Since 1999, David Riggleman has been the communications director for the City of Las Vegas, and he has had to adapt to the growth of social media.
The city has more than half a million followers on all of the platforms. The city has published videos detailing everything from a day in the life of the mayor to an inside look at just how big the city's traffic signals are.
The city's social media platforms average about 350 messages a day, about 11,000 a month, with questions about resources and services, which his team of four answers daily, even on weekends, to keep cultivating the relationship with the audience.
The city's television channel, internet content, marketing and advertising, city publications and emergency communications are all overseen by the same person.
He talked to The Nevada Independent about his role, what it was like behind the scenes, and the importance of local government's online presence. The following questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What was it like to see the city grow so much over the course of 23 years?
The situation has been dramatic. Information would be spread when I first arrived. We weren't responsive to people's questions because we didn't have the chance to have a two-way conversation. Social media has allowed us to have a two-way conversation because we can send information and people can ask questions and we can clear things up.
I wasn't sure how social media would fit into the city's communications plan. I wondered if it was a fad or something else. People are going to post what they have for lunch on this site. Where did they go on their break? Was it going to be more substantive?
When I was younger, we were going to have a neighborhood meeting and come to find out that about 300 people were going to attend because they were worried about noise in the area. We were completely oblivious to the fact that there were 300 people talking. We didn't participate in that conversation.
I decided that we need to change this. If the community is having a discussion, then the city needs to be involved. That was a wake up call to me. It's not just what you had for lunch that's social media. It is the way people communicate and we are going to communicate in the future and that is exactly what has happened.
The local government needs to have a presence on social media.
If you're trying to find out accurate, timely information about something going on, the safest place to go would be your social media platforms. Initially, we were trying to make sure that people understood about social distance, and then it was time to wear masks and get vaccines. The ability to communicate quickly and accurately on social media is going to be important in protecting the community in the event of a major crisis.
One of the benefits of social media is that it shows that people who work in government and city government are the same as everyone else. People come to work every day. They're working well. It helps humanize the people that work here. People see that the people working here are similar to them, and that helps build a strong bond with the community.
Las Vegas is an interesting place to visit. The entertainment capital of the world, we have a strong city government that tries to serve the community. If there's a new feature in the downtown, a new property that's doing something exciting, we want to be part of that and highlight it, so we try to blend the posts.
How do you deal with a lot of people?
One of the advantages of being Las Vegas is that people around the world are going to be interested in what we have to offer, but we also have a large following with local people.
About 11,000 messages a month are received by us. People used to send you an email when you picked up the phone. I'm proud of my team because we try to be responsive and we are responsive seven days a week. We're not going to wait until Monday to give you the details about the festival if someone has a question about it. We are going to reply that weekend if you have a question. We've made a commitment.
When you do that, you set the expectation that someone will respond. We wanted to build that credibility with the public. We didn't want to be seen as being responsive when we were not.
People are trying to find things. We might direct them to where they can find the information if they inquired and went to the wrong place. People who are newer to the area think that everything is in Las Vegas. So much of it is in the county. There are a lot of questions about what goes on in the city, like how to sign up your child for swim classes or when the next pickleball tournament will be.
How have you learned to use the algorithm to your advantage?
You have to be patient with it. You have to keep an eye on the data. You're going to see what you're posting immediately if it's successful or not.
You can use analytic tools to help map out where you want to go. It helps you understand what people are watching. Audiences are different on each of the platforms we're on.
You have to pay attention to the analytics because it will tell you how things are adjusting to the changes in the algorithm. We're going to have to adjust again to stay in step with the way communication is moving after you hit the sweet spot. The nature of social media makes that happen. It can be a challenge because it is always changing.
What is the future for the city's social media?
Communications evolved to where they are. I have embraced the change and have been happy. We used to distribute information, but we were criticized for not being very responsive. Sending a message on the website or picking up the phone weren't the most convenient ways to do it With social media, we can have a dialogue with the people who live in Las Vegas and the world. That has been great.
I went to a seminar about TikTok and was told that it was going to be a force that would have to be reckon with. The 800-pound gorilla is in the room and you can dismiss it. And I paid attention.
The question is what the future will look like. It's going to be difficult. We try to keep our eyes on that. I think one of the things that we're hearing a lot about is the Metaverse, where people can come into the city virtually and have their avatars walk around City Hall and they can do it from their own home. They don't have to leave their couch to go to a council meeting.
The idea of the Metaverse and giving people a virtual look inside places is going to be a very strong direction for social media.
Those things start off as a fad, but then someone comes up with a way to use them. TikTok was going to be a good way to communicate government information. It is. I believe the Metaverse will be the same. People will figure out how to use it in a practical way. It's not just a game. It will be helpful to be able to interact with the city or pay a bill.