First in a series.
In the city where communication between residents and officials was a campaign issue last year, the Internet, particularly social media, is becoming a multi-layered bridge connecting the two.
The Tega Cay Rewind e-newsletter gives residents a chance to catch up on the happenings in their backyard, said Katie Poulsen, assistant manager for Tega Cay. She handles the city’s communications, including its website and social media presence.
When Poulsen took over the city’s communications in 2014, she shortened the multi-page monthly newsletter to a department-focused weekly version. Earlier this year, Mayor George Sheppard requested the newsletter become a weekly digest reviewing the previous week’s events, she said.
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“Tega Cay Rewind was born with the idea we would ‘rewind the week’s happenings in the city for those who may have missed it,’” Poulsen said.
She said the digest, sponsored by local businesses, is written in a conversational style and the reviews have been encouraging.
“Without fail, I receive positive feedback every week either on the newsletter itself, or information provided within,” Poulsen said. “It is very popular.”
The city is also growing the Tega Cay Connect program, an effort to involve residents as liaisons between their neighborhoods and city staff, she said. The city has 40 volunteers working to build Facebook groups and email distribution lists to share information with their neighbors.
“The hope is to network our residents with their neighbors in order to bring concerns they have from their neighborhoods to city staff, as well as share updates and information from the city,” Poulsen said.
Periscope, a live video streaming app from Twitter, is the city’s newest on-ramp to the online communication bridge she said. Tega Cay’s first broadcast was at a community prayer vigil at Lakeshore Christian Fellowship for the city’s public safety members on July 21. The video was later posted to the city’s Facebook page.
“We will be continuing to use this feature to broadcast special presentations at Council meetings and other activities during the year,” Poulsen said.
Poulsen also said Tega Cay also started streaming live video from the city’s Facebook page as soon as that feature became available in the past year.
The city shares information and receives residents’ concerns through calls to City Hall, direct staff email and inquiries on the city’s website, she said.
“This allows us to work with the individual to resolve their concern as quickly as possible,” she said.
Online forms such as “Report a Concern” and “Contact Us” on the city’s website gives residents a way to reach out to the city both in and outside of normal business hours, Poulsen said.
To use the feature, residents simply select the category of their concern and their inquiry is automatically sent to the department head or staff member that can handle it, said Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk.
“They try to address their concern the best they can,” he said.
The city had 57 question or concern submissions on the website in June and July, averaging about one per day, Poulsen said.
Calling still an option
Poulsen said calling remains one of the most effective methods residents can use to communicate directly with city staff. Often, calls are answered by a live person and are only redirected if all lines are busy.
“This person to person contact was extremely important to Mayor Sheppard when we relocated City Hall in 2012, and a result we made sure our new phone system had this capability,” Poulsen said.
Email is another of the top ways to reach city leaders.
“We feel very lucky to have little turnover here at City Hall, and as a result residents begin to develop relationships and email staff directly,” Poulsen said.
Others doing it too
Fort Mill Mayor Guynn Savage said her town also shares events on its website calendar, posts recorded Town Council meetings that also appear on Comporium local access Channel 115 and sends messages to residents on their water bills when needed.
Savage said she works to respond to direct emails, but will send inquiries to town administration or staff when necessary to get an accurate answer. She said residents can also email the proper department directly.
“The town employs several avenues to communicate with its citizens,” Savage said.
Like Tega Cay, Fort Mill also has a Facebook and Twitter presence to share information with residents.
This is part one of a series on social media and local government. The next story focuses on the use of social media by residents and local leaders.