As one of the city's primary communicators, I find that our print news partners are still a key source of news and information for many of our residents despite the increased use of the World Wide Web. In fact, our television news partners receive many of their story ideas from the print publications. From time to time, I'll receive a call from a television assignment editor letting me know they are working on a story that they saw published in the Sparks Tribune. The Tribune has good reporters in Sarah Cooper and Jessica Garcia. I enjoy the relationship I have with them. The fact is, we rely on them and their colleagues in the print and television media to help spread the word on city programs and initiatives. They are important partners in communicating to the public, particularly during a difficult time when the city has limited resources to disseminate its message through paid means.
A growing trend in the communications field is social media. Social media uses tools such as Facebook and Twitter. These are fast becoming powerful means to communicate and engage in a dialogue at all levels. And from a city perspective, they are valuable tools that cost nothing.
I began my own journey in social media by testing the use of Facebook on a personal front in late 2008. I created my own site and was amazed how many high school friends I quickly reconnected with. I posted photos of my little twin girls and received many compliments and well wishes. I also struggled, and still do, with trying to find compelling and/or interesting messages to share in the "What's on your mind" box. Let's face it, do I really care that a Facebook friend is "running right now" or has a "crazy and busy day?"
Typically, my postings are more requests for help or advice. As an example, one of my daughters recently required medical attention. I reached out to my Facebook friends for their input and received some positive advice from a few friends that reassured me that my wife and I had decided on the right course. I was grateful for that.
While some of my Facebook friends have thousands of "friends," I struggled with who to accept as a friend. Do I really want a stranger reading my messages and viewing pictures of my family? I eventually decided to create with my own simple criteria that I try to follow consistently: I accept only people I know. Today, I have more than 300 Facebook friends.
There is value for some to accept as many friends as they can on Facebook. Particularly those in business for themselves, or perhaps those who have a need to create a network for a job search. The list could go on and on.
In the end, I found value in a personal Facebook page and view it a few times a week. My personal experience led me in early 2009 to team up with my city colleagues, systems administrator Steve Davidek, along with Andre Stigall in Sparks Parks and Recreation, to launch a city Facebook page. The city site allows one to become a "fan" as opposed to a "friend," though it is the same concept. We post a number of press releases, messages on our parks and recreation programs and other city updates such as information on the city's branding project. While we have not used it for emergency purposes yet, it is another tool to disseminate timely information in the event of a crisis.
We encourage our fans to engage in a conversation with the city and with one another. From time to time, we have lively exchanges. Case in point: the cold weather and heavy snow we experienced this past December sparked a lot of conversations on the snow-removal process. The dialogue allowed the city to correct some of the misinformation on why snow had yet to be removed from some city streets.
As I write this column, we are on the threshold of 2,000 fans. As a professional communicator, that is a big and important audience of which we are proud. The Facebook page does not replace the city's official website where residents can conduct city business, but it does provide another tool to keep our residents informed and engaged. On behalf of the mayor and City Council, I invite you to become a fan of Sparks on Facebook. The city page can be found under the name of City of Sparks, Nevada.
Adam Mayberry is the city’s community relations manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.