Opinion: The City of Fort Wayne and Social Media and ‘Talent Made Here’

City social media image.

This past weekend, the News-Sentinel reported that the City had hired an Illinois company for $72,000 to, “teach it how to communicate with the public through Twitter, Facebook and other interactive forms of social media.”

Once again, writer Kevin Leininger managed to inflame the situation by mentioning only the part of the story he felt inclined.

There’s a bit more to it than simply teaching it to communicate with the public through social media.

According to the contract between Carolyn Grisko & Associates:

  • Deliverable # 1 – Development of website and e-newsletter tool; development of media outreach plan; message development (September 2010)
  • Deliverable #2 – Development of media materials; social media analysis; implementation of media relations plan (October 2010)
  • Deliverable #3 – Development of social media plan; social media tool development; implementation of media relations plan (November 2010)
  • Deliverable #4 – Implementation of social media plan; social media measurement and tracking (November, December 2010)

So, it’s not only about Facebook and other social media outlets, but also about an on-line presence in the form of the City’s website and branding and how to play better with the local media.

There are, however, several questions this brings to bear.

  • Why did we have to go to Illinois for this? There are several high calibre public relations firms right here in Fort Wayne that could have handled this mission.  There are also many gifted individuals in this community that are social media experts (and no, I’m not including myself) in their own rights – why weren’t they at least consulted about possible directions? Why were they overlooked?
  • As far as developing a social media tool, Allen County Government has done this as well as Fort Wayne Parks and the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.  Why reinvent the wheel? Why not brainstorm with these other entities to develop the City’s version of a ‘social media tool’.
  • I think, that you my readers would agree with me on this:  this website provides the information generated in the form of press releases by the City in their entirety without spin nor commentary.  I do the same thing with press conferences that I cover – provide video of the entire event instead of the 10 second sound bite or random sentences you get in the print media.  And yet, covering the press conferences has been hit or miss for me as until only recently, I was not included on the City’s Media Advisory e-mail list.  I’ve asked about this on and off over the past three years.  But, the long litany of PIO’s that have come and gone has only added to the hassle of being approved for the list.  I’d just get to know one PIO, when suddenly they would be gone.  Former PIO Joe Fox immediately put me on the list after our first conversation.  Just like that.  But, even that was not without a hitch.  For some reason, I did not receive notification of the recent City Light Lease press conference.  This was the second time, since being added to the list, that I didn’t receive notification of an important event.  I receive, with all due respect, notifications about the most inane of matters, only to have the important ones skip me.  So, the question is, will bloggers be included in the new media relations plan and will access be consistent?
  • Again, with all due respect, do City employees and the Administration really want to hear what we residents are thinking?  And more importantly, will time be taken to respond appropriately? If you start soliciting responses from residents, you’d better be prepared for what you receive.  We constantly hear how stretched our City employees are in carrying out their essential duties.  Do we really need to saddle them with the time demands and stress involved with hearing from citizens? Back when Mark Becker was Deputy Mayor, he and I had this same conversation.  Well, ours, to put a finer point on it, was how and if the City should embrace bloggers as the, ‘new media’.  We both were aware of the time demands this would place on those in the Administration who would be charged with handling them.  It was and is a valid concern.  But again, you can’t throw the opportunities out there and then not respond or follow through because you don’t have the time.  Has the Administration really thought through the time a ‘social media plan’ would demand?
  • This Administration has had a problem with knowing what, when and how to reveal information.  For instance, the signing of a second contract with the High Performance Government Network to clarify the first and the hiring of consultants to lobby the State’s General Assembly for a gaming referendum, the numerous consultant contracts that have been controversial and questionable and now this, the initiation of a new media handling strategy.  How will this contract change the reluctance to truly provide citizens with the knowledge of what the Administration’s agenda is – thereby avoiding having their message lost in the ensuing damage control?
  • I’m going to end my list of questions with this most important one – exactly who is going to use a City Facebook or Twitter page, and will the return be worth the investment?

Let’s look at some numbers.  Allen County has a Facebook page with 235 members.  They also have a Twitter account with 589 followers.  Allen County also participates in Nixle which is a free service to help with emergency and crisis communications.  It sends subscribers text messages directly from the Allen County government.  True, it’s ‘push’ and not ‘pull’, but it still can be a valuable tool in the event of a crisis.  This is absolutely free to both the Allen County government and subscribers – unless you have to pay for each text message you receive.  According to Allen County PIO Mike Green, they currently have 21 subscribers.

The Fort Wayne Parks department also has a Facebook page with 2,668 fans and a Twitter account with 143 followers.  They also set up a Blogger account, however, it hasn’t been updated since January of this year.  Which reinforces the questions set forth in #4 above.

A lot of this will be dependent on how the City markets these new social tools.  But, the even bigger part will be how they use them, frequency of that use and the quality of information provided.

It will be interesting to see how this develops and where it goes.  I can see some value in this for the City as far as the media handling plan, website and e-newsletter development and the message development (might this be also called, ‘branding’?), however, I don’t think the City has thought through the ramifications of the social media thing.

 

Talent Made Here

This is an initiative rolled out in September by the Northeast Indiana Fund to promote science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, opportunities in Northeast Indiana.  (View the press release here)  Catchy title and a good message.

However, there’s a problem.

The Northeast Indiana Fund hired One Lucky Guitar to help develop the campaign.  According to One Lucky Guitar’s Matt Kelly, they in turn hired Explore Media out of  Elkhart, Indiana for video production services.

A quick visit to the Talent Made Here website and in particular a brochure about the program, shows that Elkhart is not inside the area covered by this program.

Again, why are we going outside of our area?  Was there no one inside Allen County or the area covered by this initiative who has the ability or talent to produce the required videos?  I can think of four or five such companies/individuals off the top of my head who could have answered the call.

One Lucky Guitar is a private business, obviously not bound by a ‘buy local’ policy – unless your definition of local stretches to include Elkhart.  However, and I think I’m accurate in this, the Northeast Indiana Fund does receive funds from the City of Fort Wayne and possibly County of Allen.  The ‘Talent Made Here’ initiative is funded solely by an endowment from the Lily Foundation (Correction).  Perhaps in the future, buying local first should be an understanding for anyone working with them on such a campaign, especially one titled, ‘Talent Made Here’.

 

Related Articles:
City spending $72,000 for lessons on social media use – News-Sentinel - 6th November 2010
Fort Wayne Deputy Mayor introduces Chicago style cronyism – Angry White Boy – 6th November 2010
Do We Really Want Talent that IS MADE HERE? – OurSpace Fort Wayne – 8th November 2010
City hires social media consultant – Journal Gazette – 9th November 2010
Controversy over social media consultant – WANE-15 – 9th November 2010

6 COMMENTS

  1. As an individual that has worked with several truly creative, talented bright minds, I have noticed the community does not embrace them to the fullest extent. Fort Wayne states it desires to keep the best and talent minds in the area, yet won’t hire those with different innovative ideas that could truly better the community. Those who truly brilliant leave Fort Wayne, and build their lives because this community could not find a way to utilize their talents! Additionally, those who have left have never been asked if they would come to the Summit City and lead an economic development project.

    On a side note: Brandon and Collin Schiffili, who have ties to Ben Stiller, would like to shoot a movie in Fort Wayne in the near future. And, even with Stiller connections Fort Wayne has not asked them to come shoot a film. (Most cities would fall over themselves.).

  2. Excellent questions. We’ll know whether the city is serious about this initiative by their response and the manner in which it’s delivered. (If there is none, then we’ll know how much of a waste that $72,000 was.)

  3. Nicely researched and written. You should get a gold star, really. I will add a point based upon something you have written…

    ‘I don’t think the City has thought through the ramifications of the social media thing.’

    Perhaps that is why they decided to hire the consultant.

    Again, you have done an excellent job of offering insight to a complex issue.

    • Excellent point, Jim. I did speak with someone this morning who shed a bit more light on this, but it was after I’d written the piece. It also validated many of the questions I asked as it sounds like Deputy Mayor Mallory has asked the same.

      I really think this is just another example of something that gets twisted by public furor as driven by our local media outlets. It is exactly this which the Administration needs to evaluate – how and when to release what they are working on or considering. If they had been out in front of this, I don’t think the public back lash would have been quite as bad. They need to learn to be more pro rather than reactive.

      As I wrote somewhere, I was very outraged after I read Saturday’s article. However, after looking at the actual contract, it did make sense and I understood what the City was after. Part of the issue here is that technology has forever changed the way citizens interact with their government. The City has not kept up with that change and if that is solved by this contract, then it’s a good thing!

  4. I think this city is so off track with economic development. I could care less about the social media of our city’s website, when people don’t have jobs, poverty is on the rise, and our schools are struggling. The failure to address those problems are what’s really hurting this city. No one will want to live here in 20 years if we keep this pace up. Our education system is producing students totally out of sync with global demands. But our Mayor doesn’t seem interested in fixing those problems.

  5. Excellent work for the community to dissect this one. When I first heard this and hadn’t read a thing yet, I thought it was a joke.

    Councilman Tom Smith is making some good points about getting this done below the new $75,000 threshold for City Council review. There is more at stake here. We have a new budget with no property tax relief despite the millions of cuts made by City Council, and no city positions were eliminated. Now weeks later, $70K-plus for something the City has paid salaried staff to already do themselves springs. Bad timing?

    On timing, the City just hired a new, very talented, and impressive PIO to replace Joe Fox. Why not give her a chance to work with the IT City-salaried staff to do these tasks?

    How about talking and working in collaboration and cooperation with the County where they do the new public access media and more things without hiring “consultants?”

    For people in this city who are trying to make ends meet, this one does not pass one of the proverbial tests of public policy: “If it doesn’t look right, feel right, smell right (and more), it may not be right.”

    Also, if the money is spent, the expertise to do this is here locally. Buy Indiana! Buy Fort Wayne!

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