Halifax’s government is missing an opportunity to better connect with and serve its citizens.
When I was thinking about this column, I asked readers both on Facebook and Twitter what they thought of HRM’s social-media efforts. Considering how much heat HRM gets, there was a surprising amount of satisfaction. “Pretty prompt with responses, even though 140 characters can be a serious limitation,” says reader Krista Spurr. Reader and sometimes Halifax Magazine photographer Shaun Simpson agreed: “Tweeted them a few times; fast responses, clear follow-up. 24/7 would be nice, but I don’t want to pay extra taxes for it.”
People seem generally pleased that they can ask questions about bus service or snow plowing or whatever, and get a fairly timely response. So when Halifax Magazine reader Ashlee Fukala Tweeted in late January about a Metro Transit bus passing her stop without pausing to pick her up, I was curious how HRM would respond.
I spent years commuting with Metro Transit and had that maddening experience several times myself. Metro Transit spokesperson Tiffany Chase responded quickly, asking Fukala if she was standing in the right place, and suggesting she phone the city’s call centre at 311 to make a complaint. (Hilary Beaumont has the full story here.)
Like many observers, I didn’t find that a satisfactory response. “Their tone is bad…when interacting with complaints,” says former mayoral candidate Matt Worona. I think the problem is that “Call 311” response. It smacks of buck passing.
But Shaune MacKinlay, HRM’s public affairs manager at the time I wrote this (moving to the Mayor’s office this month, where she’s becoming an advisor and communications strategist), says the response isn’t intended the way I take it. “People sometimes infer a tone we don’t intend,” she says. “Social media isn’t a full-time job here. We have two people managing the account. They do a different job, that happens to include social media.”
She explains that HRM has specific software to log and address complaints, with call centre staff equipped to handle those issues. That’s not a responsibility communications staff are trained for, nor does the software allow them to pass on secondhand complaints. “They can’t get into dispatching service,” she says. “About 140 characters isn’t enough to deal with a complaint. Because of the limitations of Twitter, we don’t always get enough information.”
Adding to that is the fact that Twitter isn’t a 24/7 priority for HRM. So even if they did take complaints that way, responses would often (say over the weekend) be delayed. “It’s a question of how you resource it,” MacKinlay says. “Now we’re having conversations around how we do it. I think we’ve created an expectation. Twitter has changed the way we communicate, and we’re going to have to adjust to meet that. We’re working to meet the demand. It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work. We’re providing information that the public wants.”
What do you think? Should HRM be focusing more on social-media, or are its current efforts good enough?
Designer Beth Muzzerall first joined our team a couple of issues ago, and this month she leaves a dramatic thumbprint on the magazine: Beth created that striking cover image. In the accompanying story, on page 26, Jon Tattrie looks at the popular Dear Halifax social-media campaign, and explores how viral campaigns can create real change. Beth’s challenge was to craft an image that reflected Dear Halifax. The cover she created depicts dozens of ideas that Dear Halifax has brought forward, while neatly capturing the campaign’s energy and optimism. Look for much more from Beth in future issues.