, but the person who submitted the post and the page administrator can. Your archiving tool will preserve the post.
However, some comments that should have been filtered will occasionally slip through, so it’s still important to monitor your platforms on an ongoing basis, Temple said.
Consider how to handle negative comments.
Palm Beach Gardens doesn’t hide negative comments on its social media pages because the City leaders think the public has a right to express those opinions, Temple said.
Some cities may have a policy against any personal attacks posted on social media. If you are considering such a policy, consult with your city attorney, Temple advised.
Consider membership in the FMCA.
FMCA membership is for any person in municipal government who is performing a communications function, Temple said. The organization includes public information officers (PIOs), marketing and publication relations professionals and even city clerks.
“The title doesn’t matter,” Temple said. “If you communicate with the public, you qualify to be a member.”
Temple described the $100 membership fee as “a steal” because it includes monthly webinars, resources and access to a website. For more information on the FMC