Website, Facebook, and Twitter, oh my!
Most have noticed that the Town of Boothbay has significantly improved their digital footprint in the last few years. In 2011, the town installed centralized servers. In 2012, we improved, automated, and digitized many of the internal databases (trust me, the town has databases!) with cloud backup-up. In 2013, the town really started pushing the Facebook page. Now, in 2014, we have added the twitter page, reformatted the website, e-subscribe, and e-services. In a few weeks, we will add live streaming video of ALL meetings with on demand features.
The true question is, WHY?
Print is Dying
If you haven’t noticed the world of journalism has gotten very loud and boisterous. Pointed articles with catchy headlines seem to stir people up on both sides of every topic. This has been true for national and state issue for a long time but the trend is pushing to local journalism as well.
Many people want to enter into the blame game. Journalistic integrity, political motivations, liberal/conservative media are often the complaints. Let’s be honest. Print media is dying and it will not go down without a fight. The impetus is to provide sexy, eye catching stories, which will grab the audience. I’ve heard on more than one occasion from journalists that the editors “got to my story.”
Who makes the decision on what to write and how to write it? Just determining the stories to cover, the stories to print, the priority for placement, and context of the story are all leading the reader. Right now the determination is made by people that make money by content.
The Town of Boothbay has made a conscious decision to make our local government more transparent with the added benefit of providing unbiased information to voters. Information will no longer be solely available via the Boothbay Register, Boothbay Region Television, and the good old Boothbay rumor mill. If educated voters want to participate they can self-serve.
But Social Media?!
The first step in discussing the relevance of social media is defining it. Social media is an ad network. Now many of the ads are not for commercial sales. Many of the ads are for personal pleasure but social media is designed with one true purpose, advertisement.
The Town of Boothbay spends thousands of dollars every year in advertisement. Throw in the cost of the website and you realize that our public business has just as much advertisement presence as most commercial businesses. Yet, many public organizations are reluctant to use the free and easy ad network because it seems commercialized.
Some people are faithfully opposed to participating in social media. For those people social media is confusing, constantly changing, and chaos but nearly 80% of people today participate in social media.
If print is dying and social media is prevalent, don’t public organizations have a responsibility to utilize this platform? Social media and digital web presence should only be used to supplement traditional advertising at this point. Traditional advertising for municipalities are newspaper, bulletin boards and post offices. See my point?
A new voter
Skepticism is healthy and analytics are debatable but let’s look at the analytics of the new website (up since May 29th, 2014):
5,768 web sessions
4,142 different users
89% under the age of 55
58% connected via social media
The median age of Boothbay residents is 51.7 years. Yet, in 1990 the median age of Boothbay residents was 38.1 years. This is a familiar trend to coastal New England towns but the town has also shown positive population growth in the last twenty years. Boothbay has grown in population 17.8% during that timeframe, compared to -7.8% population decline in Boothbay Harbor, during the same period.
Fifty percent of the people in Boothbay are below the age of 51.7 and they are drawn to social media presence and web advertising. This new communication is generating a younger audience in local political decisions.
Some people claim that Boothbay is a retirement community but those claims are not based on facts and statistics. They are based on the perceived age of engaged voters. Statistics demonstrate that a new voter is being engaged.
Social Media is Different
Arguments are made that social media is different. Personal, private, or commercial ads are thrown into your face. That is a valid point. It is different but it is also a concentrated view of society. There is bad and there is good. Social media can be mistreated but so can’t societal relationships.
People have to make conscious decision of whether to participate in social media. They also have to make conscious decision on what social media venues and channels that they prescribe to. The Town of Boothbay has a responsibility to use social media in a responsible manner but that responsibility is no different than the responsibility the town has in all business ventures.
The bottom line is that social media is here to stay. @JamesChaousis likes #boothbay
James D Chaousis II, Town Manager