Unveiling Your County Budget… Through Social Media

Frederick County heavily used social media to unveil its budget – is there a messaging lesson here for county governments?

FredCoBudgetImageThis time of year, every county goes through its annual budget process. It can be tiring, tedious, and taxing — many see budgeting as an exercise in mathematics, a frustrating problem of scarce resources.

Can your county find ways to communicate about neighborhoods, priorities, and goals, rather than dollars and cents?

Frederick County’s budget roll-out, this spring via Twitter, gives some insight. A walk through their April 15 announcement of the county’s proposed budget offers some ideas on communicating county priorities through social media.

First, the county announces when the budget announcement event is happening, and where people can tune in to watch it:

The opening description that follows doesn’t start with a dense pattern of numbers. It’s tempting to do, but instead the follow up is about the path to a budget:

…followers already have an easy-to-remember hashtag: #FredCoBudget

But what’s actually IN the budget? The County Executive explains what it is, and why it’s there… but not necessarily in that order.

It is a budget, after all, so both the spending and revenue side are part of a public reaction.

But first some more non-fiscal discussion – people, and priorities:

…and when the county is making something a particular priority (measured in money, positions, or new goals) — they say so and why:

Remember how the County Executive started her message: how the community valued education and public safety highest of all? The pieces come together:

Here, the community’s top priorities are mentioned as the primary focus of the budget.

The budget is also an instrument of policy, and priority setting… so a few more mentions of things being targeted to match up with community needs:

Through these messages (and more not posted here) there’s an emphasis is on ideas and priorities, not as much on the numbers. Pull back the “scary math” curtain on the budget, and reveal that it’s really about what the community is asking for… and where your county is placing their priorities.

Details. And feedback. Important, but in context. The true believers will find the whole budget document anyway, and they’ll search through it.

This outreach isn’t designed to help the die-hards. It’s designed to re-connect with people who came out to one community forum, people who rely on senior services, people who influence public opinion about policy.

Not everyone is on social media. But those who are, and those who would follow their county government… or would click on a hashtag like #FredCoBudget … are going to get a guided tour to where Frederick County wants to go. The budget is just the transportation to get there.

Nest steps? Register for the MACo Summer Conference! It’s Maryland’s greatest showplace for best practices, citizen interactions, and good government.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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