Community boards embrace social media

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Twitter chats on the UWS, Facebook livestreams on the UES: leaders push to engage a younger demographic


  • Community Board 7 Chairwoman Roberta Semer during the July 11 CB7 Twitter chat. Photo courtesy of CB7

Keeping up to date with all the local Upper West and East Side going-ons has never been easier than it is now. As technology develops rapidly, Manhattan’s community boards have embraced social media as tools they can use to their advantage to reach a broader range of community members. Now, New Yorkers can stay updated, ask questions and even follow along with meetings in real time without ever leaving the comfort of their homes.

Social media is useful for both the board and the community members alike. While these outlets can give community members a way to reach the board in a way that feels more immediate than emailing, it can also be a useful tool for board members to check in with the community and post updates.

On the Upper West Side, Roberta Semer has been actively utilizing Community Board 7’s social media accounts. In particular, the community board leader has been hosting live Twitter chats every two weeks as a way to reach more members of the Upper West Side community.

CB7’s first live chat on June 27 fell flat: only two community members reached out to Semer, who was tweeting from her personal handle @rss205nyc. This lack of participation didn’t keep Semer and the rest of CB7 from soldiering on in their quest to utilize social media, however. As promised, exactly two weeks later on July 11, Semer was back on Twitter, ready to answer questions. This time, after using the hashtag #CB7Chat to generate traffic to the chat, more of the community participated, asking about new retail options, protected bicycle lanes and affordable housing.

One Upper West Sider who participated in the live chat, Ellen Jovin, tweeted from her handle @EllenJovin: “I vote thumbs up on a vibrant retail scene. I have seen more new stores on UWS ... looking forward to more. #cb7chat.”

Avinoam Baral (@theaviouschoice) added, “Would be good to have +crosstown bike lanes, +affordable housing, as well as do something about the extensive retail blight on Broadway.” Semer tweeted in response: “Protected bike lanes & safe biking practices make everyone happy. Housing comm working hard to preserve affordable housing #cb7 #CB7Chat.”

Plans for the next few chats, all within two weeks of each other, are already in place.

CB7’s push to use social media as a forum hasn’t gone unnoticed within the network of community boards in Manhattan. Daniel Dornbaum, a co-chair of Community Board 8’s technology committee, noticed Semer’s efforts on Twitter. Dornbaum, who is always looking to improve CB8’s web presence, said he often looks to other community boards for reference.

Dornbaum and his committee are also taking strides to become more active on the web; he noted that CB8’s website, which serves Upper East Siders, had been recently revamped. Before the makeover, Dornbaum laughingly called the site (which offered only a meeting calendar) “ancient.”

“The old website was very bare bones, so we wanted a chance to revamp,” Dornbaum said. He wanted the new website to be an easy to use, visually-pleasing source of information for both the board members and the general public. The site now offers a wealth of material that stretches beyond just the calendar, like a roster of community board members, a section dedicated to “what’s new,” and a different page for each subcommittee.

CB8 utilizes both Twitter and Facebook. Rather than use Twitter to engage with community members the way CB7 does, the board uses it more to post meeting updates. “For us, Twitter is a good way to give updates on meetings, but our board office is limited in the time they can spend,” Dornbaum explained. “We have to value our time, and the numbers that we would reach on Twitter would be a lot less than we would on other platforms.”

Dornbaum noted that CB8 has far more users engaged on Facebook, where they are more active. There, Dornbaum posts photos, relevant links and spotlights different board members to acknowledge their accomplishments. He’s even used Facebook’s livestreaming feature during monthly meetings to include members with real time updates. In the future, Dornbaum hopes to livestream the monthly meetings directly to website, rather than rely on third-party streaming.

Both CB7’s live Twitter chats and CB8’s livestream videos are meant to target people who would otherwise remain unengaged had it not been for these social media outlets; this is especially true of the younger demographic of Upper West and East Siders who don’t normally attend board meetings to voice their concerns.

“The meetings, which are early evenings in the middle of the week, can be hard to make as a young professional,” Dornbaum said. “So we target a younger audience on Facebook.”

Semer feels similarly. “We want to reach more people,” she said. “We want to get more people in the community involved. There may be a whole sector of people who aren’t aware of the community board and aren’t aware of what we do and the kinds of issues that we deal with.”

CB7 and CB8 are only two of the many Manhattan community boards utilizing social media. Community Board 5, which serves Midtown, has a very detailed website featuring an interactive map of the area it covers, and routinely tweets out community updates from @ManhattanCB5. Community Board 4, serving Chelsea and Clinton, also uses Twitter to send out meeting updates and agenda changes.

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