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Newton County to improve citizen communications

COVINGTON — Newton County Commissioners want to improve the lines of communication with the citizens of Newton County by initiating a social media strategy.

Lanier Sims, who represents the second district, is pushing for an outside marketing firm, GovComms, to develop a communication strategy that would help the county write statements, send press releases and grow a fan base on social media sites.

“This is something I’ve wanted to look at for the last three years. There needs to be an improvement in communication with the citizens, because there always seems to be a gap,” Sims said. “When we need to get the word out there about what’s going on in the county, it’s difficult to reach everyone.”

He used the example of the two recent winter storms when the county was unable to have a specific outlet to update the citizens of road closures and other weather-related situations.

Sims suggested the commissioners consider hiring GovComms, which provides a variety of customized communications solutions to help government organizations, to boost civic engagement and update citizens on current happenings through sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

But a few commissioners were apprehensive about having an outside consultant speak on their behalf.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz asked who would respond to citizens’ comments on the social media sites questioning whether it would be a county employee or a GovComms representative.

“It’s still in negotiations. We could train a staff member to respond or if the issues are more touchy, we could have the company’s consultant respond,” Sims said. “In marketing, we have to tell our own story. No one can tell it for us, and we need to be on the front end of telling our own story.”

Commissioner John Douglas said that it needs to be one consistent voice and the person should be knowledgeable of the county’s position on every issue.

Another concern raised was establishing a social media policy for the county. County Manager John Middleton said the commissioners discussed adopting a policy but never took action to approve it.

Schulz said there needs to be a policy in place before beginning a social media strategy. She was also concerned about the price to hire GovComms.

Sims noted that the price quote of $1,700 per month, totaling about $21,000 for a year, is still negotiable.

He suggested the commissioners move forward with the project since the county already budgeted $20,000 this fiscal year to improve citizen communication. The commissioners voted to discuss the services and price agreement again at the April 1 meeting.

Sims said he hopes to have the new communication strategy in place within the next 60 days.