Challenge Your Assumptions About What Works on Social Media

Even before I worked for the City of Round Rock, I knew their social media game was the stuff of legend. When I joined the team in 2018, I realized that just about everything I thought I knew about social media was wrong. I’ve been fortunate to work with Austin Ellington, who is the member of our team who specializes in social media, and serves as one of our TAMIO teammates. Last year alone, he handled 27,048 inbound messages (including comments and direct messages) on Facebook, and a recent post that he put together on a new development in town had an organic reach of more than two million people! Although all of our shops are different, here’s what I’ve learned working alongside Austin that might help you too:

Ditch the vanity metrics. Your followers or likes are a lagging indicator of your success. Being in local government, we’re in the business of engaging our residents, so it only makes sense that you should aim for higher engagement — likes, comments, and shares. If you do engagement right, the followers will come to you, and you’ll build the kind of online community where people feel comfortable continuing to ask questions and learn from their city government. A note on this: don’t be afraid of engagement. If you’ve been to one of our past TAMIO conferences, you’ve probably learned the benefits of “hugging your trolls.” Be happy that people are coming to the source for conversation, because otherwise it is happening behind your back. Use it to your advantage to cultivate the kind of crowd you want on your platform.

More [posting] isn’t better. Better is better. There’s no magic formula to beating the algorithm — while it’s good to be consistent in the number of posts you make on a daily basis, you aren’t necessarily doing yourself favors by posting more than twice per day to Facebook and Instagram unless you can keep it up with killer content. We try to post at least once per day.

Protect your channels by posting quality, engaging content. Did you get a request to put today’s senior center lunch menu on your Facebook page? It’s hard to say no, especially when you’re starving for easy content, but as we said before, more isn’t better — better is better. Consider taking a quick video of a senior who benefits from the program and ask what the lunch means to him or her — post it with a link to the menu for the month.

It’s possible that your graphics may be *too* polished. Canva can create some great looking products, but sometimes the final product ends up being words on a background with a logo (I’ve done it many times myself!). While this works when you’re in a pinch, it shouldn’t always be your go-to. Your followers are craving real, human connection in 2020. Instead of laboring over a letter-sized flyer for your event, try obtaining an image from the event itself to help give residents an idea of what they can expect if they attend, and link to your website for more information or registration. On Facebook, make sure the link to your website has a correctly sized preview image. You can use Facebook’s sharing debugger to get a preview of what your post will look like. If you use a website vendor, you will need to check with them to see if their platform supports changing the featured image that shows up on Facebook when you share a link.

#Skiptheholidays. Holidays are great for planning out editorial calendars way in advance, but can actually hurt your social media pages’ performance if you don’t evoke emotion with your post. Posting a “Did you know?” fact on #publicworksday isn’t as engaging to your followers as a cell phone video showing some of the crazy situations your public works employees actually find themselves in. You can use these holidays as idea generators for content, but don’t use them as a crutch for creating content that is important in the moment. Strike while the iron is hot on fire safety issues by posting tips related to a recent fire, or video of your utility workers dealing with a messy situation that drives home the point of not flushing “flushable” wipes.

Find ad dollars. We’re all on tight budgets, especially this year. Most departments have some advertising budget though, and social media should be considered just as important as traditional media to promote important government functions that might otherwise — let’s face it — bomb on social media. In our shop, we ask ourselves the following questions: Is it possible that this post won’t do well organically? Does it help further our strategic goals as a city? If the answer is yes to both, then it is an obvious candidate for ad dollars. If you have no advertising budget, talk with your finance or legal department about whether running public health ads during the COVID-19 pandemic could qualify for reimbursement under the CARES Act. If so, you can use these posts, and the resulting analytics, as case studies to convince your leadership to fund social media advertising in better economic times.

Don’t be too scared to take a risk. Do you have a long approval chain for your posts? Do you think about how every post could go wrong? You will get negative comments no matter what. Talk to your supervisor about whether you could get more freedom to post freely (within the voice of your organization, of course) about specific topics. We have free reign to post about weather advisories, for instance, which has allowed Austin to create some interesting and engaging posts on something happening right away, and allows us to avoid getting stopped up in the chain of command.

Put the phone down — really. This is something we’ve learned as a team in our shop. Thanks to Ashley English’s great presentation at the 2019 TAMIO conference in Georgetown, we took a look at Austin’s work schedule (spoiler alert — he was always working). It turned out the world didn’t stop turning if he took a few hours to step away from social media. In my own career, I’ve always tried to spin several plates at once in my personal and professional life. I take great pride in doing it successfully, but when one drops, I feel like a complete failure. Setting your notifications to silent in the evenings, or physically putting your phone down for two hours (while allowing important phone calls to audibly ring), so you can be present with your family will help fill your tank and make your time spent on social more intentional. It is also important to take your vacation days. If this sounds impossible to you, this is my advice to you, fellow plate-spinner: you need to take the time to train those around you to be able to fill in for you when you’re gone. You will be doing your organization a service by making sure they know where to find account login information and how to run the accounts in the case of your absence.

And, last but not least, I’ve learned that there will still always be something new to learn. If you haven’t taken advantage of our TAMIO Teammates program, please check it out! You’ll see them post useful information to our TAMIO Member Facebook Group from time to time, or respond to your questions. Just post to the group and voila! — you’ll have an answer.

Sara Bustilloz, CPC
TAMIO Treasurer
Assistant Director of Communications & Marketing
City of Round Rock