Cities embrace social media to push information out to stakeholders and to engage residents in city business. We’ve heard about the promise of e-Government; even if it’s not really here yet, platforms like Twitter and Facebook are the new water cooler and town square (respectively). They are the building blocks of two-way communication between the people and those who work on our behalf.
Since Beverly Hills first hopped on to the social sharing bandwagon (back in January of 2010 – a latecomer), it surely took its time deploying social media to increase engagement. Until last week, the city was unable to complete work on its social media page (perennially ‘under construction’ with a half-finished table of links). Today the city’s social page is complete.
Let’s hope this marks the beginning of a new era for Beverly Hills. It can take a page out of the City of Santa Monica playbook; it is the gold standard for public engagement (and social sharing, with no fewer than 11 city-operated Twitter accounts and 20 Facebook pages). I believe that Santa Monica means it when it says, “Let’s be friends…..We want to connect with you.” Beverly Hills, on the other hand, broadcasts a very different message. Too often, it seems to say, ‘We’re not really that interested in hearing from you.’
With capable staff, a deep bench of high-capacity community Commissioners and volunteers, and technology know-how, shouldn’t Beverly Hills be a leader in communicating with residents? The difference between a cutting-edge city (Santa Monica) and our own retro burgh could not be clearer.
Santa Monica invites residents to communicate problems directly to the city. The new ‘GORequest’ mobile app (for iPhone and Android) allows for a quick snapshot of the problem then it routes the image and information to the correct department. What’s more, that city is recognized as a municipal leader in technology. And this year it won a ‘Top 25 Innovations in Government’ from Harvard’s Kennedy School for a pioneering broadband network it calls Santa Monica City Net. All great accomplishments for a great city.
Beverly Hills city government, by contrast, has its work cut out for it if it wants to catch up. The city’s e-noticing system is serviceable (sign up and you will get notices) and rumor has it that the city is working on a mobile app. That’s all good. Beyond that, though, and our city’s communication practices fall down.
The website is terribly dated. The public’s email contact system (aka Comcate) is yesterday’s technology at best. Worse, though, it won’t let you attach a file or identify a particular city staffer or department head to contact. It actually discourages communication with city officials. The In Focus online newsletter, too, is a missed opportunity. It is all fluff and even fails to invite residents to become involved in city business.
Shouldn’t the objective of these tools be to increase engagement? Instead, they seem to be a part of a rearguard action to merely fix problems. Only after receiving a complaint is a change made. (That’s how the social page was finally completed). That’s not proactive. Nor is it satisfactory. Beverly Hills pays two administrators, a webmaster, and a contractor handsomely to maintain our online services, yet one look at the website will take you back to the year 2000. Why don’t we have a state-of-the-art site like Santa Monica?
I call that a communications #FAIL.
(If you want to read more about BH governance, tune into my Patch column where I touch on these and other aspects of Beverly Hills that would benefit from a refresh.)