by Bekah Porter
LINN COUNTY – Ben Rogers can soon be seen traversing the county, camcorder in hand.
No, the chairman of the Linn County Board of Supervisors is not making home movies. Nor does he have film-making aspirations.
Instead, he envisions creating video clips that entice a new audience to engage in local politics.
Recently, Linn County launched a YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/LinnCoIA. The entire government organization and its various departments are expected to make regular contributions to the site in an effort to better educate the public.
“We want to show them visually what we’re doing and how county government is working for them,” Mr. Rogers said. “That was the genesis of creating the YouTube channel, so that all county departments have an outlet to show what they’re doing, what improvements they’ve made, what efficiencies they’ve gained and what projects they’ve been working on.”
The conversation started last year, as the county looked to expand its social media presence.
“People want information that’s accessible, that’s timely and that they can get on their phone or at their desk or at home, and social media is paramount to being able to satisfy that need,” Mr. Rogers said. “We really are kicking up our social media presence so that we can better keep residents informed and get their thoughts on a particular issue.”
Already the county has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, and several of the departments have their own accounts in both mediums, as do individual employees in those departments.
“We do the whole spectrum, because we are finding a lot of measurable success with social media,” Mr. Rogers said.
Time and time again, the county has found positive experience associated with an increased online presence.
“(Social media) is incredibly interactive, and we don’t have to pay for (its benefits),” he said. “For example, I can use Facebook or Twitter to say, ‘Hey, I’m at this meeting or that event, and I want to know your thoughts on the issue. What do you think we should be doing about this?’ And then we get that instant feedback. It helps us to do our job better and see what people’s views are and their reactions to issues.”
Additionally, he said the county can use the social media tools as a means of gauging public reaction. For example, he said, the number of hits on a particular YouTube video can help the county determine to what extent that issue is a popular or contentious topic for the public.
However, Mr. Rogers said the county has no specific goals for hits or views on the newly launched YouTube channel.
“We would love as many people as possible, but I can’t put a number on it,” he said. “Certainly, the more people that see (our videos), the more people become educated. I’d love at least every person in the county to check out (our YouTube channel) at least once.”
In the meantime, he said he will focus on providing quality viewing experiences that have the potential to attract more and more regular followers.
For example, Mr. Rogers said officials have talked about the board of supervisors creating video updates on each of the county’s flood-recovery projects.
“I’m thinking about the videos being a walking tour where we show where the waters came in, what improvements have been made to the building, how the building was paid for, talking about the energy-efficiency aspects we’re including,” he said. “And then maybe we can include highlights of press conferences we’re involved in or meetings that the public doesn’t typically attend.”
In short, he said, this is all about reaching more people.
“Not a lot of people attend our meetings,” Mr. Rogers said. “But the game is changing for us, as far as communication goes. With all of (the social media options available), it’s like a digital hall meeting, and maybe we can engage more people.”