Kelowna’s deputy city manager put it succinctly Monday when he described the ease with which the Web is helping City Hall hear from, and talk to, residents.
“It’s a great way to reach them,” Pau Macklem told council. “Even on the couch.”
During his presentation of the city’s first quarter report for 2014, Macklem said online interactions between residents and the city are continuing to grow, with a 10 per cent jump in the first three months of this year in the number of visitors to the city’s website (now at 441,000), a 57 per cent increase in the number who access the city’s site via a mobile device (now 108,000), a 38 per cent increase in Twitter followers (now 9,100) and a 59 per cent jump in Facebook likes (up to 1,500).
Like most other organizations and businesses, the city is continuing to increase its Web presence, relying more and more on the Internet to talk to the people it serves. And it also using the Web more to to advertise what it is doing with their money.
Macklem said on average, city events advertised on the social network Facebook were seen by 24,000 people.
But, while the ‘Net numbers are growing, they still have a ways to go to catch up with advertising in traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio.
Advertising on social media, however, provides a big bonus for the city — it’s free.
In these days of smaller budgets, doing more with less and stretching the taxpayers dollar as far as it can go, the enticement of paying nothing to get its message out because so many subscribe are on Facebook, Twitter or any number of other social networks out there, is hard to resist. And that’s not all. The city,gets an added element — two-way dialogue. The internet provides the city with a way of hearing back about its message, in many cases immediately.
Kelonwna has a web service that lets residents make service requests—like reporting street lights out, potholes in roads and other infrastructure problems and it growing in popularity because it allows the city to get right on a problem rather than letting it sit.
But the Internet is a two-edged sword.
If an individual or group doesn’t like what the city is doing, it’s not hard to turn the tables and launch a campaign of complaint. Local chatrooms, forums and discussion boards are full of public comment about city issues—good and bad—and it’s in the city’s best interest to monitor what is being said about it. It can use the same electronic public soapbox to then reach out to those affected and present it’s side of the story.
The Internet is obviously a platform that’s here to stay. But like any user, Kelowna CIty Hall needs to be careful how it uses that platform.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.