Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cities and Twitter; Accounts and Followers for the 50 Most Populous US Cities

Twitter has solidified itself not only as a social media platform for personal communication, but as a way to communicate news quickly and effectively. Most municipalities across the United States have followed suit, creating their own Twitter handles to disseminate information. Most cities use Twitter to communicate official press releases, city services, special events, or items passed by each city's council or governing body.

Twitter gives residents the ability to interact with their city officials easier than before. Unfortunately, there is a veil of secrecy that can still exist with Twitter accounts. It's certainly not the same as calling or actually visiting an official or department within a local government. But Twitter can provide another way for cities and residents to join in on conversations about what is happening within city limits. Given the limited characters in Twitter's platform, conversation between cities or officials and residents is normally informal and more approachable than conversation that might take place at a council meeting.

Some have even suggested that we may be able to use data from social media, specifically Twitter, to better plan our cities. Justin Hollander, director of Tufts University Urban Attitudes Lab, says that social media provides us "key words and sentiments about civic issues, in order to learn more about what people think about their cities, and how policy can respond."

Using the City of San Francisco's 311 department as an example, a blog from the World Bank website (written by Tanya Gupta and Dr. Abir Qasem) lists five reasons why Twitter has advantages over phone calls or written citizen inquiries:
  1. City services can become more transparent.
  2. Information is instant: You don't have to go to a website, you don't have to call, you don't have to wait in line; if you have a comment to make you can do it right away.
  3. Creation of virtual communities can improve governance.
  4. Transparency can lead to improved accountability of public officials and departments .
  5. Participation can improve governance; when you have a chance to be a participant in the governance process, it makes a difference in how you view the city.

I did an informal poll of the current top 50 most populous cities within the United States to see if each city has their own Twitter account, and to see the number of followers of each city. It was still surprising to see that some cities did not have dedicated Twitter accounts (Los Angeles, Chicago, Indianapolis, Memphis, Baltimore, Nashville, Denver, Portland and Omaha). But that doesn't mean each city without a dedicated city account does not have a social media presence. Cities have departmental accounts or city leaders with social media presence. Other cities also maintain and monitor separate 311 accounts (311 was developed by the Baltimore Police Department to handle non-emergency requests), which allow residents to voice concerns or complaints in their city.

As far as official city Twitter accounts rank, New York has the most followers at 226,449 followers (as of December 3, 2014), followed by Boston (82,689), Philadelphia (58,744), Atlanta (52,610), San Francisco (51,933), Austin (46,903) and Minneapolis (46,285). Boston has the greatest percentage of their total population as followers (13.39%), followed by Minneapolis (12.1%), Atlanta (11.86%), Tampa (8.9%), Miami (6.83%) and Kansas City (6.8%). It can also be assumed that a percentage of each city's followers are not residents, and simply have an affinity for that city, are former residents, or those (like myself) who are simply interested in what's happening in other cities.

There are some cities that have Twitter accounts dedicated to reporting the actions of city council. There are only 10 (New York City, Chicago, Columbus, Boston, Seattle, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Mesa, Cleveland and Tulsa) out of the top 50 cities that have these accounts. Oddly enough, Washington DC is the only city whose council Twitter account has more followers than the official city account.

While it may seem like many people follow cities using social media, we can be sure that a majority of each city's population is not using social media as a means of notification. This is why cities still send mail, post signs, and use traditional media to inform their citizens. Twitter is a great way to share information quickly, but it does not reach as broad of an audience in the spectrum of local governance.

This curiosity about cities and their Twitter accounts follows some of the research I did surrounding cities and their city councils earlier this year. I looked at city councils from the 50 most populous cities in the United States and compared population statistics, the number of council districts and council members, residents served by each council member or district, length of council terms, council member salaries, and cost of council members per resident in each city, among other statistics.

Here is the population, Twitter handle and number of followers for each of the 50 most populous United States cities. (I apologize for the formatting issues. I've had trouble preserving the Twitter account links in a chart format.)

City State Total Population (2010 Census) Official City Twitter Handle Official City Twitter Handle Followers Percentage of Residents Following on Twitter
New York City New York 8,175,133 @nycgov 226,449 2.77%
Los Angeles California 3,792,621  None 0 0.00%
Chicago  Illinois 2,695,598  None 0 0.00%
Houston Texas 2,100,263  @houstontxdotgov 27,214 1.30%
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1,526,006  @PhiladelphiaGov 58,744 3.85%
Phoenix Arizona 1,445,632  @CityofPhoenixAZ 5,662 0.39%
San Antonio Texas 1,327,407  @COSAGOV 29,908 2.25%
San Diego California 1,307,402  @CityofSanDiego 738 0.06%
Dallas Texas 1,197,816  @1500Marilla 24,475 2.04%
San Jose California 945,942  @SanJoseInfo 3,667 0.39%
Jacksonville Florida 821,784  @CityofJax 18,336 2.23%
Indianapolis Indiana 820,445  None 0 0.00%
San Fransisco California 805,235  @sfgov 51,933 6.45%
Austin Texas 790,390  @austintexasgov 46,903 5.93%
Columbus Ohio 787,033  @ColumbusGov 1,907 0.24%
Fort Worth Texas 741,206  @cityoffortworth 24,464 3.30%
Charlotte North Carolina 731,424  @CharlotteNCgov 28,369 3.88%
Detroit Michigan 713,777  @DetroitCityGov 226 0.03%
El Paso Texas 649,121  @ElPasoTXGov 4,596 0.71%
Memphis Tennessee 646,889  None 0 0.00%
Baltimore Maryland 620,961  None 0 0.00%
Boston Massachusetts 617,594  @NotifyBoston 82,689 13.39%
Seattle Washington 608,660  @CityofSeattle 32,845 5.40%
Washington District of Columbia 601,723  @DCGovWeb 3,606 0.60%
Nashville Tennessee 601,222  None 0 0.00%
Denver Colorado 600,158  None 0 0.00%
Louisville Kentucky 597,337  @louisvillekygov 9,268 1.55%
Milwaukee Wisconsin 594,833  @cityofmilwaukee 1,926 0.32%
Portland Oregon 583,776  None 0 0.00%
Las Vegas Nevada 583,756  @CityOfLasVegas 34,629 5.93%
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 579,999  @cityofokc 27,179 4.69%
Albuquerque New Mexico 555,417  @cabq 17,633 3.17%
Tucson Arizona 520,116  @cityoftucson 11,452 2.20%
Fresno California 494,665  @CityofFresno 9,685 1.96%
Sacramento California 466,488  @TheCityofSac 10,442 2.24%
Long Beach California 462,257  @LongBeachCity 15,460 3.34%
Kansas City Missouri 459,787  @KCMO 31,276 6.80%
Atlanta Georgia 443,775  @Cityofatlanta 52,610 11.86%
Mesa Arizona 439,041  @MesaAzgov 5,659 1.29%
Virginia Beach Virginia 437,994  @CityofVaBeach 17,806 4.07%
Colorado Springs Colorado 416,427  @springsgov 13,024 3.13%
Omaha Nebraska 408,958  None 0 0.00%
Raleigh North Carolina 403,892  @RaleighGov 19,450 4.82%
Miami Florida 399,457  @CityofMiami 27,274 6.83%
Cleveland Ohio 396,815  @CityofCleveland 17,967 4.53%
Tulsa Oklahoma 391,906  @cityoftulsagov 13,623 3.48%
Oakland California 390,724  @Oakland 4,859 1.24%
Minneapolis Minnesota 382,578  @CityMinneapolis 46,285 12.10%
Wichita  Kansas 382,368  @CityofWichita 6,451 1.69%
Tampa Florida 335,709  @CityofTampa 29,876 8.90%