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Cities are Missing Crucial Feedback On Social Media. Here’s Why

People sitting in grass with skyline behind them
People sitting in grass with skyline behind them

While many cities are starting to collect feedback from their citizens through social media, they are still relying predominantly on official sources like city-managed pages and groups. However, Artificial Intelligence (AI)- based analysis of both official and unofficial sources shows 87% of the feedback that’s actually relevant for cities appears in unofficial sources.

Managing Social Media Efficiently & Effectively 

In 2017, the percentage of the U.S. population using social media reached an incredible 81%. Following this trend, local governments have begun grasping the potential contribution of social media to the way they understand their citizens. Citizens today simply prefer to post or tweet about a pothole, noisy street or any other city-related feedback, instead of answering a survey, calling the city, or waiting for the next town hall meeting. In order to stay connected to their citizens, cities today are employing teams of communication and social media experts to manage their official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. These teams help manage the cities PR with its citizens and try to garner citizen feedback from their online relationships, but the information they’re gathering is often unreliable or unrepresentative. By trying to cover the city’s social-media manually, cities often come up with anecdotal evidence or recommendations. Due to lack of resources and time, cities are forced to cover only a small portion of the feedback out there. This method doesn’t allow the city to convert qualitative data into something actually quantitative, understandable, or easily prioritized when measuring feedback.

Cities’ official social media accounts range from key city figures like the Mayor and council members’ Facebook and web pages to general city-pages like the town hall page, library, police department, and more. When analyzed properly, these kinds of pages help provide cities a much more comprehensive view of citizen feedback than traditional engagement channels like surveys and town hall meetings, where only several percentages of the citizens’ voices are usually heard. But is the data from official pages enough?

Going Further than Official Social Media Accounts

When considering social media, the real question is whether relying on official social media for understanding citizen feedback does the trick? Are official accounts the main arena where citizens provide feedback to the city? Or, is it possible that the city may be missing a lot of relevant information by failing to cover unofficial social media sources like Facebook neighborhood groups, school groups, Twitter hashtags, and more?

In order to test this, Zencity used two months worth of open source data from social media (Facebook and Twitter) from 60+ cities in the US (with populations ranging from 15K citizens to 1M). In all these cities, we took both official and unofficial social media sources and measured the following:

  1. How many interactions (posts, tweets, likes, comments, retweets etc.) were collected in each of the sources?
  2. What was the sentiment division by percentage in each of the sources (positive, negative or neutral feedback)?

Using advanced AI algorithms, we analyzed hundreds-of-thousands of interactions and found the following:  

  1. 87% of the overall interactions came from unofficial sources and only 13% came from city-managed pages.
  2. Sentiment looked very different between official and unofficial sources. Official sources had 53% more positive interactions than unofficial sources, and unofficial sources had 17% more negative interactions than the official ones.

How can we explain these differences?

Unofficial sources tend to attract more citizens since the conversations in these groups are much more focused on a particular aspect of a citizen’s daily life – a specific school, neighborhood, area of interest, etc.

Conversations in unofficial sources are being led by the citizens themselves and not by the city, providing a more authentic and organic look into citizen feedback. In addition, these channels of communication allow for more “brutally honest” feedback and give citizens a wide berth to air complaints.

How Can Cities Bridge the Gap in Sentiment Between Official and Unofficial Sources?

It is impossible for cities to hold enough manpower to cover tens or hundreds of social media groups and pages and collect real-time data from them. Manual processes can’t handle the amount of passive and active interactions, in both official and unofficial sources, that will actually help cities to be proactive and understand their citizens in real-time. In order to overcome this challenge, cities are starting to realize the crucial need of implementing sophisticated Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technologies that will help them to collect and analyze vast amount of data and provide up-to-the-minute insights. Zencity’s platform is already helping 25+ cities today, click here to check whether Zencity is a good fit for your city!

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