social media

The Water Blog Makes Government Communication Captivating

"The Water Blog" makes government communications captivating

Did you know there were 20 interesting things about the Portland Water Bureau? Think I’m joking? You haven’t met Jennie Day-Burget, Public Information Officer for the Bureau. Public information was never this engaging.

Armed with a successful blog and a growing Twitter following, Day-Burget provides a fascinating window into the life of city government. While the public sector is often late to catch on to tech trends due to tight budgets and old-fashioned bureaucracy, Day-Burget is taking advantage of the free and inexpensive social media tools available to anyone with an internet connection.

Whether it’s highlighting a water main during a winter freeze or posting a picture of the cutest koala bathing in a bucket, Day-Burget is doing to government communications what President Obama’s team did for political campaigns. Smart, edgy and informative, public information becomes must-read content in Day-Burget’s hands.

Portland Tap Water Sticker snapped in front of Chicago Water Tower

Portland Tap Water Sticker snapped in front of Chicago Water Tower

In December of 2007 when Day-Burget took over the blog, it had about 30,000 hits per month. One year later, hits had more than tripled to over 100K per month and January numbers had grown to 120K. But it’s not all about numbers either, it’s about exposure. Not only has the local paper, The Oregonian, started linking to “The Water Blog”, water conservation website is a fan and the blog has also been linked to in the New York Times Online. This kind of success with social media can be contagious.


Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard has Day-Burget to thank for his recent Twitter conversion. Her boss can be found twittering about his new tie right alongside talking about his official blog and other important city issues. And she isn’t stopping at the edge of her bureau’s domain, either. Day-Burget recently organized what she calls a “support group” of other communicators in municipal government. She explains, “We are all doing it, but not talking about it. Many of us are flying under the radar with our social media outreach.”

So, how much time does this public information officer spend keeping up on this outreach? Day-Burget says she spends about 3-4 hours a day on social media, but she finds that she can be stingy and make a bigger impact with traditional communication pieces like news releases, now that she has so many other ways to reach constituents on a more regular basis.

The next time you find yourself with a topic that seems too boring to communicate about, it’s possible that it is. It’s also possible, though, that you just need to breathe new life into it. Check out “The Water Blog” or follow @portlandwater on Twitter and you’ll discover a new way every day to make the run of the mill captivating for your audience.


I have become obsessed lately with the idea of social media for small business. Maybe it’s because I have many friends who own small businesses. Maybe it’s because the economy is in such turmoil and I want to support local business. Or perhaps it’s because I am also a small business owner and I know a lot of the ins and outs of living and breathing your business all day every day.

But if we are going to live and breathe our businesses, shouldn’t some of that energy go to increasing our reach and influence? And that’s what social media can do. There’s no silver bullet with social media. Whether you are sending out a mailer, newsletter, blogging or sending a Tweet through Twitter — you still have to draw in your audience and engage them. But when you have them engaged, the speed with which you can increase your reach with social media outpaces traditional media. How else do you think a dorky guy dancing in different places around the world can get 18 million views?

Of course, the dorky dancing around the world in different places has been done, so don’t book your round the world flight yet. And just like the lottery, don’t use social media for investment purposes. Seriously, though, using social media to try to get something to go viral (millions of views) is the quickest path to disillusionment. Rather, set yourself some achievable goals like the ones below and watch the every day magic that can take place in your business.

Social Media Goals in Small Bites

* Connect with 5 new people a week on your social network

* Start a blog with posts about my business linking to other relevant content (linking to other content in a blog post is one way to increase your reach beyond your own audience)

* Get a Twitter account and post twice a day

* Follow 5 new people on Twitter per week (often times, they will follow you as well!)

* Don’t let your marketing speak seep into your social media activity — people can sniff this out from a mile away

More tips to come: In the meantime, here’s John Jantsch’s take on social media for small business. Though I would put some things in a different order and break some of his rules, it’s a good introduction to the idea of social media for small business.

I couldn’t figure out the best way to come back to my blog after a much too long hiatus. It’s not that I have been sitting around trying to figure out what to do these past 11 months. No, as a female professional with dreams of having it all, I took the plunge (with my husband) into parenting this past year. So, if I didn’t blog enough before Elliott entered this world, his arrival ensured that I wouldn’t for several months.

The little angel (he doesn’t talk yet, you see) is sleeping next to me right now. The delicate sounds of my furious typing lull him into napdom quite easily. This boy will have social media down by the age of 2, which gets me back to the title of this post. The reason that I suck at social media is that I am a child of the pre 100% digital world. I came about in the late 70s. Things were still mechanical then — polaroid cameras were magic! So as much as I adore my MacBook, I am still largely an analog gal. Yes, 75% of my Christmas presents are bought online and I have chat open all day and I check Facebook and MySpace several times a day and I get Twitter withdrawal, but when it comes to social media, I am still largely a consumer rather than a captain of industry.

As someone who speaks on social media tools, I feel compelled to blog. Hence, I am back. But I fancy myself a serious writer. My blog post about Egg Nog on my personal site is truly moving. All jokes aside, I want to write when I feel I really have something to say. I hear my contemporaries talk (or blog or tweet) about the need to stay relevant in the blogosphere or twittosphere or whatever “osphere” is cool these days. Relevancy , friends (or followers) and links are the key to social media supremacy. And I do believe them. The people who are read have a high quotient in each of these categories. I strongly believe, though, that a critical ingredient is often overlooked — the burning platform.

The burning platform is not just content for content’s sake, it’s the passion, the drive, the urge to be heard and to say something that means something to someone. It doesn’t have to be deep, it can simply be letting off some steam or paying someone or something a compliment. But whatever it is that makes you want to communicate, make sure it’s not to meet a quota. If 11 months go by between posts like your friend here, your chance to be heard isn’t all lost. You just may need to discover a new way back in. For me, it came from a repeated push from my brother-in-law to start writing. He basically said, “Stop pontificating from the couch and get these ideas down.”

So, I can’t say that I will always have that deep, driving desire to say something, but here’s to hoping I will!