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Connecting locally: What I learned transitioning from a big to medium-sized city

May 16, 2024

Contributed blog by Angie Ramirez, Freelance Writer at Government Social Media

As a government social media manager, I've had the privilege of working for two incredible and very different cities. 

I found my passion for government social media in the large city of Tampa, Florida, with its local influencer and Instagram-worthy spots around every corner. And then, about six months ago, I made the life-changing decision to move across the country to lead social strategy for Lakewood, Colorado—a medium-sized city with a tight-knit community and Hallmark-worth charm.

Tampa's population hovers around 400,000 (and the population of Tampa Bay is around 3M). Lakewood, on the other hand, has a population of around 150,000. It's the 5th largest city in Colorado, but it has more of a small-town feel with suburban neighborhoods and a family-friendly way of life. 

Transitioning from the flashy, trend-setting landscape of a large city to the intimate, close-knit community of a medium-sized town has been an enlightening experience filled with unique challenges and unexpected discoveries. 

After moving across city and state lines, I wanted to share some of the key similarities and differences in the government social media landscape. 

Social media and society

In Tampa, social media is part of residents' everyday lives. It's where many people get their news, where influencers shape trends, and where businesses connect with customers. The City of Tampa was able to tap into this social media culture to connect with residents, build a strong sense of community, and tell the city's story. 

In Lakewood, on the other hand, the way of life is a little different. Many people choose to live in Colorado for its beautiful vistas and plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities. While there are plenty of influencers and Instagrammable destinations in neighboring Denver, many people choose Lakewood for a more low-key and off-the-grid lifestyle. Lakewood is not Denver and it's not trying to be Denver.

Understanding the cultural differences between Tampa and Lakewood has been fundamental to building a social media strategy that resonates with the local community. For example, in Tampa, because residents have such a high level of social media fluency, we were able to thrive on the cutting edge of trends and still resonate with our audience. In Lakewood, however, I need to be more strategic when using trends to ensure I'm not alienating our audience. In fact, I've found that the most successful content is more straightforward and news-style (with a clear narrative and voiceover).

Navigating this shift meant reevaluating our social media strategy, trading flashy trends for a more straightforward, news-style approach. While we still leverage trends strategically, the key to success in Lakewood lies in delivering content that speaks directly to the community's values and interests, ensuring that we remain accessible and relatable.

Whether you work for a large city or a small town, it's important to know your audience and identify how you can best leverage the power of social media to inform residents and connect your community.

Community engagement

One thing that impressed me when I moved to Lakewood was just how involved residents are in the civic process. While Tampa boasted its own vibrant civic involvement, the level of engagement in Lakewood was particularly noteworthy given its size. Despite Lakewood's smaller population, its community spirit and active participation in civic matters rivaled, if not exceeded, that of Tampa.

From the familiar faces gracing council meetings to the bustling activity surrounding civic initiatives, Lakewood's tight-knit fabric fostered a profound sense of connection and ownership in local governance. This heightened engagement can be attributed to the direct impact of city decisions on the community—a result of its smaller population and geographic size. Here, every voice carries significant weight, propelling collective efforts towards positive change and growth. 

Social media comments for the City of Lakewood often reference specific city council discussions and local issues. There is a strong correlation between what happens in the city council arena and the social media arena, so watching council meetings and keeping the finger on the pulse of public engagement events provides important intel on conversations online. Having this background information on community topics that are coming up in person is essential to providing tactful responses to user concerns online.

However, the contrast in civic engagement also highlights an essential aspect of communication strategy. While large cities benefit from the inherent diversity of their communities, smaller cities like Lakewood may need to exert additional effort to ensure inclusivity in their communications. While it's great to have highly engaged community members, we can't assume those voices represent the diversity of the entire community. It's crucial for smaller cities to go the extra mile in reaching out to diverse communities and ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs addressed.

Bigger agency doesn't always mean a bigger team

Government social media managers hold a significant responsibility as they stand on the frontline of digital communications, often with just a small team or even as a team of one. Contrary to the assumption that the size of the communications team is directly proportional to the size of the agency, my experience and interactions at events like the Government Social Media Conference have shattered this misconception.

It's awe-inspiring to realize that many large national or federal accounts are managed by just one or two team members. This revelation reinforces the value of resourcefulness and adaptability in our field, irrespective of the scale of our operations.

Change, particularly in the realm of government, takes time. Yet, amidst this evolving landscape, there's a palpable sense of excitement as cities and government agencies of all sizes embrace the power of social media to connect with their communities. So, if you're reading this as a team of one, know that A) you are not alone, and B) you are on the cutting edge of a growing field with so much momentum. Together, we pave the way for meaningful engagement, leveraging digital platforms to amplify voices, foster dialogue, and drive positive change within our communities.

Social media considerations for governance structures

Another aspect of my transition involved navigating the intricacies of governance structures. In Tampa, the strong mayor form of government provided a clear "face of the city" in the mayor, whereas Lakewood's city manager and council model distributed decision-making among multiple stakeholders.

This shift prompted me to reevaluate my social media approach, shifting the spotlight from individual personalities to the collective efforts of public servants and unsung heroes. By showcasing the diverse array of individuals working behind the scenes, we honor the collaborative spirit of our city's governance and celebrate the contributions of all those dedicated to serving our community.

Both forms of government have unique challenges and advantages for social media management, and it's important to understand how your strategy can support the overall goals of elected officials, agency staff, and the community at large. 

Conclusion

Transitioning from a big city to a medium-sized town has been a transformative journey, one defined by adaptation, discovery, and a deepening appreciation for the power of community. While the social media landscapes may differ, the fundamental principles of effective communication and civic engagement remain as powerful as ever.

By embracing the unique attributes of each community we serve, we can cultivate meaningful relationships, foster active participation, and truly make a difference in the lives of those we serve.


Meet the author

Angela Ramirez (Pitts)

Freelance Writer - Government Social Media LLC

Angela is an award-winning government communicator who is passionate about leveraging social media to build strong relationships between government agencies and the people they serve. During her tenure with the City of Tampa, Angela proudly maintained a dynamic social media presence for the City, telling Tampa’s story through historic events, including the Super Bowl, the COVID-19 pandemic, major hurricanes, and more. She also helped establish a community-centric social media following for the City, growing the @cityoftampa Instagram profile from less than 1k followers to over 100k in under five years.

She has recently moved to the beautiful state of Colorado and now serves as Communications Manger for the City of Lakewood, the 5th largest city in the state. Her passion for government social media continues as she strives to be a thought leader in the field. She takes immense pride in the connections she’s made with social media professionals across the nation.

Angela earned her bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and is currently completing her master's degree in Digital Strategy from the University of Florida. In her free time, you can find her scrolling Instagram Reels, spending time with her husband and dog, or planning her next big adventure.


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