The government behind Fairfax County in Virginia, United States, provides public services for 1.1 million county locals every day—from police, fire and rescue, animal shelter, public transportation, health department, and recreation centers, to disposal facilities.

Ranked first among American counties of its size in the 2015 Digital Counties Survey, Fairfax County is recognized for their advanced use of technology to improve government services and boost efficiencies.

80% of social media survey respondents learned more about Fairfax County services through Facebook and Twitter

95% placement rate of adoptable pets since County Animal Shelter began social presence

Building trust and serving their community better now that they can exchange information and engage freely

What they did

Facilitating a two-way dialogue with constituents

For decades, Fairfax County relayed important emergency and service updates via press releases, conferences, and media advisories. Today, social media allows the public to play a more active role in finding information and sharing it.

Fairfax County wanted to support this shift and better serve its constituents. They wanted to use social media to listen to citizens and understand their concerns, share feedback with internal teams, and use that feedback to inform future government priorities.

The centralized Office of Public Affairs decided to start with one official account for each social network. In the long term, staff would need to scale social media across departments, but their first step was to understand the channels and best practices. As their awareness grew, it became more clear that one social account per social network could no longer support 1.1 million constituents across 40 departments—they were missing opportunities to share information and make connections.


How they did it

Empowering departments across the region with social media

Fairfax County turned, in part, to Hootsuite to scale social media and empower departments to collaborate strategically and securely. “We needed to shrink Fairfax County’s 400 square miles into one centralized dashboard in which we’re all collaborating toward the same mission,” says Greg Licamele, Director of External Communications at Fairfax County Government. “For security reasons and scalability, we need to be organized and see everything.”

We wanted to build momentum and measure our success on one account before expanding across the entire organization. We needed to know why social, what are the challenges, risks, and benefits, and what’s our strategy for each department.

Photo of Greg Licamele
Greg Licamele Director of External Communications Fairfax County Government

The 6 steps Fairfax County Government took to scale social media across departments:

1. Departments apply for social media accounts, bringing strategy and content ideas to the initial discussion.

2. Licamele, the super administrator, creates all accounts and adds users into their Hootsuite organization with appropriate publishing access and team collaboration abilities. This gives the super administrator centralized control and secures the account, but also allows teams to coordinate content, assign messages, and easily access metrics—all without needing to share passwords.

3. All team members go through social media training before accessing Hootsuite. This is when team members learn how to publish and engage as a government spokesperson—especially for emergency communications. They previously had training in place for engaging with press, but added social media training for security, efficiency, and branding reasons.

4. Departments start publishing and listening through Hootsuite dashboard. They’re encouraged to cross-promote content from other departments and engage with constituents based on best practices learned during training.

5. Establish centralized office and command center for support, coordination, and listening.The Office of Public Affairs oversees all social media accounts and can assign tweets to the right account. Centralized coordination is essential during emergencies to send information out quickly and provide guidance if needed.

6. Measure success by running metric reports that show the health of accounts through fan and follower growth, impressions/reach, popular content, long term patterns, and gives them a sense of what’s working and what’s not.

Hootsuite Enterprise helps ensure security, which breeds credibility.

Photo of Greg Licamele
Greg Licamele Director of External Communications Fairfax County Government

The results

Increased constituent awareness of Fairfax County news and services

Fairfax County now successfully distributes information fast and efficiently through coordinated efforts across social media. For example:

  • A prisoner escaped from a hospital at 4am: Roads were closed, the hospital was on lockdown, and transportation services were put on hold. The Office of Public Affairs immediately supported the police department as police relayed critical updates until the prisoner was captured.
  • Fairfax County Animal Shelter increased its live release rate from 75% in 2009 to 95% in 2014: Before social media, the animal shelter department didn’t have a dedicated channel to share images and information on animals needing a home. Thanks to social media, the animal shelter drives more awareness and now has a 95% placement rate of adoptable pets.
  • A rumor spread an Ebola patient was in the hospital at Fairfax County: The health department was aware that something like this could happen, but when rumors turn into news stories and viral social media messages, Fairfax County Health Department had to act quickly. Three staff members took the lead on social media. Two staff members answered questions and reassured the public; the other monitored feeds, assigned messages, and strategized the best approach.

'Ebola patient in Fairfax' was trending in our Hootsuite streams. We found out later that it was a mere rumor, but at the time we (the Health Department and Public Affairs) divided and conquered the messages in Hootsuite to contain the crisis.

Photo of Anne Cissel
Anne Cissel Communications Specialist Fairfax County Health Department

Before social media, Fairfax County would hope that media would pick up a story and relay the right information to the public. Today, they take control of the story. Using social media, they can quickly squash rumors, share emergency information, and market an event or service.

“Numbers don’t always tell the whole story,” says Licamele. “We know that more people are getting our information—and that is a quantitative result of using social media across so many accounts within Hootsuite.”

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