"Pokemon Go" fever hit the city of Las Vegas staff Monday morning, but with a larger purpose beyond capturing a mankey, pidgey or zubat character.
It started with the social media team’s 8 a.m. meeting, where staff members assemble to discuss their game plan for the day. Their aim is to be creative, informative, engaging and relevant, and on this morning, there was nothing more relevant than the augmented-reality app luring people out of their homes in search of elusive Pokemon characters.
And so the team quickly settled on lending a hand. Three staff members fanned out across downtown and documented Pokemon character locations. Several hours later, a "Pokemon Go" guide appeared on the city’s Tumblr account, and city staff shared it via Twitter and Facebook as well.
“People have been really excited,” said Jennifer Davies, the city’s social media manager. As of Tuesday afternoon, the blog post had generated at least 200 visits and dozens of shares, she said.
Welcome to the world of government communications. Gone are the days of communication limited to public meeting agendas, emergency bulletins, dull government television broadcasts and whatever information the local and national media decide to share.
Government agencies are increasingly turning to social media to engage and inform residents, and it’s easy to see why: A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news on social media.
“It’s a place you have to be to engage people,” said Erik Pappa, director of public communications for Clark County, which was one of the first government agencies in the state to establish a social media presence.
Three years ago, the city of Las Vegas hired Davies as its first full-time staff member dedicated to social media. Today, the city has a presence on nine different social media channels — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Next Door and Google Plus — and employs three other staff members who spend at least a portion of their time assisting Davies.
Unlike companies trying to make a sale, the city uses social media to make connections with locals and tourists while breaking down the perceived walls shielding government operations.
“Our goal is always engagement,” Davies said. “We want people to talk to us, and we want them to be interested in what we’re doing.”
But how do you get people interested in government happenings?
Be lively, conversational and humorous — or at least that’s what is working for the city’s social media team. They weave GIFs of puppies and kittens into their informational posts, create eye-catching videos and inject personality into their content. Some of it is created on the fly, with a pulse on trending topics, and other items are planned in advance.
For instance, the city decided to make a splash when it celebrated reaching 100,000 followers on Twitter. The result: a two-and-a-half-minute video showcasing city staff, residents and downtown locations to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” summer hit.
This summer, a throwback photo of Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her husband, Oscar, also drew strong engagement, Davies said.
“Over the last year or two, we’ve really tried to take humor to a new level,” she said. “We found that people just like that best.”
Since July 2015, the city has grown its following 83 percent on Twitter, 106 percent on Facebook and 345 percent on Instagram. On average, the team produces 1,300 new posts and replies across all mediums each month. The team’s budget for content-management tools is $59,000, Davies said.
The city of Las Vegas isn’t the only entity leveraging the power of social media.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which manages the @Vegas Twitter handle among others, launched its Snapchat channel over Memorial Day Weekend with the help of DJ Khaled. The hip-hop star chronicled his experience in Las Vegas on the social network known for its sequential story option as well as images and videos that disappear upon receival.
Snapchat users witnessed DJ Khaled taking a gondola ride, being pampered at a spa and enjoying Las Vegas Strip views from the Cosmopolitan.
His diary of sorts was a hit. The organization’s Snapchat launch generated more than 400,000 views and 25,000 engagements in a 48-hour period, said Caroline Coyle, vice president of brand strategy for the LVCVA.
The tourism agency has devoted 11 percent — or roughly $6 million — of its total budget to social media, including both content creation and paid social media, she said. The LVCVA would not disclose how much it paid DJ Khaled to participate in the Snapchat launch because it was a negotiated contract.
The authority's social media presence is equally robust. The LVCVA has about 3 million followers across all the networks it uses, and you’ll never see the same post on different accounts. The staff tailors content to each network because what works on Facebook might not for Instagram and vice versa. The LVCVA also customized its Facebook accounts for 10 different international markets.
“What we really want to do is connect with the customer — the potential traveler — and inspire them to like Las Vegas,” Coyle said. “The ultimate goal is to get them to visit.”
Metro Police, on the other hand, largely uses its social media accounts for purposes related to public safety. Through its tweets, the department warns residents about traffic, seeks information about crimes, educates the public about safety and offers a more personal look at officers. A recent post, for example, included video footage of a lieutenant reciting a poem he wrote in the wake of the Dallas police officer shootings.
Given social media’s growing potential, Clark County soon will be hiring a full-time employee devoted to its online efforts. The Clark County Commission approved the new position, with a salary range of $37,800 to $58,500, for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.
Pappa, who heads the county’s public communications office, said he was seeking a more sophisticated approach to social media to augment what the county had been doing. Right now, it’s a team approach with the public information officers all contributing.
The addition of a digital communications specialist — the formal name for the new position — would only help the county enhance its social media presence and community engagement, Pappa said.
“We think it’s going to be a really popular position, so we’ll probably cap the number of applications we accept,” he said.
The position will be posted on — where else? — the county’s social media channels.