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Cornelius News

How towns communicate: Social media is one way

Nov. 23. By Dave Vieser. The date was Thursday Sept. 29. With a hurricane bearing down on the southeast, the Town of Davidson transmitted the following message:

The National Weather Service has issued a tropical storm warning for Mecklenburg County.  Due to impending severe weather, the Town of Davidson will activate the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Friday, September 30, 2022 at 8 am and remain operational until further notice.

Similar messages would eventually be sent out by other municipalities in the county. The source of the message in each case: the Public Information Office (PIO).

Towns once only could communicate with the public at town meetings, via direct mail or through press releases to newspapers or radio stations.

With the rise of social media, information is disseminated on multiple platforms.

The PIO operation varies by community.

For example, MaeLynn Joyner, the Communication Manager in Cornelius for almost two years, says she likes to post Town messages on Facebook. She also produces a twice-monthly newsletter which includes a lead feature article on a town employee or community leader.

Other towns take the role of their PIO announcements in a different direction, with local publications in mind.

Davidson

Davidson relies most heavily on three avenues: The Town website which is updated daily, social media channels such as Facebook, and Constant Contact, through which they distribute information on town event news, upcoming public input sessions, and departmental information.

Davidson employs a full-time communications director (Amanda Preston) and a part-time communications assistant (Wendy Matthews). “In addition to these platforms, we also produce a quarterly newsletter and community calendar,” said Preston.

“For real time emergency alerts, we encourage our residents and businesses to subscribe to CharMeck Alerts.” Unlike Cornelius, where the town manager handles most media inquiries, Preston handles all media inquiries and coordinates with departmental employees when necessary.

Concord

The city employs two dedicated staff members for PIO activities: Lindsay Manson, public affairs and project manager, and Megan Redford, communications specialist.

“Together, we handle all external communications for the city, including public safety (police, fire, emergency management, 911),” said Manson.

They utilize multiple means to get information to the public, including press releases and direct media pitches and stories (print, TV, radio) as well as the city’s new website (concordnc.gov) which was overhauled and relaunched last year. They also have a quarterly print magazine that is mailed to households as well as Everbridge, an outreach service for emergency alerts and calls out to residents regarding disruptions in utility services.

Within the public information office they also have a community outreach coordinator who manages the city’s Partnership for Stronger Neighborhood Program.

“The partnerships formed through that program are also vital to their overall efforts to involve the community and share information and important announcements,” Manson said.

Cornelius

Back in Cornelius, the town tries to deliver timely and relevant information to the residents of Cornelius via social media, bi-weekly e-newsletters, Cornelius.org, press releases, and through live community events.

The PIO office also:

• Develops and implements citizen feedback opportunities through surveys and reporting tools.

• Responds to requests and inquiries regarding services and events.

• Provides internal communications to ensure all employees are well-versed and informed.

Both Karen Ulmer, Parks & Recreation administrative assistant and Michael Wolf, Parks & Recreation special events coordinator, assist in generating communications for park activities.

Of course, relying on Facebook as the main channel of communications can have its pluses and minuses. For example, early Friday morning Oct. 14, a message was posted on Facebook announcing the postponement of overnight road closings in Cornelius, but the same information had not been posted on the towns web site as of 5 pm the same day.

How the media contacts municipalities

Reporter inquiries are handled differently depending upon the municipalities involved. In Cornelius, the inquiries are handled by the Town Manager. However, in Huntersville, Davidson  and Concord, these inquiries are handled by the respective public information officers.

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