A Tale of Two Cities: Engaging Citizens and Tourists Through Social Media


It is more important than ever that city government gets on board with social media, to grow communities and influence decisions that bring business to their local economy.  Two such cities that actively engage, in very different ways, are Boston and Chicago.


The Boston Police Department was the first department to develop a blog, which began 5 years ago, and the first to begin Text A Tip, where tipsters can anonymously report criminal activity via SMS.  Initially, the blog began to clarify information the local media was reporting inaccurately and has now viewed as a competitor by the local media outlets in reporting police related news to residents. The Boston Police Department blog has effectively changed the sentiment of stories reported about the department.  They have done this by reinforcing positive stories written about the department, by re-posting them on the official police department blog and source the outlet that wrote the story. Boston Police Department Spokeswoman, Elaine Driscoll oversees the Department’s Media Relations and spearheaded the newest update to BPDNews.com. One of her first priorities was to cross promote their social media efforts on the new site. Before the update, released 6 months ago, Community Service Officers that held face-to-face meetings with citizens were directing residents to several sources for different information which was becoming confusing.  Now, BPDNews.com is the primary source and has effectively integrated their Twitter feed, Facebook page, local crime reports and a District initiative known as Citizen Observer. The success of BPDNews.com is being further promoted around the city by the departments’ recent commitment to paint all marked cruisers with the website.  Each of the Boston 11 District’s has a Community Service Officers, who are armed with brochures which encourage citizens to seek out answers on the police website.  This has attracted the typically active offline community, to bring the conversation around issues online. Of course, working with sensitive information on a daily basis makes for a very strict social media policy.  Boston Police Department Media Relations handles all Facebook and blog communication and to ensure updates are real time, the operations department runs the Twitter feed. When it comes to the Twitter feed, the rule is they cannot post explicit details about homicides or assaults, must omit names and severity of wounds, to avoid desensitizing citizens.  The other reason for such a strict policy is to protect the investigation and details of the incidents, in case charges are filed.


New York is famous for pizza, Memphis is famous of BBQ and Chicago is famous for the dog’s….hot dog’s that is.  Chicago is so famous for their hot dogs, the city has created an original foursquare badge for it!  The Chicago Office of Tourism recently launched an entire campaign on foursquare, hosting three Chicago-themed badges, which are Chicago Blues, Chicago-style hot dog joints and Chicago film locations. Currently, Foursquare does not provide the City of Chicago a number of how many followers have been awarded one of their original badges but in order for you to earn any of these badges, you must follow Explore Chicago on foursquare and presently, they have 6,457 followers. Sarah Best, Web Specialist for Chicago Office of Tourism tracks their social media efforts on a daily basis and says, “..we can tie check-ins at historic blues locations much more closely to our Chicago Blues badge, as these are sites that tourists are unlikely to visit for other reason.  We also added all these venues to foursquare.com just before launching the badge,” and they’ve tracked 2,090 “check-in’s” at the various locations participating. Sarah added their future events may include, “…other ‘real life’ events and partnerships with local businesses this Summer and Fall.  I would love to do a Chicago-style hot dog crawl!”  I’m totally there! Explore Chicago has gone one step further by using foursquare’s ‘Tip’ functionality by highlighting the hidden jewel’s in each of Chicago’s 77 communities. “For example, when someone “checks-in” at Calder’s Flamingo sculpture in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood, they learn through our foursquare tips, about the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that was shot there.” Sarah and her team have recently expanded website content to include more than 2,000 additional locations and attractions to enhance tourists’ Chicago experience with convenient links to public transportation. The City also provides free audio tours, which assists in providing valuable information to tourists and also gives the City another opportunity to highlight their fantastic amenities.  Sarah also highlighted that the City, outside of some recent Facebook advertisements, has not dedicated any money to this effort and they’ve grown their social media accounts on Twitter and foursquare, completely organically.  Well done. Both Boston and Chicago are using social media to reach different audiences but both are successfully empowering their audience to create their own voice within the community, or one they’re simply visiting.  I look forward to more cities following the example lead by Beantown and The Windy City. Hat tip to Elaine Driscoll, Spokeswoman for Boston Police Department and Kristin Unger and Sarah Best with Chicago Office of Tourism.
As a tourist or a community member, what do you think of Chicago and Boston’s online efforts and would they be valuable to you?


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