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Douglas County dips a toe into social media

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Officials in Douglas County are in the process of developing social media as another platform for departments to communicate with residents.

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The Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved a handbook for social media policies during its regular meeting last Tuesday. These policies are the first step toward using social media to enhance communication, and a steering committee is in the process of deciding which platforms the county would use.

Douglas County Information Technology Director Brent Birkeland said the plan is for each department to decide whether they will embrace social media as a way to communicate with the public.

“We wanted to put this in the laps in our departments, that if they want this presence they have the ability to do it, certainly to sign up and manage it internally within the department,” Birkeland said.

The county’s department heads would be in charge of their specific social media sites if they choose to use the tool, and Birkeland said they would likely designate employees to provide the content. An official Douglas County Facebook page or other social media site is also something that was anticipated.

“We have, in particular I’ll use the sheriff’s office as an example, that they would like to maintain, say a Twitter account, to increase the public awareness of safety issues, weather, whatever,” Birkeland said. “It’s a departmental approach.”

One question commissioners had was about regulating what employees post on the county social media sites on their own time.

“They cannot go post things online in their capacity as a county employee without stating something to the extent disclaiming ‘this is my personal opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of the county,’ because we certainly can’t have people doing that,” Birkeland said.

Another risk the county is trying to guard against is the potential for outside users to gain access to these official social media accounts. The handbook includes mention of security measures “to protect county information and technology assets.”

“From a technology standpoint, we talk about risk in terms of security and making sure that we don’t expose ourselves and our internal systems to identity manipulation or corruption as far as the accounts that we use to set up these social media sites,” Birkeland said.

But social media provides a positive tool for reaching out to residents in Douglas County, he added. The social media effort is part of the county’s redesign of its official website. The technology staff expects the sheriff’s office and the public health department to find social media the most valuable.

“We are seeing the growth from a public entity perspective as a communication tool,” Birkeland said. “So we thought it was time that, in addition to our web redesign, we provide a different communication means.”

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Blaze Fugina
Blaze Fugina is a sports reporter at the Echo Press. Before working in Alexandria, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. He previously worked as the community editor of the Mound Laker for more than a year. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.
(320) 763-1230
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