Cranbrook ventures into social media

At first glance it would seem the City of Cranbrook isn’t up to speed with technology.

At first glance it would seem the City of Cranbrook isn’t up to speed with technology. It doesn’t have a Facebook profile, a LinkedIn account or a Twitter “handle”. It does, of course, have a website, just in case you were wondering.

There’s a reason for the lack of social media on the city’s part, and it has to do with complicated legal requirements that a municipality should meet to avoid trouble.

At the Monday, June 23 city council meeting, Cranbrook administration answered some of the questions surrounding the complications of getting the city into the social media scene. One of those is that the city is currently working on a social media governance policy, but that’s still in the draft stage. Once that policy is completed, it should clear up some of the barriers, but even then it will still come down to the city needing extra resources and personnel — maybe even a separate branch — to monitor and keep track of social media.

The city initially contacted 18 other municipalities to see what they had for a policy — only three even had one.

One of the big worries the city has is making sure it is adhering to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as well as maintaining consistent records as per its records policies.

One solution that would simplify things is to make sure the flow of information is a one-way street. According to the report, Facebook would be the social media of choice in that regard, as comments can be turned off, something other social media applications don’t offer.

The city also has to ensure it has enough IT resources and personnel to monitor the social media, as well as keep all of the records that accrue. That’s a reason one-way communication is more appealing to the city, because it could quickly get out of control if they had to record and compile every Twitter interaction or Facebook comment.

The city would have to create a system to make that information permanent and searchable by staff as well, further adding to the complications.

On the privacy side, the city would have to be able to separate personal and public information as well, or risk penalties up to $500,000 for the corporation, and $2,000 per individual employee.

The city will have to decide whether pushing information out is the best use of social media, or if it is an opportunity to have a more interactive conversation with its residents and taxpayers.

The city estimates it would need to upgrade its servers, feeds and programming for the extra information, as well as ongoing maintenance fees.

“Cost estimates would need to be explored and researched further,” the report reads.

The city report states that while “there is no denying the fact that the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter by a municipality is a great tool,” city staff feels that it already spends a significant amount of time responding to requests and concerns from the public. The report worries that adding another avenue would create more expectations of communications from the city.

City staff said they were reasonably comfortable with the one-way street aspect and it would definitely cut down on resources.

Coun. Gerry Warner pointed out that similar sized cities to Cranbrook are now looking to the city to take the lead on this.

“They want to know if we go ahead what we’ve learned, so I’m wondering if we’re a bit ahead of the curve on this one,” Warner said. We’ll have to wait and see.

But the next time you find yourself navigating a lengthy sign-up for a social media application, remember: it could be a lot worse, and a lot more complicated.

Arne Petryshen is a reporter with the Cranbrook Daily Townsman.