Naperville government leads Illinois’ top 20 cities in social media use

Naperville is used to accolades – see this well trumpeted #2 ranking in Money‘s Best Places to Live in 2006. Here is a new measure of excellence: Naperville is #1 in a suburban government’s use of social media.

A University of Illinois at Chicago study ranks the western suburb No. 1 among local government websites in a study of social media use by Illinois’ 20 largest cities.

Researchers from the university’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs analyzed the websites using at least 90 criteria to determine how well each provided residents with information and the opportunity to interact with officials. Chicago and Elgin round out the top three…

In addition to its main website, Naperville uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds and about two dozen e-newsletters to communicate with residents. It also is looking into starting a mass notification system that Community Relations Manager Nadja Lalvani likened to a “reverse 311.”

“It’s very important for us to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with residents and other constituents,” Lalvani said. “Social media is very prevalent and another tool to make sure the message is penetrating our audience.”

The UIC study also found increasing use of social media by cities around the country. In 2011, 87 percent of the 75 largest U.S. cities used Twitter, compared with 25 percent in 2009. Likewise, 87 percent used Facebook, compared with 13 percent two years prior.

It doesn’t surprise me that Naperville would lead the way: they seem to have the resources to make this happen as well as the interest in being efficient, taking advantage of new technology (see the ongoing debate over wireless electricity meters – the city’s view and an opposition group), and communicating with people.

I wonder if the study included talking to residents to see if these efforts are reaching them. This is an on-going issue for many communities: the city/village/town claims that they are putting out information while residents suggest they are blindsided at the last minute or aren’t informed at all. I think both sides are often right: many communities have newsletters and websites where information can be found. However, searching out and reading this information does require some effort on the part of residents. Add in the issue that many communities are without local newspapers and it is more difficult to transmit this information broadly. If this plan of attack in Naperville is successful, I imagine more communities will follow their lead.

A second issue could still limit the effectiveness of the social media outreach. I was reminded of this by a talk I heard last week: governments may make information publicly available but they don’t necessarily make the information easily understandable. For example, a community may release some data or an important report but the language and data requires interpretation that the average citizen may be incapable of doing. There is a translation issue here from technical or government speak to what people can understand and then react to. Or a large dataset may be public but it requires knowledge of statistics and specialized software to make some sense of it. Granted, it can be hard to boil down complex issues into newsletter items but it also shouldn’t be the case that newsletters and tweets only cover basic stuff like brush pick-up and meeting times.


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