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My top 5 takeaways from GSMCON2023: A Leslie Knope experience

May 18, 2023

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

Putting into words how impactful GSMCON2023 was for me is difficult to do. 

As a major government social media nerd, I knew that I’d have a blast at the conference. I was actually called “Leslie Knope” a few times, which is hands down the best compliment I could ever receive. 

But, what I didn’t expect was just how inspired, understood and embraced I’d feel by the GSM Community. 

This was my first time attending GSMCON in person, having attended virtually in 2022. While I truly enjoyed my #VirtualLand experience, attending GSMCON in person took the event to a new level, allowing me to meet so many incredible socialgovs from across the nation. The connections I made in Reno, NV were invaluable and one of my favorite parts of the conference. If you have the opportunity to attend in person next year, I highly recommend it!

In addition to attending, I also had the privilege of speaking in two sessions, “What the Tweet?” and “Government Gets Reels.” I want to sincerely thank everyone who attended these sessions and all those who came up after to ask questions and share their feedback/experiences. I could talk about government social media topics all day, so, thanks for listening.

And lastly, I had the absolute honor of accepting two Golden Post Awards for the City of Tampa: ‘Best Instagram Presence’ and ‘Best Use of Social Media in an Emergency.’ For those of you who were there or who watched virtually, you likely heard the shake in my voice when we accepted the latter award – it meant a lot. Thank you to the judges, and congratulations to all my fellow Golden Post award winners and finalists.

I learned so much through each session at GSMCON, and I had a blast along the way. Without further ado, here are my top 5 takeaways from the 2023 Government Social Media Conference:  

1. These are my people

Networking is not something that has come naturally to me. While I’m a social person, I’ve sometimes struggled with how to strike up conversations with strangers. But, that wasn’t an issue at GSMCON. Everyone I met was so friendly and excited to talk shop. And I was a little surprised that networking was my favorite part.

Unlike other conferences that may be more broadly focused on marketing or government relations, this conference is very niche and 100% relevant to our industry. I felt incredibly seen, understood and energized by my fellow socialgovs. Whether we were commiserating together or bouncing ideas off each other, each connection made me feel like I had a new friend and someone I could go to in the future when I need someone who just gets it. 

These networking opportunities are also super valuable to your organization by making it easier to connect with neighboring cities (shoutout to my Florida friends!) or socialgovs nationwide during a national event, like a global pandemic (knock on wood) or Taylor Swift Eras Tour. 

Throughout the conference, I also learned about awesome opportunities to get more involved with the GSM professional association, including opportunities to run for council or a spot on a committee. A funny moment happened when my colleague and I sat in a professional association meeting (as new members 🥳), listening to all the opportunities to get involved. My colleague started turning to me to say, “we should look into joining this committee,” and when she saw my expression, she actually LOL’d. My face looked like the Chris Pratt/Andy Dwyer “surprised” meme due to my inability to contain my excitement. 

via GIPHY 

All that to say, GSMCON brings together an incredibly niche and little talked-about cross-section of social media professionals, and it’s that niche structure that allowed me to get so close to so many awesome people. If you, like me, are looking for someone who just gets it, there isn’t any other gathering that’s quite like this.

2. Embrace Instagram Reels

I may be a little biased on this one, given that my session was “Government Gets Reels,” but I was pleasantly surprised to see that my focus on Reels was echoed throughout the conference by many professionals. Instagram Reels are one of the most engaging forms of content on the internet today. And while TikTok is facing some national scrutiny (for example, it’s been banned by the Florida governor for state agencies), Reels offer a similar opportunity to create fun and engaging short-form video content. 

Even the keynote speaker from Meta, Carlin Daharsh, emphasized the importance of embracing Reels. One interesting stat she mentioned during her session was that 80% of Instagram Reels are watched with sound on. This indicates the importance of using good-quality sound and trending audio when possible.  

3. Don’t ghost your legal department

Several sessions at GSMCON discussed common legal issues in the socialgov industry. The topic of the First Amendment and freedom of speech was especially important and relevant. Mark Weaver’s session on “Social Media Policy Even Your Agency Lawyer Might Not Know” was fascinating and slightly spooky. 

It definitely made me appreciate the importance of building a relationship with your legal department to ensure your social media policies and practices are vetted and constitutional. A big takeaway is that deleting comments can get you in big trouble, and even the built-in filter options for profanity could have implications. The bottom line is this: Talk to your legal department to ensure your agency and yourself are protected from possible liability.  

4. “April Ludgate in the brain, Leslie Knope on the keyboard”

Another standout session for me was Jessie Brown and Danielle Rogers’ talk on Embracing Negative Engagement to Build Relationships. The key takeaway from this session is that you should be responding to comments most of the time. 

Even negative comments can be an opportunity to educate, engage or even just show that you’re listening. In the words of Leslie Knope, "What I hear when I'm being yelled at is people 'CARING LOUDLY' at me.”

Negative comments can be frustrating and can sometimes feel personal. As a social media manager for a growing city, I’ve had to learn the hard way that you can’t let the critics get you down. But as socialgovs, it’s our jobs to try to steer the conversation in a positive, or at least constructive direction. Sometimes this means taking a deep breath before responding to a comment. In another genius Parks and Rec reference, Jessie and Danielle reminded us to be “April Ludgate in the brain, Leslie Knope on the keyboard.” 

Jessie and Danielle also had a great way of classifying the different types of negative comments and they offered recommendations for when to respond and not to respond. The bottom line is to lead with kindness and remember that sometimes commenters just want to be heard.

5. The socialgov community is inspiring

My last and most important takeaway from #GSMCON2023 is that our socialgov community is inspiring! 

Government social media is not only a niche industry but also a critical one. We are all in this together, navigating the ever-changing social media landscape and working to embrace best practices to serve our constituents and keep them informed. Many people I met are a team of one, which can be a lot of pressure and responsibility to wear many hats.  

Throughout the conference, I met so many hardworking, passionate and dedicated professionals that truly care about engaging their communities. From the speakers to the Golden Post Awards winners and each attendee I met, I learned so much from each of you. Hearing the creative and innovative ways each of you use social media to tell your agency’s story inspired me and gave me so many fun ideas. 

Overall, GSMCON was an unforgettable experience, and I hope to meet more of you next year in Palm Springs.

Meet the author

Angela Ramirez (Pitts)

Freelance Writer - Government Social Media LLC

Angela Ramirez (Pitts) is the Communications Strategist for the City of Tampa. Her primary responsibilities include managing the City’s social media profiles and assisting the Marketing & Communications department with all external communication needs. Angela helped grow the City’s Instagram profile from less than 1k followers to over 100k in 5 years. She also helped the City of Tampa become one of the first municipalities to join TikTok. Her work in social media has been featured by national outlets, including CNN Politics and Smart Cities Drive.

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