ACC government finds new way to communicate with Twitter

Fires are spreading uncontrollably in Southern California. Concerned family members and friends are wondering if loved ones are okay. The news media is working as fast as they can to get information out, but they are still too slow. As the fires rage on, two San Diego residents get creative and begin to “tweet,” or update their Twitter account, to alert friends, family and a concerned nation of what’s going on, instantaneously.

 

This is a true story that occurred in 2007 when California had an outburst of wildfires. Twitter, a status update website in which its members must use 140 characters to simply answer the question “what are you doing,” kept the public updated unlike TV, radio and the internet could. 

 

The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government has not had an experience like this, but hopes to also use Twitter, which sends updates via cell phones or e-mail, as a way to communicate with its citizens. 

 

Twitter.com, which is defined as a “microblogging” Web site, is used by over twenty government agencies, according to Social Butterfly, a social marketing blog that lists every government agency with a Twitter account.

 

“[Twitter] makes it easy to get information up and is also a way to get a nugget of information to the people and provide links and contacts for more information,” Jeff Montgomery, public information media analyst for the ACC Government, said.

 

The ACC Government started using Twitter January 26 of this year, and already has 51 followers, according to its Twitter site, twitter.com/accgov.

 

“We are always looking for new ways to get information out, and this way seemed very reasonable,” Montgomery, who personally updates the site, said. “Its benefit is its size; you can’t get wordy with it.”

 

Another government agency that has recently tweeted is the South Carolina State Government, although they tweet a little differently.

 

Rather than having a person actually tweet, the South Carolina State Government uses automatic feeding to notify its citizens of “what they are doing.”

 

“Our process is simple:  When we receive press releases, they go to the News Center (an automated RSS feed), then the press releases go to SC.gov, then they feed to Twitter,” Jeff McCartney, general manager for South Carolina Interactive who manages SC.gov, said. “It’s the best way to do it, automatically. It eliminates someone having to be at a desk.”

 

In the past four to five years, if a new website feature came out, the South Carolina Government would have to notify all media and then be at their discretion of whether they ran the story or not, McCartney said.

 

“Without having to wait on stories to run, we save even more time,” McCartney said. “Twitter is the fastest, simplest way to connect citizens and business to government; it enables folks to go online and transact with the government at their convenience.”

 

The South Carolina State Government, which has been tweeting for almost two years, has almost 500 followers. The SC Government also has a Facebook and MySpace page, while the ACC Government does not.

 

“Facebook is great but it takes more time to make it effective, particularly for a local government,” Montgomery said. “For now we are taking it slow and Twitter seems to be most useful right off the bat.”

 

Savannah Harp, a senior public relations major at the University, sells the idea of Twitter to her real life clients in her PR Campaigns class.

 

“We tell them it takes minimal time to do and is very low maintenance,” Harp said. “It’s a shorter way of doing a blog and one of the most effective communication tools the PR world is using right now.”

 

Harp, who has a Twitter page of her own, did not know of the ACC Government’s Twitter page and will probably not follow it.

 

“While Twitter is an excellent communication tool, it is definitely for a certain age range,” Harp said. “Most people in the community do not have an account, so I don’t know how effective [the ACC Government’s Twitter] will be.”

 

Twitter.com, which has over 11 million members, according to Twitterholic.com, has many famous tweeters such as Barack Obama, Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neal. Other government agencies that use the site are Rome, Georgia, Bolder, Colorado, The U.S. Department of State and The Environmental Protection Agency.

 

Twitter was launched publicly in August 2006 and founded by Jack Dorsey.  Although no representatives at Twitter were reached, its website credits simplicity for its success.

 

 “We know we are getting good feedback and followers from complaints and praises alike,” Montgomery said. “When people respond to us, whether good or bad, we know something is working.”

 

As Twitter continues to grow and catch on, you may want to find out: What is the Athens-Clarke County government doing?

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