Ken Pulskamp is the City Manager of Santa Clarita and the President of the City Mangers Department of the League of California Cities.

While social networking services have been around for years, their mainstream application in the public sector has only recently emerged.

Sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter, initially geared towards the individual user and subsequently embraced by the private sector, are beginning to realize their potential for ushering new degrees of transparency, accessibility and participation in the public sector as well.

An early adopter in the use of social networking tools, Santa Clarita constantly explores different ways to leverage the use of these technologies to reach our residents.  A recent recipient of the 3CMA Award of Excellence for Social Networking, Santa Clarita’s management of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts allow us to interact with our residents and push content for a variety of purposes.  The City regularly uses social media to make City documents readily available for public review, to clarify decisions or provide correct information, as well as to promote City-sponsored events, programs and project status. 

As our residents and people throughout the expanding local community become more comfortable with broadband and mobile technologies, the manner in which people want to receive their information will also change.  More than ever, social media technologies have supplanted “traditional” print advertising as the preferred and most cost effective way to reach municipal consumers. 

Embracing the use of these technologies saves cities like Santa Clarita tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Leading the way in the City’s social media efforts in terms of effectiveness and sheer number of users is Twitter.  Santa Clarita’s Twitter account currently has over 1,200 followers and is growing every day.  Information such as noticed public meetings, City-sponsored events, press releases, emergency updates and road closures are synthesized to 140 characters and posted daily on our Twitter feed. 

Through organized campaigns, the City has hosted successful contests on our Twitter feed, with the shared goal of reaching different target audiences, promoting events in new and interesting ways, and increasing our number of followers. 

Campaigns included city trivia contests, as well as a challenge to followers to show off their best photo of Santa Clarita. One of these photos was even used for the cover of the City’s quarterly SEASONS magazine, mailed to every City household. City staff also regularly “tweets” photos and updates live from various events such as our Cowboy Festival and Summer Concerts in the Parks series. 

Facebook, YouTube, and Santa Clarita City Briefs have also been effective social media tools for pushing out information.  The City of Santa Clarita created a Facebook fan page in December of 2009, drawing 50 fans in the first 40 minutes, without any kind of promotional efforts. 

Less than four weeks later, the City’s Facebook fan page exceeded 900 unique individuals and continues to grow everyday.  Meanwhile on the YouTube front, the number of views for various City-produced informational videos posted on our City Channel exceeds 43,000 views and counting.

In recognition of the increasing trend among residents to use blogs as their preferred place to discuss local issues, in August of 2008 Santa Clarita launched “City Briefs” as a way to ensure our voice was an active participant in the blogosphere.  The concurrent goals of City Briefs are to serve both as a place where residents can actively turn for updated City information, while serving as a feeder site to local blogs where City issues are discussed from multiple points of view.  Today, City Briefs receives an average of 1500 unique visitors per week for its various stories. 

In early 2010, the City will expand the business utility of social networking for our residents by adding a Twitter component to our CRM application, referred to in Santa Clarita as “eService.”  Integration of Twitter into eService will allow citizens to tweet service items such as potholes, street light outages and graffiti to the City.  These tweets would be entered into our eService system, and upon resolution the person would receive a tweet back notifying them of its completion.  Welcome to the new age!

Without question, residents not only want more transparent government but also have a growing expectation to become a more active participant in the decision making process.  To be successful in achieving our mission to provide responsive services to our residents, we must first be able to understand those needs if we are to meet these expectations. More than ever, residents not only demand greater responsiveness from their government, but access to real-time information.  The emergence of social media represents the most important communications tool available to the public sector if we are to successfully navigate the digital age and bridge the gap with our residents.