Website upgrades, building social media presence and high-tech billboards are some of the ways which the Town of Watertown is trying to reach residents.
Complaints about the ease of accessing information about local government has come from residents and elected officials alike. The website has been a particular focus of the dissatisfaction.
The Town of Watertown added personnel specifically to work on technology issues, hiring Chief Information Officer Chris McClure in the fall, and the Town will soon be hiring another person focused on social media and the website.
McClure has started efforts to build up the Town’s social media accounts. When he started in October, the Town’s Twitter account was largely dormant.
“The Town had under 200 Twitter followers. As of (Feb. 1) it was up to 1,064,” McClure said. “My goal is to get to 2,021 in 2021.”
The Town also has Facebook and Instagram accounts and McClure started a LinkedIn account.
To get word out about upcoming meetings and events, announcements are put up on the Town’s social media accounts. That way, people do not have to sign up for the Town’s Notify Me email blasts.
“Generally, people are annoyed by getting spammed with too many emails,” McClure said. “On Twitter you can’t Tweet enough.”
Social media and other areas will soon become part of the work of a new position being added by the Town.
“We are bringing on the full time Social Media Coordinator. We have applicants, and we will interview them over the next few weeks,” McClure said.
Along with overseeing the Town of Watertown’s social media content, the new person will be the project manager of the overhaul of the Town’s website.
“We are basically rebuilding the entire Town website, focusing on ease of use — simpler design and making it more mobile friendly,” McClure said.
To make the website easier to use, McClure said that all the members of town committees and boards will be put into a database so they can be found and searched more easily.
“We will get that all in one place. It is a little spread out at this point,” McClure said.
Another addition to help residents and employees find information about Town is the eCode360 section which includes the Town Charter, ordinances and a zoning map, all of which are accessible from one page. It can be seen at https://ecode360.com/36825791
Watertown even has its own cellphone app for iPhone or Android, which can be found at watertown-ma.gov/mobileapps. Among other things, the app has links to the news alerts, the Town’s meeting and events calendar, bill payments, a staff directory and links to the Town’s social media pages.
“We are trying to make it easier for residents and community businesses to engage with the Town,” McClure said. “The app has alerts, news blasts, emergency alerts, new agendas — it pings your mobile phone.”
The Town has even taken an old fashioned communication method, and brought it into the 21st century by making them electronic and powering them using solar. One has been installed near Town Hall on Main Street, and two more will be installed in the future, McClure said.
Known as Soofa Signs, the electronic boards will serve as information kiosks with a variety of information about the Town, the surrounding area and more.
“We post meeting calendars. Town Hall is closed to the public (due to the pandemic), and one of the drivers was to create an external bulletin board, which also shows transit inform for the closest bus stop to the sign,” McClure said.
The hope is that the Soofa Signs will reach people who currently do not get information about what’s happening in Town.
“It is a way of reaching non-traditional audience — pedestrians, people walking by, people who have never gone on the Town website or never engage with the Town,” McClure said. “The cool thing is each sign have independent and unique content.”
Information from town facilities such as the Watertown Library and the Commander’s Mansion will be on the board, McClure said, and there will be opportunities for local businesses to purchase advertising on the signs.
Town of Watertown Social Media: