Conway is a small borough – about 2,400 residents – nestled along the Ohio River Boulevard in Beaver County. As in a number of similar communities, staff and fiscal constraints leave little room for printing and mailing news and announcements to the community. But, that doesn’t mean that the citizens of Conway Borough don’t have an interest in their local government or the events that are taking place in the community.
Lead by current Council President Scott Levenson, the Borough created a Facebook Group and began using the social media tool as a way to share information with the community (about 10% of of residents have become members of the group).
Read on for a Q&A with Scott to see how elected officials in Conway Borough are using Facebook and for some insight on how you can use social media in your own community.
Register to attend next Wednesday’s program on Social Media. Participants will receive expert insight on the policies that local governments should consider adopting, legal issues regarding social media use and more insight from two local communities who also use social media.
LGA: What made you decide to create a Facebook Group for Conway Borough?
Levenson: Facebook is free!
A few council members had personal Facebook accounts and realized that several hundred residents were users as well. It became an easy and no-cost way to get messages out to a relatively large number of people very quickly and with minimal effort. It’s also a flexible tool because you can post messages from any computer at any time (this also makes it easy to for several people to share the responsibility of posting information).
Many of our younger residents use Facebook, so it’s a viable avenue to start to reach the kids in town. Long-term, we hope that this will increase their awareness of local government and possibly even encourage them to get involved, either by volunteering at events or by serving in one of our recently created Jr. Councilperson positions.
LGA: What role have you, and other elected officials, played in maintaining the group and in posting new information?
Levenson: Any of our elected officials who are on Facebook are named as Group Administrators so that we can all post messages. Announcements are most often posted by me and the council member who chairs our Parks & Recreation Committee. Others, including our mayor, will occasionally post information.
LGA: How do you work with Conway Borough staff to determine what information should be posted?
Conway Borough has a small administrative staff. To assist the staff, council has made it a priority to communicate with citizens about borough events and other community activities. We also maintain a website, where most announcements are posted because it is accessible to more people. Facebook supplements that and gives the borough another avenue to reach users more directly.
LGA: Do you see this as part of your “job” as an elected official – to keep the community informed? What type of feedback have you received from the community?
Yes, very much so. When I first ran for council, citizens didn’t know what was going on unless they went to all of the council meetings. I promised voters that I would make council more transparent by creating a website, which became my first task after being elected. A committee of volunteers researched hosting companies (and found one for less than $240 annually) and made decisions about what information we wanted to post, how we wanted to display it and what type of design we wanted. Each volunteer gathered and formatted the information for a page.
Feedback about the website and Facebook has mostly been good; although citizens without computers will occasionally point out that they don’t have access to the site. Overall, people seem to be more informed and we often get suggestions for other things that they’d like to see posted or shared with the community.
LGA: Do you have any rules or policies for your Facebook group (these could be policies for employees/elected officials and/or other members of the group)?
We do not currently have a policy in place, but we are in the process of collecting samples and reviewing policies that other municipalities have adopted. We are working on Conway Borough’s first-ever employee handbook and I firmly believe that there needs to be a formal policy adopted to govern the use of the Facebook group, website and other means of electronic communication.
LGA: What advice would you give to other elected officials who are considering using social media tools like Facebook?
Use it – it’s the easiest, most cost effective way to reach a significant number of your residents. When you decide to use it, actually use it – people will become members of the group and will stay involved if new information is posted regularly. You don’t have to use it for “heavy” issues, but even using it for emergency notifications or an events calendar can go a long way in improving communication within your community and in letting your neighbors know about events taking place in your municipality.