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County hires firm to engage citizens
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Newton County officials are turning to social media to try to get citizens more involved in government and community initiatives.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a contract to pay GovComms $1,750 a month for three months to create and build a following for a county Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn page and other social media outlets, plus an additional $750 a month for three months to advertise the social media programs.

The contract calls for the county to provide $6,000 to pay for the actual cost of advertising to build its social media networks. The total cost to the county, assuming all advertising money is used, would be around $13,500 for three months.

Chairman Keith Ellis said Tuesday the company won’t be doing traditional public relations work, but will be working to engage citizens with the county government in a variety of ways, including:
-Spreading the word about important county issues and events
-Working to engage more citizens on the west side of the county, who can be more connected to Rockdale County
-Conducting polls on county issues
-Recruiting citizens to fill county boards and committees
-Writing press releases in conjunction with the board and chairman

According to the contract, GovComms will be responsible for updating all social media outlets at least three times per week and being available 24/7 to handle urgent social media updates.

The company will also work with the Board to create a communications plan for the county.

Jeremy Brand, a representative with GovComms, said the goal is to create more communication between the government and citizens. He said citizens are often frustrated because they’re either not getting information or are getting bad information, and he said the county can use social media to communicate directly with citizens.

Ellis said the county doesn’t just want to hear from people “who state the obvious,” but those who brings solutions and suggestions the county can implement.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re bowling in an alley alone,” Ellis said Tuesday.

One of the first steps will be growing the county’s social media following as much as possible, a step Brand said will include advertising so the county’s messages reach more people initially. Facebook limits the number of followers who organically see each post, so advertising helps build followers more quickly. Brand also said the county needs to post things that are exciting and news worthy that people are more inclined to share with friends.

Under the contract, the county can also pay GovComms employees on a la carte basis, at $150 an hour, to act as county spokespeople, hold press conferences and develop other projects, like “tele-town halls” for specific issues and events.