“Social media” has become a common marketing buzz word today. Unfortunately, while there are valuable applications for social media like Twitter or Face book, the value of social media applications for engaging the public have been overstated in many cases.
Creating a social media page will not automatically engage your community. Those participating in social media are only a subset of the community and unlikely to a representative sample of the overall community. If you have a group that is already hostile or distrustful, reaching out to them via social media will neither improve the quality of discourse nor increase participation. In other words, using social media will not automatically build trust. If, however, members of your coordinating group are already involved in a social media network, you can ask that they disseminate information across their networks and this can help build some trust.
What social media tools may provide is useful information on the perspective of various groups in your community. If you need to learn more about what members of your community are thinking in regards to recent events, you can mine social media to find this information. People will regularly post things on these websites that they would not necessarily be willing to say person to person or in a public forum. While we would advise against reprinting or reusing these statements as there is a certain expectation that these comments are for friends, analyzing can help you to shape your dialogue processes, think through various approaches for outreach, or to identify misconceptions in your community that will need to be addressed as you proceed. If, for instance, you find that community members are hostile to a plan or planning process, you may consider stepping back and working to better educate members of the community about the plan or process.