Sunday, October 26, 2014

LOL! Did You See the Mayor on Social Media?

Location: 1144 Sherman Street, Denver, CO 80203, USA
Mayor Gierlach discusses blogging with Lisa White
at the Colorado Municipal League (CML)
Nederland Mayor Joe Gierlach gave a presentation for the Mayor's Summit at the Colorado Municipal League (CML) called, "LOL! Did You See the Mayor on Social Media?" That slide presentation is displayed below.

About a year and a half earlier, (April, 2013) Mayor Gierlach stopped by the CML offices, and met with Membership Services Manager, Lisa White, for a Q&A about his blog. A summary was included in CML's quarterly "Colorado Mayors' Connection" e-newsletter.

So, as part of Cities and Towns Week, here is the Q&A, and the presentation:

[CML] Does your town use social media?
[JOE] We have a website and Facebook & Twitter accounts. As a town, we didn't use them much, but at a CML meeting, I remembered that both Fort Collins Mayor, Karen Weitkunat and Colorado Springs Council President Pro Tem, Jan Martin, had mentioned how important Twitter was at getting information out to the public during the forest fires in their areas.

[CML] So, you increased social media use in your town?
[JOE] It happened organically. One of our citizens started a Facebook page called Nedheads. At first, it became popular for residents to post road conditions in the Boulder Canyon. Then, because it was a closed Facebook page, people felt free to discuss town politics on a variety of topics. At times there were heated debates, and eventually they created a set of self-governing guidelines for conduct on the page.

[CML] What did the town government do?
[JOE] Because of sunshine laws, we didn't participate in the conversation. However, we quickly realized that many citizen questions could be answered if they read the monthly, one page, Town Staff Reports provided in the board packet. We created a section on the town's website for the Staff Reports, and I highlighted it in my mayor's report.

About a year and a half later Mayor Gierlach gave this presentation about the basic structure of the NederMayor blog and how it came about:

[CML] How did the NederMayor blog get started?
[JOE] The local weekly newspaper (The Mountain-Ear) had been printing the mayor's report and called it 'The Mayor's Corner' but I didn't like the idea of being in a corner. So I renamed it the NederMayor blog, thinking that I would also post the same report in social media.

[CML] I noticed a lot of pictures on your blog. Is that intentional?
[JOE] Our Public Works Director began including images of corroded pipes in his report, and they became quite popular. I adopted the idea of including an interesting photo in each of my posts. Planning for the image adds an extra element to the process, but I believe that people rarely click on a post without a picture. The social media sites and tablet reader Apps, are more photo compatible as well.

[CML] Was it hard to make the switch?
[JOE] I was already writing my report for the board packet, including a photo for the newspaper, and re-posting it in social media. The transition to an actual blog, was a natural progression. I copied my old reports into the NederMayor blog, to see how it would look, and the medium really lends itself for effective communication.

[CML] Are there a lot of mayor's blogs?
[JOE] Blogging in general is a bit of an art form. Some genres are already saturated with bloggers like home improvement, or travel. There are even quite a few people who blog about blogging (which helped generate ideas for the NederMayor blog). There aren't that many active mayor's blogs, so it feels like I'm filling a market niche.

[CML] What are the technical challenges with blogging?
[JOE] Nederland is a small town, with no PR Staff, so I decided to teach myself HTML code. The process of learning to create it, has resulted in personalizing the NederMayor blog. Any municipal communications department could set up a blog page fairly easily, and several Colorado cities and towns currently have blog pages that are unused. 

[CML] Are you concerned about legal issues?
[JOE] I don't blog about quasi judicial matters before the board unless I'm informing people about a decision that has already been made, and I link to the official document on our town's website. I use a disclaimer that the blog is unofficial and are my own opinions. This allows me to give the reader an insiders look at what it is like to be a mayor of a small mountain town. I have run a few posts by our town attorney, and there are subtle nuances that elected officials will recognize from CML training.

[CML] What results are you experiencing?
[JOE] The blog has increased traffic to the town's official website, and has prompted more public engagement in local government, in a somewhat entertaining and interactive way. You will have to visit the NederMayor blog at to understand the full experience. Hopefully, it will reintroduce government to the disenfranchised segment of our population within our rapidly changing communications environment.

[CML] Thank you for your insight. Do you have advice for other Colorado elected officials?
[JOE] It has been my pleasure. Elected officials can contact me anytime with specific blogging questions.

[Here is a Video Valediction] Here is a one and a half minute clip that CML put together, "Colorado Cities & Towns Week". [What is a Video Valediction?]
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