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Cities battle to gain most Twitter followers

                         The city of Tigard is challenging other local cities to a duel.

A virtual duel, that is.

The city is competing against Hillsboro, Beaverton, West Linn and Washington County to see which government body can reach 2,014 followers on the social networking site Twitter by the end of next year.

“It kicks it up a notch for some cities that are trying to decide how much value social media has,” said Kent Wyatt, a senior management analyst and the man behind “@CityofTigardOR,” the city’s official Twitter account.

With more and more young people turning to social networking sites, Wyatt and other Tigard city officials have turned their attentions online when it comes to spreading information.

“You can reach out to audiences we wouldn’t necessarily reach otherwise,” Wyatt said. “Those are the kinds of people who are not attending council meetings; they are not interest in government, per se.”

Community building

The challenge, which will be formally announced Dec. 30, is a friendly competition, said Patrick Preston, public affairs manager for the city of Hillsboro, which issued the challenge to the cities.

“It helps everybody,” Preston said. “It grows the lists (of follwers we have) and inspires people to pay attention to news and information coming out of their cities.”

Most cities in Washington County have about 800 followers apiece.

Tigard currently leads the pack with 887 followers.

The standings (as of Dec. 20)

Tigard: 887

Beaverton: 832

Hillsboro: 829

West Linn: 675

Washington County: 515

Preston said he looks to Tigard’s Twitter feeds as inspiration.

“Their tweets are fantastic," he said. "The amount of thought they put into this, the way they make it so easy for somebody to participate in the online conversation, those are all things we've noticed.”

Tigard operates about a half-dozen different accounts on Twitter, covering everything from recent economic development to construction projects.

When Mayor John L. Cook took office last year, one of his first actions was to set up a Twitter account of his own to connect with residents.

“People are always curious about what mayors do,” Wyatt said. “Most people don’t know what the mayor or city planners do. We can use Twitter as a way to get that across in a relatively inexpensive way.”

The city reports scores at Tigard High School football games, posts photos from around town and promotes events.

That’s obviously more than just official city business, Wyatt said.

“I’m clearly a big proponent of this, but there is some community building in that,” Wyatt said.

Twitter played a big part in the city's recent community attitudes survey, Wyatt said.

“Half the people who took our online survey took it through a Twitter link,” Wyatt said. “That’s a powerful statement.”

List of Tigard's active Twitter accounts:

@CityofTigardOR - The city's official Twitter account

@TigardMayor - Mayor John L. Cook's official account

@TigardCM - Tigard City Manager Marty Wine's official account

@TigardPolice - Tigard Police Department

@TigardLibrary - Tigard Public Library

@TigardMainSt - Major construction work on Main Street is set to begin next month

@Tigard_Roads - Paving and street maintenance

@KennyAsher - New businesses and economic news , run by the city's Community Development Director Kenny Asher

'Serve our neighbors'

But not everyone is behind making Twitter a priority.

At a Tigard City Council meeting in December, some councilors were against the idea of engaging in social networks, saying residents wouldn’t be able to use the service to dig into the complexities of city government.

“Kids who use Twitter and texting, you can’t explain a lot of what we do in 140 characters, it’s not feasible,” said City Councilor Gretchen Buehner. “Texting doesn’t tend to be long and allow you to explain relatively complex concepts. Kids are missing out on learning what they need to learn because of their preferred method of conversation.”

Whatever method the city uses to spread information, getting information out to the community helps the city to do its job, Preston said.

“At the city, we are working to serve our neighbors,” he said. “We want them to have good information about the city and information they can use to have conversations among their peers.”

How to get started

For those new to Twitter, here’s how it works:

The website allows people to post short, simple messages of no more than 140 characters.

That’s not a lot of room to pontificate, but the social network has exploded since its launch in 2006, with more than 5.5 million users, and 135,000 new members joining every day.

Members can “follow” other members to regularly receive their posts — known as “tweets” in Internet-speak.

The more followers you have, the more people there are reading your posts.

The site was originally designed for friends to send messages back and forth to one another, but more and more companies and local governments are turning to the service as well.

“It’s a great method of reaching out to people quickly with no cost,” said Patrick Preston, public affairs manager for the city of Hillsboro. “If we continue to grow the number of followers we have, we can continue to see increases in attendance at city events, and we have a more informed population, which is our goal.”

The site is especially useful for up-to-the-minute information, such as when the city issued a boil water notice the day before Thanksgiving in 2012 and needed to alert residents.

“For timely information that you can’t plan for, you can’t beat twitter,” Preston said.