The city of Asheville is shifting staff as part of an effort to improve social media and community relations. Asheville Police Department spokesperson Melissa Williams will move into a general community relations role, including overseeing the city’s blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, while Lt. Wally Welch will take on public information duties at the APD.
“We’ve found there’s a lot of value in using as many platforms as we can to communicate with the public,” city spokesperson Dawa Hitch says. “We saw an opportunity there where we could redefine Melissa Williams’ previous role to include keeping up with the blog, Twitter and Facebook. There’s a lot we need to do there and having Melissa Williams join the community relations team opens up the space for us to do that.”
An e-mail sent to city staff last week praised Williams’ qualifications and laid out the specifics of her new role.
“Melissa has spent the last 3+ years working in the role of Community Relations Manager in the Asheville police department where she advised on media relations, developed innovative information sharing opportunities such as the police blotter and wrote many, many information pieces,” the e-mail from Administrative Services Director Lauren Bradley reads. “Next week, Melissa will transition to the community relations division where her valuable experience and support will have a broader scope and therefore benefit the organization as a whole. Her areas of focus will include publishing content through a number of mediums including the city’s website, blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. She will also lead the way in making city information more accessible to the public through projects like the Asheville Progress webpage, where projects are defined, outlined and updated for the public.”
So far, former Xpress reporter Brian Postelle has run the city’s social media efforts on a year-long contract that is set to expire. Hitch praised his work “getting our program off the ground, assessing what things the community found useful … He’s done an amazing job with us.” Lt. Wally Welch will take over as public information officer for the APD, assisted by Special Projects Coordinator Kendra Turner.
“It’s really just been a reorganizing, just identifying where we can be most efficient with our resources,” Hitch says.
As for what the city will do in the future on this front, Hitch says, “We have our toes in the water as far as social media. I foresee in the future we’ll step that up a level and there will be more accessibility. Do we have the time and resources to have someone sit and answer tweets and posts all day long? We don’t. It’s just a small part of everything we do in community relations. But it has a big impact and we recognize that.”
As for specific initiatives, will the APD, like the Fire Department and the city itself, get an informational Twitter account?
“We’ll have to assess the need and if we’re doing other things that we’ll stop if we move in that direction,” Hitch says. “Working with the media and the community to identify what kinds of information will be useful to them. We need to think about where there’s overlap, we don’t want to create any redundancies.”
“In the next six months,” she adds. “We’ll be looking to hear from the public on what they want, on whether it’s better for us to be decentralized or have everything on the city of Asheville homepage. We’ll have to feel that out.”
— David Forbes, senior news reporter