Madison’s Online Presence Keeps Residents Informed and EngagedAuthor(s): CELG staff
Michael Pellessier, the communications & technology coordinator of Madison, New Jersey
Madison residents wondering about road closures or the leaf pickup schedule may be just as likely these days to message the borough on Facebook as to call borough offices.
Madison is using social media, a user-friendly website, and alert systems to improve residents’ access to information about the community. Since hiring a communications and technology coordinator 18 months ago, visits to Rosenet.org, the borough’s official website, are up 45 percent, and the number of followers on Facebook and Twitter have doubled.
“In this day and age, there’s an expectation for nearly instant communication. If you don’t provide that, you run the risk of not engaging people or of misinformation spreading,” Madison Mayor Robert H. Conley said. “Our residents are well-informed.”
Michael Pellessier, the communications & technology coordinator, said having a strong online presence “gives residents the most up-to-date information and allows them to see where their tax dollars are going.”
Pellessier recently taught a seminar at Rutgers University Center for Executive Leadership in Government (CELG) on the value of digital communication and social media for municipalities. A county administrator, a township manager, an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, an administrative assistant, and a public affairs officer from the New Jersey Army National Guard were among the 18 professionals who attended the 2.5-hour session at Rutgers-New Brunswick. CELG provides education and training to professionals in the public and nonprofit sectors so they can learn best practices, navigate changes in their field, and build knowledge.
U.S. residents are increasingly accessing news online, and that is especially true for millennials, defined by the Pew Research Center as people born between 1981 and 1996. “You’ve got to go where the people are,” advised Pellessier, himself a millennial at age 26.
The benefits of having a strong online presence include showcasing a municipality’s assets, highlighting the good work of employees and volunteers, increasing transparency of how tax dollars are spent, and engaging with residents, Pellessier told the seminar attendees.
Pellessier posts photos and information on Madison’s social media at least twice a day, and often eight to 10 times daily. It helps that he minored in photography at Drew University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business studies in 2015. Posts about public safety — police, fire and ambulance — get the most reactions, he said. Often, residents answer each other’s inquiries in the comments section.
Municipal departments send information to Pellessier, who posts it on the borough’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts. Madison, which runs its own electric utility, can quickly post information about power outages, as well as road closures due to accidents or storms.
Conley said departments initially were resistant to not handling their own social media. That quickly changed when they saw that the streamlined system allows key information to get out quickly and employees to remain focused on their core responsibilities.
Before Pellessier was hired, Conley said he would get five to 10 calls and emails a week from residents asking about the cause of outages, commuter parking issues, and the like. Now he gets those kinds of inquiries only once or twice a week “because residents already know the answers,” he said.
Residents who commute to New York City by train or bus can stay apprised of what goes on in town and know what to expect on their return through social media. On the website, residents can read newsletters and lots of “how to” articles, pay their taxes and utility fees, and access recorded council meetings, among other things.
“The feedback from residents has been very positive,” said Conley, whose community of 16,000 residents recently topped New Jersey Monthly’s 2019 Best Places to Live in New Jersey list.