Fairfax County on Twitter
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Fairfax County Twitters.
That's how far we've come. What was, seemingly just yesterday, the domain of hip youngsters regularly willing to microblog their thoughts in 140 characters or fewer is now a forum for getting streets plowed, finding the nearest farmers market and following the agenda of the Board of Supervisors.
Some of the county's Tweets are pretty dry: "BOS approves $232 million school bond referendum for Nov. 3 ballot." Some are even drier: "May designated as Older Americans Month; learn more about programs and services available: http:/
It doesn't matter, says county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald. The point is that Twitter gives Fairfax yet another path to reach residents and share with them the information they seek.
"We have to remain relevant to people we serve," Fitzgerald said. "Where are the eyeballs? They're looking at Twitter right now. So that means we need to be there."
What's more, if you think the young folks who Tweet are not the same ones craving the kind of information that Fairfax can provide, think again, Fitzgerald said. One of the beauties of Twitter is that you can search posts according to their content. So Fitzgerald and her staff can monitor all Tweets with "Fairfax County" or "Tysons Corner" or whatever other topic they want to stay on top of. That way, they learn what folks are saying and inform them accordingly.
Consider this January Tweet from a county resident to her followers: "Snow plow and sand truck JUST CAME DOWN OUR STREET. All of the snow and ice melted yesterday. WT[-], Fairfax County?" It was a random moment of frustration shared with friends, but it crossed the screen of the county's microblogger, Greg Licamele, because it contained the words "Fairfax County."
Licamele responded to the woman with this Tweet: "State of Virginia DOT is responsible for most snow removal. More info and phone number: http:/
The woman then responded: "Wow! Great to know!! Thank you!!" She then forwarded Licamele's Tweet to all of her followers. And then she sent out her own: "How cool is it that Fairfax County has a Twitter account??!"
Fitzgerald loves that story. It shows that Twittering can reach people who might not seek out county information from more traditional sources, such as phone numbers or Web pages. It also shows the potential to spread information at a viral pace.
The implications are especially promising for public safety emergencies. During a recent Amber Alert event, the county Twittered a bulletin that spread so quickly that 3,200 people saw it. The missing child, a six-month-old baby, was found that day, although not necessarily because of the Tweet. But the possibilities going forward are good, Fitzgerald said.
So far, about 673 people are "following" Fairfax County's Tweets. That' s a pretty impressive number given that the county just started in January, Fitzgerald said. The number continues to grow by about 30 followers per week, she said.
"It's a very good use of our time," she said. "Using social media, we can correct misinformation and get good information out there."