Canadians’ have a love affair with social media and municipalities are beginning to hop onboard to engage their citizenry. Social networking has proven to be a tremendous force. We have seen its ability to connect, engage, and create a conversation. Building out a social media strategy for your municipality is an opportunity to build trust, get feedback, and overall better serve your community.
If your municipality has not already leveraged this growing social force, here are some compelling statistics as to why it is only a matter of time:
- 50% of all Canadians and 60% of online Canadians have a social networking profile.
- It’s not just youth – even though 86% of 18-34 use social networking, 62% of those aged 35-54 have social networking profiles, and 43% of those 55+ have one too.
- Consumption is increasing – 30% visit the site at least once a day.
- Facebook is the favourite – 86% have a Facebook profile.
- Twitter and LinkedIn are on the rise – 19% have a Twitter account and 14% have a LinkedIn profile.
- It’s the new way of communication – 41% describe themselves as communicating more with people online than offline. 
The audience is there. Why not take the opportunity to expand your efforts for an open, participatory municipality? Good decisions are made when a variety of opinions, experiences, and values are involved in the process – social networking sites are the new era of citizen engagement and crafting a social media strategy is the first step to capitalizing on it.
Best practices for an effective social media strategy
A Collective Effort
An effective social media strategy must engage, but that can’t be done without the collective effort of all parties involved. Beginning to craft a social media strategy requires defined objectives, audiences, realistic metrics and policies all agree on and work towards achieving.
Listen more, Speak Less
The goal is to create a conversation. More time should be spent listening to what others are saying, providing relevant content, and participating in the conversation. Social media is not a one-way communication platform, but an open forum of discussion and sharing. Don’t expect to control the conversation, because the audience owns it.
Quality over Quantity
Be concerned less with the numbers of followers and more with who the followers are, what information they consume, and their level of engagement. A page with a thousand followers means little without active engagement.
Respond – to the good and bad
Social media is real-time and uncontrolled. Positive and negative comments will be made, but it is important to respond. Immediacy is key. Responses to questions, observations, comments, and concerns demonstrate openness, accountability, accessibility and credibility. In particular, negative comments should be viewed as an opportunity to correct, inform, probe for more information, and apologize where necessary. It can open eyes to situations that were not even on the radar.
Be Active, Interesting, and Integrated
A variety of platforms are available to meaningfully engage the public. There is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Blogs, as well as the municipality’s corporate website. However, implementing a social media strategy for the purpose of engaging the public and receiving feedback is not a one-shot deal, it requires active participation and listening to create new and interesting content daily. Integration between platforms provides the best forum for conversation and participation – as long as each is up-to-date!
We can expect social media to continue to evolve. Where good decision-making requires an engaged, consulted, and participating public, developing a social media strategy for your municipality is one building block you can use to better serve your community.
 Canada’s love affair with online social networking continues, Ipsos Reid, 2011;
The Ipsos Canadian inter@active Reid Report, 2012