By Sara Floor.

Many hands make light work, as the adage goes. In Madera County, a decision to create a Public Information Team from current staff rather than hire a single public information officer has led to better customer service and storytelling in this rural, Central Valley County.

In early 2017, a county Management Workshop identified the need to expand communication outreach efforts, increase transparency and be more active on social media. “We asked ourselves, how can we best tell the Madera County story, how can we engage the public and how can we be transparent?” explains Adrienne Calip, Deputy CAO, Human Resources & Operations and lead of the Madera County Public Information Team.

“We felt like perhaps one PIO could not do the job that five could, so we felt this was something new and innovative to try,” says Melisa DaSilva, Chief of Staff for Supervisor Brett Frazier. “There are financial advantages to the team approach, but more importantly it follows our mission, our vision and core values.”

Madera County’s Public Information Team approach includes the Human Resources Division, Information Technology (IT) and the chiefs of staff for all five county supervisors. Every Monday morning, Calip leads a team meeting to identify, strategize and schedule social media and news releases for the county.

“The chiefs of staff do a lot of the work behind the scenes,” says Calip. “They work with departmental representatives to get information about the events the departments have going on. We try to be up front about our services and what we offer to the community”

IT has an important seat at the Public Information Team table, too. “We provide the technology and the platform to support the business need to empower the Public Information Team to deliver messages to the constituents. We’re talking about Hootsuite, Twitter, the website, digital signage in the lobby, even the connections to reach the technology,” says Tania Say, Chief Information Officer. “From the very start; IT had the seat at the table. We helped developed the policies, we went through a county rebranding, we redid the website as a team. We knew exactly what their business goals were, so technology was easy to align to meet those goals. “

But as any scholar of communication knows, information flows in two directions. Not only is the Madera County Information Team tasked with pushing out information, but responding to inquires or comments on social media too.

“When we receive feedback, comments or questions from the public, I assign the comments to one of the chiefs of staff and they respond,” explains Calip. “And what we’ve found is that the public they’re so grateful when they see a response from us.”

From the Public Information Team’s inception in 2017 to Spring of 2019, followers on Madera County social media channels have doubled, and the feedback has been resoundingly positive.

“It’s great to see the positive interaction between the constituents and social media,” said Say. “Because there’s a dedicated team, constituents can post a question and get an answer quickly. I think it’s had some amazing results in that we’ve reached a lot of constituents.”

“We try to be very transparent with the public and community so they know what’s going on in Madera County,” said Lety Gonzalez, Chief of Staff for Supervisor Max Rodriguez. “If we don’t tell that story, no one will. We want to be the narrators of our own story.”

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Originally posted at the California State Association of Counties.