Monday, February 2, 2009

Tweeting Local Government: Revisited - Results and Tools

Having discussed using Twitter in a local government operation before and now having things running for a few weeks I thought I would follow up on the subject. I setup the Twitter accounts for the local municipal government, the City of Shawnee, Oklahoma, automated some of the postings using various pieces of our website, found some online tools that make it easier to review/manage the accounts, and have just watched the activity. Nothing awesome or wonderful to report but steady results have followed. I thought I would follow up on how I accomplished what we've done so far and the tools used. There should be a local newspaper story in mid-February which I hope will increase the local awareness of what we are doing and help participation.

Online tools used...

TweetLater.com
For those notices that need to be sent out at a later date such as notices for Commission Meeting broadcast, planning sessions, or general reoccurring news and information, we use TweetLater.com. TweetLater lets you manage multiple Twitter accounts and schedule future tweets across one or more accounts. TweetLater will also scan for any @Replies to your accounts and send hourly notices which allows you to be notified of replies but not have to constantly monitor the feeds. If you want to follow all those that follow you, you can enable the auto-follow feature that can also send a welcome to the follower. At this time we are not following those that follow us from the 'big brother' feeling it may present to some. As our follower base grows, we will poll in the future to see what their opinion of being followed by the ShawneePD, ShawneeFD, of Cityof ShawneeOK are and make changes if applicable. I have not figured out if TweetLater has an API to allow feeding/posting scheduled tweets automatically from outside of their website but we can work around that for now.

Twitrak.com
I use Twitrak.com to get a full overview of the followers and any friends we are following on one page. The Friend / Follower layout works fine for me and the interface is easy enough to use. Plus the WallTrak is just kind of fun to play with.

Splitweet.com
For real time monitoring of the City of Shawnee accounts, Splitweet.com works well. It allows the monitoring of multiple Twitter accounts and the ability to Tweet across one or more in real time if desired. Splitweet auto-refreshes every minute or so and tracks 'brand mentions' and @Replies making it much easier to manage multiple Twitter accounts. Splitweet has a fun interface that is laid out well and easy to use. If you manage multiple Twitter accounts it can be quite useful for real-time activity.

Now on to the custom tools used...

CADCom - Computer Aided Dispatch Communicator

"How are are you posting those Police and Fire calls?"

That is a common question about the service. This is accomplished by a custom portion of the Shawnee Twitter engine developed in-house. It actually is a simple internal Active Server Page (ASP) that reloads every minute, checks the CAD database for new calls, checks to see if the Twitter accounts are to Tweet those calls and then sends the Tweets if needed.

The CADCom application was originally developed to allow Police, Fire, City employees and citizens to sign up for localized call notices through email. The user selects which call types to be notified, what time of day to be alerted, and an optional location center and radius to be alerted if the call was in that area. The application has not been pushed out for public use yet even though it was written years ago but should see the light of day in 2009.

By setting up the ShawneePD, ShawneeFD, and CityofShawneeOK twitter accounts up as CADCom 'users', and adding the bit of code that says Tweet these calls instead of emailing them the solution was born.

Integration with News, Agenda, Jobs postings
With the open API that Twitter provides, it makes it quite easy to integrate with web site code and we have used that to our advantage to automate postings. News releases that are posted by City employees to the front of the website can automatically Tweeted for the main City account with the headline and a link back to the front page. When Minutes or Agenda documents are posted to the website the information is Tweeted as well allowing citizens to easily follow what is available without having to manually check the RSS feed or the site.

We already email out job posting notifications but will add Tweets of the openings in the near future since the process is quite simple once the PostTwitter() function was built. With this function in place we can actually Tweet out anything of importance from the websites and will be reviewing and developing more solutions as they are uncovered.

Another feature that will be added in the near future is a basic 'Tweeting Page' for employees to post Tweets to the various accounts directly from their desktops. This avoids having to share the account passwords and allows Police, Fire and other employees to post short bursts of information from their desktops.

Closing...

There are the basics of what I have done in regard to Tweeting Local Government for the City of Shawnee, Oklahoma. Even without the custom code that auto-Tweets activity, local governments can use the free online Tweeting tools to keep their citizens better informed with little effort and no other costs.

Citizens should challenge local governments to look around at the options they have to help keep their citizens better informed and use those technologies whenever they can.

-Stephen W Nolen
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