v. Rick Scott regularly posts on Twitter to applaud a company for creating jobs.
When Hurricane Matthew skirted up the Atlantic coast in October, Central Florida counties blanketed social media — including Twitter, Facebook and NextDoor — with information about shelters, curfews and the weather.
Welcome to the new world of public communications by governments that view social media as the most effective way to inform residents.
Now, Seminole commissioners want to broaden the county’s use of social media. Last week, county officials unveiled plans for a new marketing initiative that will use social media as a primary tool to draw tourists and visitors rather than the traditional methods of publishing ads in newspapers, magazines and brochures.
The initiative, to be launched in the coming months, calls for hiring a marketing company adept in social media to make sure that when people use search engines such as Google to plan their vacations links to Seminole County will pop up at the top of their screen.
The hope is to persuade some of those nearly 3 million people expected to use the Orlando Sanford International Airport this year to stay in Seminole’s 5,000 hotel rooms. Even if tourists plan to visit the Orlando theme parks, they could consider spending a little time in Seminole — visiting downtown Sanford, paddling on the Wekiva River or biking on the recreational trails, for example. Seminole had about 722,000 tourists in 2016, according to county tourism officials.
“You’ve got a whole generation of people today — younger people — who don’t read newspapers anymore,” Seminole Commissioner Brenda Carey said. “They get their information from social media. …And I think there are companies that focus on that generation.”
Carey said when she recently searched for Seminole County and tourism on Google, the county’s tourism website was buried below a long list of other sites.
“It should have popped up at the top,” she said. “We should have that expert person that knows how to do this.”
Since 2008, Seminole has contracted with Paradise, a South Florida advertising company, at an annual cost of $569,500 to handle most of its marketing and promotions. That contract, however, ends Sept. 30.
Commissioners agreed last week to accept bids in the coming months for a company with a strong focus on social media.
Besides tourism marketing, Seminole has increasingly used NextDoor, Twitter and Facebook to announce county information such as gardening classes, pet adoptions, severe weather alerts and bear-management restrictions.
“NextDoor has been our most effective means of communication, because we’re able to target our message to a specific neighborhood,” said Ashley Moore, Seminole’s community relations officer. “In this day and age, people want to get their information right away.”
And it’s not just Seminole seeing the power of clicks, tweets, shares and page views.
Orange County government, for example, expanded its use of social media in 2014 after opening Facebook and Twitter accounts two years earlier.
Today, Orange has a team of three employees on the county’s digital team whose responsibilities include updating the county’s websites and posting information on social-media sites.
The county also launched a team of “social media ambassadors” several years ago in which 30 tech-savvy Orange residents who have large followings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were recruited to voluntarily publicize county information or programs.
“Anytime we have big initiatives — such as the Zika awareness, or Hurricane Matthew last year — they help us spread the word,” said Doreen Overstreet, an Orange County spokeswoman. “And they give us feedback on our social media and what they’d like see. … We actually invite them to the State of the County address in April. They get their own table so that they can help spread the information.”
Orlando, Apopka and even the tiny west Orange town of Oakland, with barely 2,700 residents, use Facebook.
The beauty of marketing on social media for a local government is that officials can obtain tracking reports on who and what people are clicking on, said Gui Cunha, Seminole’s tourism manager. County officials can then quickly tailor their message.
“Whenever someone is accessing our social-media [web sites] or tourism website, they fall under a report,” Cunha said. “So I know how many people accessed our website, how long they stayed, what pages they accessed, where they are and whether they accessed it using a mobile device.”
Social media is also less costly than publishing an advertisement or printing a brochure, which can run thousands of dollars, county officials said.Companies and nonprofit organizations have long used social media to deliver their messages.
The Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, for example, recently hired an employee to post information about the nonprofit organization on social media, said Philip Flynn, the zoo’s president and chief executive officer.
“In the past year we have put a conscious effort to use social media to tell our story, not just about the zoo but about our cause,” Flynn said.
He pointed out that a zoo visitor recently posted a personal photograph of the zoo’s giraffe on social media and within a few days the photo went viral as it was re-posted hundreds of times.
Now, Seminole officials say they would like to see that kind of exposure on social media about their county.
“Social media has become so popular, even in the last five years, that it is now a greater focus for us,” said Tricia Setzer, chief administrator for Seminole’s office of economic development and community relations.