Snapchat: A Placemaking Tool

Though many municipalities have bravely ventured into social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with residents, for the grand majority of local governments Snapchat remains uncharted territory. It’s understandable that local officials have hit roadblocks with social media; maintaining active accounts could be a full-time job, and the ever-developing technology is oftentimes unfamiliar to municipal leaders, many of whom view social media platforms as a minefield of potential liabilities.

In the past year, Snapchat’s popularity (and legitimacy) has grown exponentially – so much so that the White House opened an account last month to better communicate with a growing young demographic. Indeed, over 60 percent of smartphone users from the ages 13 to 34 use the app. Snapchat could serve as a vital branding resource to municipalities as they strive to improve communication, reach a younger generation, and market their communities to potential residents.

Snapchat (300x200)Essentially, Snapchat allows users to take photos and videos, add captions or drawings, and upload the content to a collective 24-hour “story” that followers can view. Take a look at what they can do, and then check out the many ways that local officials could use Snapchat to connect with residents:

Promote Community Events

Municipalities can use Snapchat to share information leading up to and during public events. For instance, if your community were to host a fireworks display, Snapchat could provide time/location information beforehand, and then showcase real-time video of the fireworks. This is a surprisingly powerful tool. As followers see how exciting public events look on Snapchat, they’re more likely to actually attend future events in person.

Support Philanthropic Programs

Snapchat stories can serve as a tool that allows officials to post both details and real-time progress regarding canned food drives, donation campaigns, and other city-wide philanthropic events. Ultimately, this information can increase participation and community enthusiasm for charitable activity.

Showcase Local Businesses and Jobs

Snapchat gives local governments an opportunity to showcase entrepreneurs and startups, giving a boost to community businesses that support local economies. Potential participants could simply fill out an application indicating interest, and the city’s Snapchat could then share photographs of their storefront, the things they sell or produce, and even a short video statement from the owners. Furthermore, if any businesses are seeking full-time or seasonal help, local officials could post a short notice on their Snapchat story to spread the word about potential employment opportunities.

Spotlight Community Leaders

If you work for your municipality in some capacity (whether elected or appointed), take a moment and ponder whether the majority of people in the city, village, or township you serve actually knows that your position exists. It may be worthwhile to take a day and dedicate your Snapchat story to “A Day in the Life of City Councilwoman X” or “Meet Your City Manager Y.” Giving your Snapchat followers a glimpse of the wide array of responsibilities taken on by city officials not only increases transparency, but also encourages future civic engagement from younger generations.

Construction Updates

Snapchat App 2 (300x200)If your city is in the midst of constructing a new community center, refurbishing a notable town building, or (eternally) revamping local roads, Snapchat can be used to show photos indicating progress and convey information regarding expected end dates.

Share Local History

Municipalities possess a wealth of history of which residents frequently remain unaware. Snapchat can be used to share photos of historical markers, encourage visits to historic districts integral to your town’s origin, and celebrate founding days. By using photos and video, Snapchat can more adequately capture a community’s rich traditions and showcase it as a place that people are proud to call home.

Police Department Information

Police departments frequently turn to Twitter or Facebook to share public safety announcements, but Snapchat can prove an equally valuable resource to deliver this information. Using Snapchat’s capabilities to share captioned photos or videos, municipalities can more effectively relay safety tips and police information to a younger demographic.

Highlight Public Schools

Dynamic activities in public schools, though appreciated by students, parents, faculty, and school administrators, may frequently go unnoticed by other members of the community. Does one of your schools have an impressive Environmental Club, a championship-winning athletic program, or a great hands-on chemistry class? Encourage school communities to let you know when great things are happening, and then use Snapchat to highlight school initiatives worthy of community-wide recognition.

Snapchat App (300x200)Voting Reminders

Millennials are famous for our willingness to make use of new technology. We’re also famous for our despicable voter turnout. Snapchat can be used as a tool to remind younger people to go out and participate in the decisions that directly affect their school districts and localities.

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In short, Snapchat provides an efficient and personal method of visual communication that younger demographics (and older demographics, believe it or not) have grown to appreciate. As social media becomes an increasingly important branding platform for communities, local governments have a lot to gain from experimenting with what Snapchat has to offer. Emerging from your comfort zone, exploring new methods of communication, and reaching younger demographics on the social media platforms that they already use daily can work wonders in creating enthusiastic and engaged communities.

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Samantha Audia, Michigan Municipal League Intern

SamanthaAudia-150x150Samantha joined the Michigan Municipal League team as an intern this winter, and will graduate from the University of Michigan in the spring with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. Previously, she has worked with several political non-profits in the Washington, D.C. area, and contributed to an array of publications. Samantha calls Garden City home but currently resides in Ann Arbor, and she looks forward to blogging for the League throughout the winter.