Allen County: Enhancing Services with Social Media

Allen County Government is on the forefront of Indiana local governments that are effectively using social media tools to enhance the services they offer citizens. Allen County Recorder John McGauley is not the only government official in his county to use these tools. He does, however, have an interesting perspective because of his background as a journalist.

Public Servants Improving Customer Service

John McGauley is currently using Twitter and Facebook, both of which are free online communities that connect people. Twitter allows a user to develop a following and post brief messages in real time for those followers. Facebook is similar to Twitter but has many more tools and allows for more interaction between users.

Because Indiana County Recorders' offices preserve many of the community's most important records such as home mortgages, neighborhood covenants, business names and military discharge documents, they can have many visitors on any given day. McGauley said his office may have as many as 60 people per day coming in to research documents or record new deeds. Those who use the office could be members of the general public, realtors, lawyers, title companies, banks, individual property owners, etc.

"Almost Everything (records) in our office from 1970 to the present is on computer. So, if we're going to have an issue that takes our system offline for awhile, we want to get that out immediately." McGauley uses Twitter to relay these kinds of messages.

Recently, the Allen County Recorder's office moved and used Twitter to send out notices about the move. "We used it throughout the day to send messages such as ‘if you need to search, that's up now'." McGauley said that it is important to get these messages out in real time. "You can't put these in a newsletter and websites can be difficult to update."

In addition to using Twitter, McGauley uses his personal Facebook page to send out updates which allows for more feedback. He said he receives many comments when he posts news about what's going on in the office. "When we launched our Property Fraud Alert service, the first place we were able to make that public was Facebook, and one of the first people to sign up was a Facebook friend." In addition, some of McGauley's Facebook friends are local news media who read his posts to search for story ideas.

Building Relationships and Creating Value

Over time as reporters have followed McGauley on Facebook, the rapport he has with them has improved.  "I have Facebook friends who are reporters and editors in television, radio, and newspapers, one of whom uses Facebook almost exclusively now to contact me," McGauley said the use of Facebook personalizes the story ideas that he does post on his page. "I can post them there in a way that relates to people as individuals rather than an audience for the 6:00 news."

Perhaps the most important relationships that improve with the use of social media are the ones that develop between you, the office holder, and the voters with whom you connect with on Facebook, Twitter or whatever media is relevant for the times.

Case-in-point: Last year, the Allen County Recorder's office put a lot of effort into a news conference to announce a new online tool that would allow people to research neighborhood covenants. McGauley said the story did not receive much press coverage because the general news media did not understand the significance of the tool, part of that importance being a way to improve the community by helping to prevent conflicts.

"I started posting and it (online neighborhood covenant search) is now the number one tool on our website: more than 800 unique visitors in one month. And most, if not all, of the publicity that paid off came from Facebook."

Investment of Time Required: Minimal

The time invested in learning to use social media tools is very little. McGauley said his initial investment to learn the tools was only a couple of hours. The time you may spend on a daily basis to provide real time updates might equal a couple of minutes. "If we're getting results in the Recorder's office, County Commissioners and Council people should be giving it a shot as well."

One of the best ways to learn anything is through observation. You can observe how the Allen County Recorder's office is using social media by creating accounts on http://www.twitter.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/. To follow John McGauley on Facebook go to www.facebook.com/johnmcgauley and to start following the Allen County Recorder's office on Twitter, simply log onto http://www.allencountyrecorder.us/ and click on the Twitter icon.

You Tube: Another Valuable Resource

Allen County government is using other social media to increase value for its citizenry. The use of You Tube, a free online video sharing community, has been used by Allen County to educate citizens about such topics as: paying property taxes online, safe driving training for Sheriff's deputies, unemployment issues in the community, and dozens of other topics. To view the Allen County You Tube page, visit www.youtube.com/allencountyinfo. A quick look at the Allen County page shows that people are paying attention. Many of the videos have had upwards of 90 hits or more. Allen County does invest a lot of effort into producing these videos, but it is clearly creating value by educating the community about the benefits of county government.

I am always looking for stories from counties that are creatively using communications tools for the betterment of their communities. To submit story ideas, email me at kavery@indianacounties.org or call me at (317) 829-3656. To hear the entire interview with John McGauley click on the link below. This article first appeared in the July August edition of the Indiana News 92 magazine, a bi-monthly publication from the Association of Indiana Counties.