|Ellen Burton, executive director of OCTA External Affairs Division, gets some assistance from Ben Boyce, an employee with Laer Pearce and Associates of Laguna Hills.|
By Ted Nguyen
Manager of public communications & media relations
The best hearts and minds of social media gathered Tuesday, July 21 at OCTA to discuss how to utilize social media to create transparency and accountability as well as bring a level of authenticity to the seemingly endless and faceless bureaucracy of government and public agencies.
Billed as GOV 2.0, an overcapacity crowd of 75 Orange County professionals gathered to exchange tips and share best practices for wildly popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It was the first event of its kind for government and public agencies in Orange County.
Public Already Gets Social Media
The growing number of Californians using online tools is astounding. It’s especially true in tech-savvy Orange County, according to a recent statewide survey.
Julie Chay, a public information specialist with OC Waste and Recycling, came to the event a bit intimidated by Facebook and Twitter. After spending two hours learning about social networking sites with Ryan Maloney, an OCTA community relations associate, she became a convert.
"It was great to have hands-on learning, so public agencies can engage with the community already communicating on these new media sites," Chay said.
|Julie Chay, a Tustin resident and OC Waste and Recycling information officer, nervously awaits her one-on-one session on Twitter with Ted Nguyen, an OCTA manager.|
Public Agencies Jumping on Board with OCTA
We planned for a capacity crowd of 50, but made room for the overflow numbers. Hundreds of other people followed the event via live Twitter updates and others from as far as Lithuania, Germany and Asia participated via a live streaming online video thanks to Social Media Club Orange County’s Morgan Brown.
After communicating with many of these giants of the twitterverse in the nation, never mind Orange County, I was excited to take part in an engaging panel discussion.
|Community relations associate Kristin Johnson of OCTA, left, shows Tresa Oliveri, also of OCTA, and Rosemary Valdovines, a city of Westminster public information officer, how to use cost-effective tools to perform public outreach.|
Bringing the Superstars of Social Media
I was nervous meeting them for this tweet-up. Knots in my stomach tightened as I was feeling oh-so small because my social media experience pales in comparison to these other power panelists. Come on, can I really compare to Deborah Micek who wrote the first book on Twitter? I’m so out of her league.
Then there is Mark Davidson, the king of micro-blogging. He has 46,400 followers! Me, a measly 750 that I was happy with just days before. Or Tami Abdollah, the L.A. Times reporter who got the Times well … ahead of the times with its strong presence on Twitter and Facebook. Or Joel Bishop, the social media guru of South Orange County, who also happens to be a Dana Point city councilman.
Or the faces in the crowd. Some are the superstars of social media. But what are they doing in the audience?!? I should be learning from them. Let’s switch places, especially Rochelle Veturis, the queen of Twitter. And then there is that darn Neal Schaffer. He’s always witty and posts interesting items. No wonder why he’s got more than 21,000 followers.
Sharing and Caring
After listening to the event’s moderator, Brown, a marketing expert from Aliso Viejo, introduce us, I felt even smaller. As we discussed all sorts of topics from how news reporters are using social media to cover stories, diverse ways the public engages with elected officials and public agencies to some pretty interesting discussion on how to avoid pitfalls of launching a social media program, I quickly felt better.
I did know a thing or two about this stuff. And I learned so much more from my new-found friends online and offline.
Then it happened. My "ah-ha" moment! I realized we’re all in this thing together. That’s the point of it all – to help each other "get" social media and share it. And that’s why I love the club’s slogan: If You Get It, Share It.
And we did just that. I passed out T-shirts that I paid for on my own dime to thank these social media veterans. Obviously, it would be a Twitter T-shirt with their online names. And we unveiled a new online tool for OCTA’s new public e-volvement program that will utilize social media to complement our traditional bag of outreach and communications tactics.
It’s in the Bag: Online Toolkit to Enhance Transparency in Government
Because we all serve the same Orange County public, we shared OCTA’s new e-volvement bag of information with other agencies.
I’ve already gotten comments from other public agency folks – John Wayne Airport, County of Orange, city of Anaheim, city of Westminster, city of Orange, the sheriff’s department, O.C. fire and others – thanking us for sharing the cool kit.
Because I take my professional mantra of "If you can’t evaluate it, don’t do it!" seriously, we tallied the results of participants’ written comments. Because of outpouring of positive live tweet postings during the event, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the written surveys. Most people filled out a survey before leaving – 55 out of 75 audience members. And a whopping 100 percent said they either "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that:
- Panelists shared relevant knowledge and useful information
- Panelists were engaging
- Panel discussion was well organized
And 96 percent said they were interested in attending a future session on social media.
"Just attended an inspiring GOV 2.0 seminar on social media put on by OCTA," Julie Senter, a Long Beach PR consultant tweeted to her followers. This was just one of nearly 100 tweets on the premier event.
More Than Just Improving Transportation
At OCTA, we’re not the experts on social media by any measure of the imagination. But we have picked up some nuggets of knowledge and garnered success along the way. We've also experienced some pitfalls during our social media journey. As a public agency serving Orange County's taxpayers, we can’t help but share with others in government and public agencies because we care about enhancing our community.
For us, it’s not just about improving roads, freeways, railways and buses. It’s also about effectively communicating with the public and helping provide them with information they need to make their lives better.
Interested in more social media events? Check out the Social Media Club Orange County to get involved.