June 3, 2013
Since its founding in 2006, the online social platform Twitter has rapidly become synonymous with the “new media” of the information age. It attracts 200 million monthly users – a 100% increase in just two years – including one in six American adults. The Internet information database Alexa consistently ranks Twitter among the top ten most trafficked websites worldwide. Twitter’s dramatic rise in popularity derives from its ability to do three things exceptionally well: releasing information, spreading information, and providing access to information. These capabilities hold vast potential for a range of uses, but one of the most promising is as a communications tool for city governments.
For instance, Twitter has revolutionized the speed that authorities in Evanston, IL can alert the public to beach closures and possible hazards along its Lake Michigan shoreline. Using a marketing campaign, city officials raised awareness and encouraged residents to follow their Twitter feed for up-to-date information on bacteria levels and weather conditions at their beaches. Evanston’s City Manager, Wally Bobkiewicz, gave this glowing summary in a 2010 report from ICMA: “Twitter is the way to go. It’s short and it allows people to communicate quickly… that’s the best way to alert people during emergencies.”
Even more importantly, Twitter has encouraged a more active and engaged collaboration between elected leaders and the citizens they serve. Take the small town of Manor, TX. Despite a population of fewer than 6,000, city officials embarked on an aggressive campaign including Twitter and other social media resources in an effort to make policy-making more transparent and collaborative. The culmination of these efforts is an interactive program meant to stimulate improvements across eight sectors of city management. By managing proposed improvements in a public forum, such as Twitter, the city has been able to attract a wide range of good ideas and put them into practice at practically zero cost. The results speak for themselves – Manor’s program has been recognized by Harvard University, the Wall Street Journal, and the Obama administration for its innovative approach. The challenges facing local governments in the 21st century are numerous and complex. As demonstrated by Evanston and Manor, Twitter may help in resolving them.