To be the electronic eyes, ears and voice of town government, the selectmen have hired a social media consultant.

“The news is here today, gone tomorrow,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectmen. “Facts seem to be more important than ever.”

The selectmen have contracted with Emily Pambianchi of Social Graces Communications to get information out on electronic platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and monitor social media discussions for misinformation that may need correcting.

“The town will be more informed — rather than reading information on other pages that may be out in the community, and getting facts mixed up,” Pambianchi told the selectmen.

“I’ll put it out there with a video, with an image,” she said.

“This will all be coming from the town, going out on Facebook and Twitter.”

She’ll also follow the community’s responses.

“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, my monitoring system lets me know if anyone’s engaging,” she said.

Pambianchi provided an overview in a “market analysis” given to the selectmen.

“For a municipality, an active social presence with relevant content posted regularly can boost your citizen following,” she wrote. “Town governments can reach citizens in meaningful and engaging ways; keeping them informed about news and events in their town.”

She cited Pew Research Center surveys indicating that in 2018 some 73% of adults look at YouTube, 68% go on Facebook, 24% use Twitter.

“This is a way to reach men, women and children who don’t really engage with traditional media,” she said.

Marconi noted that while Ridgefield’s voter participation runs about 80% in presidential elections, and 40% to 50% in state and local elections, it can fall below 10% on a budget referendum.

Using social media to remind younger people of votes that are coming up might get more of them to participate.

“The largest non-voting demographic we have in town is 25 to 40,” Marconi said.

Pambianchi’s figures from Pew surveys show that in the 25-to-29 age group over 80% are on Facebook and a little over 30% are on Twitter. Among people ages 30 to 49, Facebook use is just below 80%, and Twitter is a little over 25%.

Paying up front

The selectmen voted on Aug. 13 to approve spending $9,600 — enough for a year’s service from Pambianchi at $800 a month, though they spoke of reviewing the relationship after six months. The money will come out of the town’s $61,000 contingency fund.

For the $800 a month, Pambianchi’s proposal promises: Daily, engaging posts to Facebook and Twitter (graphics, photos, videos); weekly meeting/phone call to review goals, objectives and content; monthly analytics; and “social listening,” or reporting to the selectmen on other local groups, if there are issues being discussed in a negative light or questions.

She will also be available to be present for photos and video opportunities.

Michael Raduazzo, a former finance board member, questioned using the selectmen’s contingency fund to hire a social media consultant.

“My impression was your contingency was for emergency purposes,” Raduazzo said. “This is something, in my opinion, that should be embedded in the budget.”

‘Who’s the gatekeeper?’

The selectmen’s discussion revealed some concerns.

“Who is going to craft the message?” asked Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “Who’s the gatekeeper?”

“I won’t go rogue,” Pambianchi promised. “I’ll be in constant connection with Rudy.”

Kozlark was still concerned about the messages would be going out under the town’s authority.

“I think we need to be careful,” she said.

The first selectman’s office needn’t be Pambianchi’s only source, Marconi said.

“It could be Dick Aarons, if we have a storm going,” Marconi said, referring to the town’s director of emergency management.

Selectmen Steve Zemo thought there would be lots of work involved if Pambianchi is following up on questions and issues that come up on social media.

“It could be overwhelming,” he said. “There are folks out there who love to communicate and participate.”

The next frontier

A few people in the audience commented, noting that different generations are more reachable on various platforms: Facebook for baby-boomers, Twitter for millennials, Instagram for younger folks.

Pambianchi said she would be posting on Facebook and Twitter.

“We’ll think about Instagram later,” she said.