Using Social Media as a Public Service: An Interview with Jessica Pierson

By: Emily Peterson

It’s hard to find the time to talk to Jessica Pierson, the current social media coordinator for The Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS). That’s because Jessica is always busy, as she is responsible for the daily management and strategic content for 33 social media accounts across six divisions, which includes 14 Facebook pages, 13 Twitter accounts, two Youtube channels, two LinkedIn pages, aODPS Flickr and an Instagram account. She is also the first social media coordinator for ODPS. Prior to being hired for this position, she worked for eight years with the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Public Affairs Unit. Jessica was also my internship supervisor during the summer of 2015, where I worked for ODPS as the social media intern.

Emily Peterson: What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social media professional?

Jessica Pierson: Just keep learning!

Spend a portion of each day checking in on tech/social media sites for what is new or upcoming. Try to stay on top of the changes.

I personally monitor mashable.com, niemanlab.org and govtech.com/social among others. And I have signed up for newsletters/smart briefs from the American Advertising Association. I also try any webinar that is offered through various organizations.

EP: Describe a recent successful social media campaign conducted by your organization and why you feel it was successful?

JP: We recently started a campaign to show how individuals at the Department of Public Safety are contributing to a safer Ohio. We want to show that we are more than just troopers and dispatchers – that we are humans, we are your neighbors. From the lady that processes your payment for your car registration – to the driver examiner who tests our new drivers – everyone in this department works together to accomplish a safer Ohio.

As part of this campaign, we asked for volunteers to have their photos taken, we then overlaid their image on a template with the #iampublicsafety. This image is then posted to the ODPS Facebook page with a paragraph about how the employee contributes to a safer Ohio. The post is then shared on all division pages in an attempt to jump-start the Facebook algorithm and get it moved up on people’s newsfeeds.

I feel this campaign is successful so far because of the overwhelming response from volunteers within the department. It has been great for internal communications. We just started the second week of this campaign, so I can’t give a lot of analytics, but the first post reached nearly 15,000 users and generated more than 140 comments, likes and shares within the first week.

EP: How do you monitor the success of your social media campaigns?

JP: We measure success by using analytics, including engagement, reach and new likes or followers. Does it start a conversation among our followers?

EP: What do you think is the most important upcoming trend in social media and why is that trend important?

JP: I think that live video with Periscope or Facebook is an important trend because it pushes public relations professionals to give-up control. (Which is something that PR folks struggle with in this new social media generationJ) It can be used as a ‘look behind the curtain’ or to cover live events.

I also feel that increased use of video will be an important trend. We are currently producing 30-60 second videos weekly using more text and less audio to grab Facebook users’ attention – capitalizing on the auto-play feature within that platform.

EP: What do you do to find current social media trends?

JP: I spend time each day visiting social media/tech sites to see if there is anything new. I also sign up for any webinar that is offered

I am going to be attending the Government in Social Media Conference in Reno, Nevada in April and look forward to hearing directly from government liaisons from the social media platforms themselves.

EP: What is different about working in social media for the government as opposed to a for-profit company?

JP: At the Ohio Department of Public Safety we are ultimately trying to save lives and make Ohio safer for those who live, work and travel here. We are more focused on getting out the message than sales numbers and profitability.

EP: Why do you think social media is important for a government organization?

JP: Social media is important for a government organization because it not only gives us a way to push out safety messages; it also gives us a way to have a two-way conversation with our citizens. In addition, we are able to illustrate ways in which we are providing public value to those we serve.

Jessica is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of social media, and she has an interesting perspective as someone working for the government, rather than a for-profit company. Many of her messages and campaigns are informative, rather than persuasive, and she knows what works best in terms of spreading a message quickly and successfully. Before she became the social media coordinator, there was little two-way communication between the department and citizens of Ohio. Because of engaging social media, ODPS is more transparent than ever before, and citizens can quickly find information they need or want through these social media channels. This shows the important impact social media can have by positively spreading messages and keeping people informed.

Jessica shared valuable insights for an aspiring social media professional, such as always being on top of new social media trends by constantly researching them through sites such as a mashable.com. For example, less than one year ago, ODPS had yet to experiment with live-action footage such as the use of Periscope. Now, according to Jessica, it has become an important part of ODPS’s social media reach. With the ever-changing social media landscape, it’s clearly important to a social media professional to always stay relevant by conducting this research, and quickly acting upon it.

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