What do your constituents do when they have a question about an upcoming city council meeting or motorcycle training?

In Santa Clarita (@santaclarita), anyone can email “Mayor Dude” Frank Ferry (@Mayordude), follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook.

The city is one of a growing list of wired municipalities connecting to citizens young and old through social media. While not every administrator will feel comfortable hosting live chats or Tweeting “is hungry. Join me for lunch today at Taste of Town,” Government 2.0 is going viral.

In the northern part of the state, the City of Santa Clara (@santaclaracity) Tweets everything from notices about RFPs for tennis and sport court resurfacing projects to summer employment opportunities and Swine Flue updates.  

Why the sudden interest in Twitter, Facebook, Wikis, LinkedIn and Flickr?

Rob Quigly (@RobQuigley), a Sacramento Web site developer and New Media Director for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who specializes in creation and management of government Web sites, explains the transition from Gov. 1.0 (putting up a web page to post council agendas) to Gov. 2.0 as a transition from digital archive to a two-way communication tool.

Citizens can express opinions, ask questions and get answers in real time.

That immediacy has also proved helpful in getting information out quickly in emergency situations. Whether it is Swine Flu updates, earthquake warnings, missing child reports or road closures, a single post can reach thousands of people quickly and efficiently.

Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp has three goals for social media.

“Social networking allows the city to communicate directly with our residents and business community to ensure that the information provided is accurate, timely and relevant.”

Pulskamp says he is simply meeting expectations by running his own YouTube channel.

“The information age creates a greater expectation for transparent government and an even greater expectation that the information is both real-time and easily accessible.”

Need another reason to jump on the virtual bandwagon? Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) is doing it. In fact, he recently broke 60,000 followers and held a live Twittered press conference where he received 400 questions in 45 minutes.

City administrators aren’t just talking to citizens. GovLoop (@govloop), a Ning based social network group has 1,971 followers classified as “gov’t employees, good gov’t organization or gov’t contractor with good intentions.”

Beware. The virtual world is a tool with it’s own standards, however. The rules of engagement call for a personal touch that is transparent and collaborative while remaining professional and within the realm of public information guidelines. In other words, posters need to:

•    Represent themselves and not pretend to be someone else
•    Talk with their audience, not project to the audience
•    Convey a consistent message in all mediums, online and in person

For those looking for a how-to on interactive governance, govwiki (@govwiki) and a related podcast called Government 2.0 on Blog Talk Radio profile social media leaders in the public space.

For all the hype, Marilyn Clark (@marlinex), manager of online communications and services at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, stresses that all these bells and avatars are just tools.

“You have to be mission-focused,” Clark says.

Don’t let the tech people push a new media solution if it doesn’t fit your message need.

Once you do decide that a wiki fits in your campaign to reach out to the public on a new park project, measure the results to determine what methods are working and which ones aren’t. Adjust accordingly, then measure again.

Or as Clark says, “rinse and repeat.”

JT Long can be reached at JTLongandco@gmail.com or on Twitter at @jtlongandco