The City of Hamilton taps social media specialists, connects with residents, and hits the big time

HAMILTON, Oh. - For City of Hamilton residents, finding information and communicating with officials has become far more social these days.

People who live, work, and tweet in the Butler County seat may not be surprised that the city recently became a finalist for the 2013 Social Media Leadership Awards (SMLA) presented by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The City of Hamilton is among more than 30 finalists--including recognizable entities such as Adobe, American Airlines, Habitat for Humanity and JP Morgan Chase. The winner will be announced at a conference in Philadelphia on Dec. 10.

Investing in engagement

So how did an Ohio city of about 63,000 people hit the social media big time? In June, leaders decided to reboot the city’s social media activity and tapped into the Hamilton Ohio Fellowship Program to do it. The program awards fellowships to three candidates to prepare them for careers in city administration. It pays an annual salary of $25,000 and includes housing and parking for awardees in the historic district.

Based on their social media experience, the city selected:

“By being more transparent, we can create greater social interaction, foster engagement, and increase citizen participation throughout the community,” City Manager Joshua Smith said. “The fellows have done a fantastic job implementing a successful social media strategy and the recognition is well-deserved.”

“Our overarching goal for social media is to promote the City of Hamilton as an awesome place to live, work and play,” Hufford said.

While the city already had a Facebook page when the program started, Stone explained it primarily pushed information out to the public, leaving virtually no room for interaction. He said the updated site is a vast improvement. 

“Our overall goal for social media is to use it as a platform to build awareness in our community that encourages and fosters engagement that will hopefully and eventually build civic involvement,” Stone said. “Like on a scale much larger than just liking a post or commenting on a post, but provide the information that’s compelling enough that people want to participate because they saw it on Facebook.”

Surprising success

Hufford said the fellows decided to begin Hamilton's social media makeover by focusing on Facebook before moving on to other platforms. A two-month trial revealed surprising results.

“We did some statistical analysis and we thought we’d get around 80 additional ‘likes’ on Facebook over the test period, but we ended up getting 426 more likes, so that was a huge jump,” he said.

(As of Nov. 1, 2013 the page had about 3,770 likes. That means the page has 60 fans for every 1000 city residents, although it's likely some of the city's Facebook fans live outside Hamilton).

The dramatic uptick in fans inspired the fellows to enter the City of Hamilton in the SMLA. Stone said the fellows stumbled onto the competition site and submitted their results just prior to the deadline. When they found out they’d been chosen, he said they were beyond excited.

“Excited would be putting lightly,” he said. “About an hour after we found out, we were still running around telling everyone.”

Updating posts seven days a week and several times throughout the day helped the Facebook page not only
increase in relevance but reach a much larger audience, Stone said.

In order to promote interaction, the fellows created competitions, such as the "Photo of the Week," where residents submit entries resulting in a winning post on the site. The fellows also pose questions to spark conversation, like asking residents to name their favorite Halloween movie.

Unexpected involvement

One of the most unexpected results of the updated Facebook page is residents themselves debunking rumors, misinformation and responding to negative posts. Stone said recently, a resident commented on a post about the Meldahl Hydroelectric Project having no bearing on the City of Hamilton. Stone said another resident not only responded to the post, but went so far as to provide extensive information.

“They actually went to our city web page and gave them a link for more information about that project and what is has to do and what it means for our city,” Stone said. “That’s really exciting for us to see.”

Hamilton resident James Brown has been visiting the city’s Facebook page for the last two years. He said he appreciates the increased number of posts on the site that allow him to keep apprised of events and news for the city.

Next page: Negative comments color user experience

One thing Brown doesn't like? Negative comments. He said City of Hamilton residents tend to voice their dissatisfaction far more than their approval. As a resident of the city since 2005, Brown said he’s seen improvements in the city and urges other residents to give leaders a chance before turning to criticism.

“I’d like to see more people getting involved,” he said. “I’d like to see posts every day: different things that are going on. I’d like to see more people getting involved and interacting with each other in a positive way.”

About SMLA

  • Awards identify leaders in outstanding and innovative social media strategies that seek to solve challenging issues
  • Organizers received hundreds of entries from more than 15 countries
  • Entries were evaluated by a panel of global leaders in business, social media, and academia
  • Finalists were selected by a panel of judges who scored entries based on innovative strategies and measurable success in achieving business objectives through the use of social media

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