Counties looking to improve the ways in which they use social media to reach constituents need to look no further than Williamson County, which recently earned national recognition for both its use of social media and its use of social media for emergency management. The honors come from the 2011 GovFresh Awards, which allowed any government entity to nominate itself and allowed Internet users to vote.
Williamson County’s Office of Emergency Management created a “Preparing Wilco” Facebook page and Twitter feed, which the county used to communicate with residents during the Central Texas Labor Day wildfires.
According to the county’s nomination form, the emergency management Facebook page had only been live for two months and had 523 “likes” prior to the Labor Day Weekend. The number of “likes” increased to 7,852 by the time the wildfires were out. “
The numerous following allows for interaction with citizens, as well as serving as a catalyst for sending out preparedness tips. Regularly, the sites are also used to gain situational awareness during any weather event and those that reside within the county are able to send information to the Office of Emergency Management,” sites the nomination, which received 538 votes in the contest and beat out the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (385 votes) and the New York City Office of Emergency Management (266 votes).
Residents commenting on the PreparingWilco page and on the GovFresh page said the award was well-deserved. “Williamson County OEM provided great peace of mind with their Facebook updates during the wildfires. It was through their social media reminders that remembered that I had not updated my cell phone location with FEMA after a move,” wrote resident Frank Mills.
The county’s Emergency Management Office has continued to use its social media accounts during nonemergency times to post proactive and preventative information and communitybuilding items, such as fireworks safety tips and photographs from a Cub Scout emergency preparedness field trip.
But the county’s Emergency Management Office isn’t the only department to embrace the use of social media. The county has also received recognition for its excellent use of Facebook and Twitter to communicate general messages to residents. Recent messages have included job postings, health information, Christmas tree recycling locations, animal shelter adoption promotions, and road construction updates.
The use of social media has engaged county residents and brought them closer to their government. Many residents have commented on county postings to praise the work of public officials, ask clarifying questions and share their thoughts.