How social media transformed a Canadian city

In three years, Regina, the capital of the province of Saskatchewan, has built the largest Facebook following of any city in the country and its Twitter account ranks in the top five. Find out how.

The City of Regina must be doing something right when it comes to social media.

The Saskatchewan capital’s Facebook following is the largest in of any city in Canada, at nearly 21,000 “”likes,”” it’s equal to about 10 percent of the city’s 200,000-plus population. Its Twitter following, at about 8,300, ranks in the top five city accounts. On YouTube, the city has gotten more than 50,000 video views.

The city has racked up those numbers in just under three years of having a social media presence. Its success has been so stunning that officials have been asked to write about their experiences in Municipal World magazine and have spoken at national conferences for city administrators.

And the whole thing started as an experiment.

Catalysts

“In 2009 we had a civic election, and at that time we started our social media efforts as a way to raise awareness of the elections,” says Philippe Leclerc, the City of Regina’s interactive communications manager. “It was essentially an experiment. It allowed us the opportunity that, if social media didn’t work, we could just shut it down and it would be only connected with the election.”

Those election updates on Facebook and Twitter caught people’s attention, including that of the candidates, and the city opted to press on with its accounts after the election ended. It became clear fairly quickly how the city could use it.

“Our No. 1 service request in this city is related to snow plowing and winter roads, so we transitioned right into the winter season with our social media,” Leclerc says.

In January 2010, one of the biggest snowstorms in decades hit Regina. It was so big that some things around the city just couldn’t operate. City officials started sending real-time updates on Facebook and Twitter detailing where plows were going and what was closed or closing. They also answered people’s questions about their own neighborhoods. The citizenry really took to it.

“At the time, there really was no way to find that information out before,” Leclerc says. “That was a big push in solidifying that it wasn’t just shouting.”

That summer, the city again fielded locals’ questions and service requests when a water plant was knocked offline. More and more, social media was becoming city business as usual.

Full integration

Initially, all requests or questions from city residents were funneled through the communications department, but the city eventually made social media an important part of its call center. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., two call-center staffers monitor Facebook and Twitter to seek out service requests and specific tracking terms using Hootsuite.

“They can go in on their own, acknowledge the citizen and say, ‘Your service request has been entered into our system,'” Leclerc says.

That request then goes into the city’s customer relationship management system and becomes trackable in a work queue. Most of the city’s departments have signed service-level agreements to respond to service requests that originate on social media platforms within four hours.

Only the call center responds to service-related questions; everything else goes through communications. The city has encountered only about a half-dozen instances of duplicated responses to requests, Leclerc says.

The city is working on getting a Radian6 tool up and running to measure sentiment, but that doesn’t mean Leclerc hasn’t been measuring already. The communications team has been manually keeping up with sentiment via Facebook and reporting to the deputy city manager who oversees public works.

“Senior management has accepted this,” he says. “Senior management is using this.”

On the move

Recently, the city’s Transit Department launched its own Facebook and Twitter pages, after a trial period.

“Before transit went off on their own, we brought them in for about six months,” Leclerc says. “They came under the corporate page, and we tested it out.”

Communicators checked to make sure the department had enough content and could easily respond to requests. No other departmental accounts are in the works, Leclerc says, though it’s certainly a possibility. He just wants to avoid seeing them die on the vine.

The city has another municipal election coming up this year, and the impact of social media couldn’t be more apparent. In 2009, none of the mayoral candidates had blogs or Twitter accounts. Now, all eight of the candidates do. Taking a cue from the city, they’re asking citizens what they want in a new mayor.

“That’s a pretty fundamental shift in the way politicians and citizens interact,” Leclerc says. “We are going to have the most social media content-heavy election in the country.”

Mobile

Last year, the city launched a mobile app for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry, which has so far gotten about 9,500 downloads. About 80 percent of those downloads have been locals, Leclerc says.

The app takes a portal approach, which means users can find information on topics including restaurants, local events, and, soon, health care. Leclerc says he made a real effort to keep the app from becoming overwhelming using information modules. There are about eight buttons on the intro screen, he says.

Though residents have done most of the downloading, Leclerc says he’s looking to help the city’s tourism division, too. He’s considering adding a module for hotels, and he’s working with tourism officials to help people attending conferences get around the city using an in-app map.

Source: Ragan.com