March 28, 2017

Reach Out to Your Residents on a Mobile Town Hall

Local government works at its best when residents are well-informed and actively engaged with municipalities. Social media is helping transform the relationship between government entities and citizens by making processes more transparent and accessible.

Local government works at its best when residents are well-informed and actively engaged with municipalities. Social media is helping transform the relationship between government entities and citizens by making processes more transparent and accessible. Facebook recently added a new app that has the potential to further improve municipality communications on a local and national level. The new feature is called “Town Hall” and it is one of the ways Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to encourage an informed, inclusive and civically-engaged community.

Introducing the New Town Hall App

Zuckerberg shared his manifesto for building a global community last month and outlined how he hoped his social network would help. The main ambition that impacts upon local government is his goal for users to become more “civically-engaged” and vote more often. A Facebook spokesman confirmed this by stating, “Town Hall is part of our ongoing work to support civic engagement on Election Day and every day. It is a dedicated space for people who want to learn about and participate in the political process.”[caption id="attachment_2798" align="alignnone" width="640"]

Image Source: Techcrunch[/caption]The app was added as a simple way for users to find and connect with their government representatives on a local, state and federal level. In his almost 6000-word letter, Zuckerberg wrote, “Today, most of us do not even know who our local representatives are, but many policies impacting our lives are local, and this is where our participation has the greatest influence.”

How to Find the Town Hall App

The Town Hall app has been added to the “More” menu in Facebook’s mobile app along with other recent additions such as weather and city guides. However, you need to make sure that you are using the latest version of the mobile app, so go to the Google Play Store or App Store on your device. Check your available updates to ensure you’re running version 83.0.[caption id="attachment_2792" align="alignnone" width="730"]

Image source:[/caption]On PCs, Town Hall is accessed differently. It is located under the “Explore” list on the left of the site. Just scroll down to "See More" to locate the Town Hall icon between the recently added Jobs and Instant Games features.

A Virtual Town Hall on Your Smartphone

To use the Town Hall app, you enter your address when prompted and Facebook will list the government officials that represent your district. Facebook says it won’t share or display your address, but it also doesn’t mention whether this information is saved.[caption id="attachment_2796" align="alignnone" width="650"]

Image Source:[/caption]Town Hall can identify officials from local council members, state governors and senators to those in higher federal positions like the President and Vice President of the United States. If you choose to "skip" the step where you enter your address, the feature will access information already on your profile, so if you only have your state listed, it will only pick up statewide and federal representatives.All of these contacts are found according to location, so it’s a great way for residents or visitors to an area to find out the local municipality representative. It will list the number of representatives relevant to your location. When the information is displayed, you’ll be able to follow these representatives with just a click of a button. However, some smaller towns may not have joined Facebook, in which case no information will be available.[caption id="attachment_2801" align="alignnone" width="650"]

Image Source:[/caption]When you follow a specific person’s Facebook page, you will receive their updates in your News Feed. There’s a “Contact” button next to each name that gives you the option to send them a message, email them or visit their Facebook page. There may also be a phone number listed, but that is entirely dependent on how much information the municipality decides to make available. Of course, not all representatives are as available as others. For smaller towns, there may be no means of contact beyond visiting a Facebook page.

Benefits for Municipal Clerks

The Town Hall app is great for communications with municipal citizens. It makes your town hall more accessible, along with all of the ordinances, agendas and other information that makes life easier for your residents. As governments struggle to regain trust, and budgets shrink, the positive PR resulting from this app is undeniable. By being available and responding to citizens’ queries consistently, local government entities are encouraging responsible citizenry and regaining trust in the long run.If you don’t have a presence on Facebook, we strongly recommend that you create a page or link for your municipality.

This is the first step to joining the app. At the moment, the tool is definitely helpful, yet somewhat limited because it’s only as good as the amount of information the municipality wants to share. That’s why we encourage you to leave as many contact options as possible – Facebook users will really appreciate it and you’ll seem more welcoming and open.[caption id="attachment_2794" align="alignleft" width="232"]

Image Source:[/caption]

Town Hall App will help you save time

Town Hall has been rolled out to Facebook users across the USA as of March 15th 2017, so this is definitely something that will keep you current with your residents. It will also help you save time since you can provide alerts about election dates and other important events. This could free up time usually spent on dealing with enquiries, particularly if you keep your Facebook page constantly updated with information so residents don’t need to contact you with common queries.The social element of this is a clear bonus because it encourages civic engagement via community psychology.

The officials that Facebook users follow can show up on your friends’ News Feeds, and Town Hall tells you how many of your friends have “connected” with them. This subtle peer pressure can encourage residents to follow your page for fear of being left out. After all, popularity and social inclusion are two alluring prospects when combined in this way. When people are unsure whether to get actively involved in local government issues, seeing their friend’s participation emboldens them and leads to better communication between the public and authorities. It also helps municipalities get a feel for the current mood in their towns and how to better approach issues.

A Town Hall in Your Pocket

You can’t ignore progress, and this app makes it possible for people to take direct social action in a way that is more accessible than ever before. Zuckerberg himself said, “Giving people a voice is a principle our community has been committed to since we began...Empowering us to use our voices will only become more important.” We recommend you join the Town Hall feature to give your municipality a better online presence and encourage your residents to participate in their community.If you have any questions about TownWeb’s design services or would like a quote, please contact us.