Columbia government FAQ videos lack engagement before vote

Posted on 6 November 2017 at 7:44pm

COLUMBIA - City government attempted to use social media as a tool to inform Columbia residents on ballot measures leading up to the election on Nov. 7. 

"Our responsibility is to educate voters on the issue. We are not to advocate, we are to educate. So we put together a series of educational FAQs as well as videos," Steven Sapp, Columbia communications director said. 

These videos specifically addressed a new use tax. It breaks down into two propositions, Proposition 1 and Proposition U. The videos answered questions such as how the use tax is reported and whether other cities have a use tax.

Using social media platforms to answer questions like these is sparking interest amongst government bodies across the nation. 

"A lot of government entities are sort of interested in how to reach the public and get some feedback in their deliberations," Brian Kessel, a political science professor at Columbia College, said. "So far the literature suggests that it's kind of challenging to figure out ways to reach people and encourage involvement." 

Citizen involvement was low on the city's posts. 

"What struck me was there weren't a very large number of people who were commenting, even the amount of page views were kind of low. So if we're thinking about the effectiveness of this as an outreach tool, it's not really touching that very many citizens," Kessel said. 

The posts did reach Elizabeth Crippen, a Columbia resident who commented on a couple of videos. 

"Vote NO on new taxes. Bring more/better businesses to CoMo and consumers will shop local. I shop the [internet] because I can't find what I want in local stores," Crippen said on one video post. 

The rest of the few interactions, which include reactions and comments, also skewed negatively.

According to a study by a group of communications strategists, close to 80 percent of U.S. internet users thought public thought social media could impact public policy outcomes. 

Kessel said the reality of public thought influencing public policy came with strings attached.

"Public opinion can have a role on policy makers if it's strong and sustained. If it's not, then politicians can sort of out-wait public opinion," Kessel said. 

Sapp said the city does look at any posted commentary. 

"We always have an evaluation period where we go back and we look, no matter what the communication is about. So that we can attempt to do better next time. We're always looking for ways to improve," Sapp said.

Polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.