Indian River County government reaching public through social networks

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – In an effort to reach out to a wider audience, Indian River County government leaders are turning to social networks including Twitter and Facebook to spread the word.

While certainly not the first government to take such an approach, it is an almost-first for governments within the county.

The Cities of Vero Beach and Sebastian do not use social networking, and only the City of Fellsmere’s city manager tweets his citys’ government news.

By and large, most local governments rely on their citizens to visit their websites or sign up for information via e-mail.

“Members of the public have to find us,” said Assistant County Administrator Michael Zito of the way it used to be before the county launched five Facebook pages and five corresponding Twitter feeds.

For more than a year, the county’s Webmaster, Scott Johnson, had been working on the technology and system that would allow for the social networking posts to be archived for public records purposes.

“It just kind of” grew, Johnson said of the task to get the county operating on Facebook and Twitter.

With Florida’s Sunshine laws and requirements for keeping public records, Johnson has configured a way, weekly, to capture all posts and tweets generated by a select group of people allowed to create content on the pages.

Both Johnson and Zito said they borrowed heavily from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on the west side of the state to come up with the tools and policies now in place in Indian River.

“We were a little bit limited in what we could do,” Johnson said, comparing Indian River to the larger, better funded counties’ social networks.

In determining what should have a social network presence, an informal committee of county staff decided that customer-based departments should be the first.

To that end, the county launched matching Facebook and Twitter pages for Emergency Services Management, Recreation, Sandridge Golf Course, Youth Guidance, and general Indian River County Government information.

“It’s not a news service,” Zito said of the social networks. He explained that the feeds are merely another way to get information out to the public.

So far, the county-run Facebook pages have between 17 (Sandridge Golf) and 466 (Youth Guidance) people who “like” the pages. The Twitter feeds have between three and 22 followers.

Zito said that he expects the pages to be used as a way to keep information, especially about events, up-to-the-minute. He envisions parents checking the Recreation Facebook page when there is foul weather before leaving home to double-check the event is still going on.

Next on the list for receiving Facebook and Twitter presences – or upgrades to existing presences – will be the Indian River County Library System.

Those in the system that already have a presence, like the North County Library in Sebastian, will be tweaked to comply with the county’s new social media policies.

Other departments, if the case for need can be made, could later be added into the social network system.

For now, Zito said he’s comfortable with the five – soon to be six – the county has.

To “like” the county’s Facebook pages or follow the feeds on Twitter, you must have an account on those sites.

For those who still want up-to-date information on roads, weather and other emergency issues without signing up on social networking sites, they can receive e-mail alerts through the county’s Nixle service, found here.

For a list of the social networking pages Indian River County has launched, click here.

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