Monday, June 29, 2009

Social media help city reach residents

Using Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, Portland officials hope to connect with younger adults.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 29, 2009

PLUG IN TO CITY NEWS

TO SIGN UP for the newsletter, visit the city's Web site, www.ci.portland.me.us.

THE CITY'S Facebook page can be viewed by searching for Portland Cityline at facebook.com.

FOLLOW CITY NEWS via Twitter; search for PortlandCitylin.

NICOLE CLEGG, the city's communication director, said she's looking for ideas from people about what to put on the sites and how often to update them. She can be reached at nicoleclegg@portlandmaine.gov.



PORTLAND — In the annals of communication breakthroughs, it was not quite up there with, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you," the words uttered by Alexander Graham Bell during the first telephone call 133 years ago.

But let it be recorded that on June 3 at 4:02 p.m., the city of Portland issued its first ever official tweet: "Bayside Trail Groundbreaking Ceremony and Festival this Saturday from 10-2 at Marginal Way and Franklin Arterial. www.tpl.org/bayside."

The city's new Twitter account is part of a larger city effort to use social networking Web sites to communicate with residents.

City residents can now check Facebook or Twitter for news from City Hall, such as traffic alerts and notices of important meetings. Residents can also sign up for an e-mail newsletter.

City officials want to reach out to younger adults who may not read newspapers or watch local television news programs, said Nicole Clegg, the city's communications director.

"The idea is to connect more people to the process and what the city is doing," she said.

As of Friday, the city had 411 Facebook fans, more than 100 Twitter followers and nearly 300 people signed up for the city's e-mail newsletter.

Clegg said she shapes the message based on the format.

On Twitter, she is limited to 140 characters, such as her tweet: "Kiwanis Pool opens in a week. Take a class, swim laps or bring the kids to the splashpark." Twitter can also be used to warn of street closures, parking bans or emergencies.

Followers can also respond. Bob O'Brien of Portland last week tweeted back to the city: "Kudos to Portland Public Works for filling that nasty pothole at Vaughn and Danforth. That was a wheel-eater!"

In an interview, O'Brien said he would never have picked up the telephone to call City Hall, but the Twitter account made it easy to give the city feedback.

"It improves access," he said.

Facebook allows for posting photos as well as plenty of text, such as Police Chief James Craig's 650-word "Letter to the Community."

Portland isn't the first southern Maine city to venture into social media. The Auburn and Westbrook police departments also have Facebook pages, for instance, as does the Gorham Recreation Department.

Clegg said the newsletter, called Cityline, will be e-mailed biweekly to avoid overwhelming people. It contains basic information, such as trash pickup changes and notices of upcoming events.

She explained that she's a novice in the use of the Internet for social networking.

She said she got the idea from Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who had asked her to include a sharing tool on the city's online press releases so he could post them on his Facebook page. (Donoghue has 1,185 friends.) She's also receiving advice from Councilor David Marshall (694 Facebook friends).

Both Donoghue and Marshall use their Facebook pages to inform their constituents about city politics and upcoming meetings and to get feedback on policy proposals.

Donoghue, for example, received 17 responses to his query this week on what people think about Tasers.

"Facebook provides a high-exposure, low-friction platform to share information," Donoghue said. "Anything we can do to open up City Hall is a good thing for the residents of Portland."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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