Christian Yanarella, who runs social media sites for companies, came before the Board of Selectmen Monday night to discuss the possibility of developing social media channels, mainly Facebook and Twitter, for the town to use.
Yanarella explained that he is not looking to replace the town’s website, but rather work in conjunction with it to help the town promote itself.
“The website is great. We want to take the stuff that’s on the website and we want to put it in front of the citizens of the town,” Yanarella said.
Yanarella felt the creation of social media channels would provide the town greater communication, interaction, and engagement with a larger demographic.
“It will also be a great way of promoting a lot of the attributes that the town offers,” Yanarella said.
Yanarella said during emergency situations, the control can be turned over to emergency personnel in town to post updates about the situation.
Yanarella, who currently works on social media sites for small companies, said he would use a different approach when creating the various social media pages for the town.
“From a business standpoint I do a lot of content development. From the town standpoint, I’m not going to be developing content,” Yanarella said.
He explained that he would be the person who gathers all the information from the various sources, such as the town’s website, the local media sources, and local websites. He will also monitor the comments made on the various social media sites to ensure that misinformation is not spread.
He told the board that monitoring the various social media sites for the companies he serves is a fulltime job. He estimated that approximately seven hours a week would be dedicated specifically to the managing of the town’s social media sites.
“From a business standpoint, social media is used to drive traffic to the website. So I wouldn’t want to post anything outside the website that I can’t take off a link from the website, post it in Facebook, so people click on that link, which will take them to the website,” Yanarella said.
Selectman Christopher Bielik felt that having a Facebook page would be beneficial to the town. He pointed out that the schedule for the transfer station was posted on the town’s website. However, he explained, if residents were not familiar with the website, they would either not know to look there or have to search the whole website to find that information out.
“Whereas, on Facebook, if you have followers for the town of Beacon Falls, we can send out an alert to everybody that’s a friend of the town of Beacon Falls with a link on the Facebook page back directly to the town website page that shows exactly where the information is for when the transfer station is open,” Bielik said.
Not everyone was sold on the prospect of social media, however. First Selectman Gerard Smith had concerns about the creation of the social media pages.
“My concern is … it’s great as long as you’re on top of it,” Smith told Yanarella.
Smith also expressed concerns over the town’s liability in regards to the content on the Facebook page.
“Who’s responsible when the town gets sued for something that’s posted on a Facebook page by somebody else,” Smith said.
Smith explained that, if an item can be considered inflammatory or dubious, the webmaster will check with him before it is posted on the town’s webpage. On Facebook, there is no control over what other people post on the page.
“What you may not perceive to be a problem and what I may not perceive to be a problem, if it is a problem, are we setting the town up for liability with a Facebook page,” Smith said.
Smith pointed out that, while Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo has a Facebook page, it is different that the borough of Naugatuck having a Facebook page. Smith explained that it would be different setting up a Facebook page for himself rather than the town.
“I think that’s a little different because then I’m assuming the liability, I’m controlling the liability, and I’m talking, and watching, and doing,” Smith said. “But, if we do it as a town thing and it is off to somebody else, I think the board totally gives up … oversight.”
Resident Joe Dowdell raised concerns over the price of the service. He pointed out that both Facebook and Twitter were free services.
According to the price sheet provided to board, the first two months will be billed at $600 a month. This cost includes the setup of the Facebook and Twitter pages, media collection, outreach sites, user retention, posting, and site management and monitoring. Each month after will be billed at $200 a month and include site management, maintenance, posting, and monitoring.
The board decided to seek advice from the town’s attorney before coming to a decision on whether to proceed with social media in any form. It expects to take this issue back up at its October meeting.