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Social networking a powerful tool for governments, schools
Unless there is a levy, election or another hot-button issue on the agenda, it’s not typical that the seats in the audience are filled to capacity for every city council or school board meeting.
While the officials would like to see more residents attend these meetings, they are aware that with conflicting schedules, sometimes it’s just not possible. This is one of the reasons why local governments and school districts are turning to social networking sites as a means of interaction.
“We joined Facebook because we wanted to ramp up communications with the community in all different areas,” explained Fiona Spears, assistant to the mayor of Pickerington and manager of the city’s website and Facebook page.
Pickerington has two Facebook pages – one for the city, and one for mayor Mitch O’Brien.
Spears said on the city’s page, friends get notification on what’s happening in the city, such as what movie will be showing in the park on Fridays, local concerts, public notice information and street developments.
“The city page is more directly related to the residents,” Spears said.
The city page also promotes events at the Olde Pickerington Village, the library and the Pickerington Historical Society.
As for the mayor’s page, Spears said it is more ceremonial than personal or political.
“Right now, we have information on volunteer programs and our volunteer days,” she said. “Those are the kind of things that are put up.”
The city and the mayor joined Facebook in mid-April, and have had a fair amount of interest. The mayor has 50 friends and the city has approximately 200.
“It was a bit of a slow start, but we’re starting to turn a corner,” Spears said.
She noted that the relative anonymity of the site gives residents the opportunity to speak to them more freely.
“Having a page has absolutely helped us communicate further with the community,” she said.
Lee Cole, director of communications for Pickerington Local School District, shared the same sentiment.
“Facebook and Twitter give us the opportunity to communicate with the entire community,” Cole said.
Cole said they update the district’s page often, usually highlighting student achievements in the classroom and in sporting events. And to honor one of their sixth-grade students who recently passed away, they have a link for their 2,000 Facebook friends to click on in order to promote organ donation awareness.
In addition to using Facebook and Twitter as social mediums, PSDL has started a rumor mill blog.
“It’s a place where residents can go to get clarification on rumors that have been perpetuated in the community,” Cole said. “It’s a place where people can go if they don’t have the information, and a place to go when they don’t know how to get the answer.”
The non-traditional “Heard it Through the Grapevine” blog, which can be accessed from the district’s website (www.pickerington.k12.oh.us), launched July 12 and has already received 20 questions. They range from land purchase and land use inquiries, the district’s latchkey program, and if the district is interviewing candidates for principal at Pickerington High School Central.
“Oftentimes you hear things at an event, ask a question and don’t get a sound answer,” Cole said. “This gives residents the opportunity to get the correct answer to the rumors that are out there.”
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