For years, information in Summit County has been disseminated through the Park Record and KPCW. Both do a great job but they have their limitations. Both only have a limited staff, both are mainly one way communication mechanisms, the Park Record has only so much space to print upon, and KPCW local news has less than an hour a day to talk to guests.
The impact of this is that people may miss important stories and events. People also haven’t been provided with a way for two-way conversation about topics of interest. Yes, you could call your school board representative but the conversation you had ended with you and the board member. Any knowledge gained, typically wasn’t shared with the community at large.
Enter social media.
First, please don’t roll your eyes and stop reading. All social media means is, “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” It means both providing and getting information from non-traditional sources and/or in non-traditional ways. In our community it means Facebook posts, tweets on Twitter, and messages on Next Door.
A great example of this during the past election season was about the Park City School bond. Messages were posted by citizens on NextDoor for and against the school bond. In some cases, school board representatives chimed in with their views. It was a free-for-all discussion, in all its imperfection, yet ideas were disseminated — and typically with civility. Unfortunately, when the bond died, so did a lot of the discussion.
Then recently I noticed that current Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner and candidate for the Summit County Council, Colin DeFord, was posting on Next Door and Twitter. His most recent post is about the new proposed Skull Candy building at the Boyer Tech Park. Mr DeFord wanted to inform the community about an upcoming meeting regarding the new Skull Candy building. Then a neighbor replied that they may not get great turnout at the meeting because it was caucus night. Mr DeFord replied to the neighbor with an update on what happened at the meeting and when the next discussion will be. Frankly it was perfect. Within a few hours of the meeting ending, citizens knew what had happened and what the next steps were. Sure, we could have listened to KPCW this morning and probably received an overview, but because Mr DeFord chose to use social media, we got it straight from someone who understands the issue in great depth and within a few hours of the meeting’s conclusion.
I reached out to Mr DeFord and asked how he felt social media could benefit the citizens of Summit County. He replied:
“My goal is to help to inform our community on the public processes in government, and to do that in such a way that people will have access to the information. Currently, the state requirement for ‘noticing’ citizens about public hearings is via the county and state noticing website, with an ad that is placed in The Park Record. It’s been my experience that those ads go largely unnoticed. I have come to understand, during my time on the Planning Commission, that most people in our community find out about these projects only when the dirt movers show up, and at that point, it is far too late for public comment. Ideally, the active use of social media will further bring together our community, as more and more of our neighbors find a way to be included in the process of local government. Social media is far-reaching and it’s instant, and it can be tailored to give each individual what they are searching for, quickly, and at their fingertips.”
Mr DeFord’s final sentence says it perfectly… social media is instant, it’s tailored, and it gets people the information they are interested in. Yet, I still don’t think most elected officials understand the power of the medium. In the wake of the bond defeat, some school board members were saying things like, “we can’t be responsible for watching what happens on social media and responding!” Perhaps instead elected officials should be creating the message on social media and then listening to the responses. It’s as if some people don’t understand how many people are encompassed by social media. In Jeremy Ranch, alone, over 800 people are on NextDoor. That represents about 45% of the households in Jeremy Ranch. If you want to reach Jeremy Ranch people, is there a better way?
And it’s not just Jeremy Ranch. What percentage of people around Park City use Facebook? Nationwide, 71% of adults use Facebook. It’s likely as high or higher here. I’ve heard that if you want to know where the traffic problems are, you check the Park City Garage Sale Facebook account. Really.
While I’m sure it is more work for our elected leaders to not only attend meetings but to post updates on social media, and answer responses, isn’t that what we should expect? Perhaps it’s an age thing. Perhaps Mr DeFord represents a younger generation who believes in constant, open communication. If so, I celebrate that. It makes me wonder what other ideas the younger generation may have regarding our critical issues like traffic.
The beauty of this is that it’s not only Mr DeFord who can take this first step. It’s open to any candidate or person in government. It just takes a willingness to do so. Perhaps one’s civic duty is no longer just serving one’s community but also openly communicating about what is happening.
We hope that Mr DeFord will continue to use social media in the run up to the election, and if elected, throughout his tenure on the Summit County Council. We asked him about that and he said:
“I have a Twitter account (@colind) that I use to send out notices, in addition to the Nextdoor website, which I have come to find has been a good place for posting neighborhood communications, although the reach of it is limited, at least for right now, to only a few neighborhoods. I will continue to do my best to help to adapt the services that our community uses the most, to assist in getting the word out. Access to the goings-on in our community should be freely available for all, and social media has shown to be a wonderful way to share information.”
I couldn’t say it better myself.
I really hope two things happen out of this election cycle. I hope our elected officials learn to embrace and use social media, even though it is more effort. I hope that if they do, our citizens take full advantage of that and we find a good mix of communication that provides constant feedback and ultimately better outcomes for our community.