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Variety, the name of Danville's public-outreach game

Smartphone app, social media among outlets town officials use to inform and interact with residents

As local governments across the country work to keep their residents engaged and informed in this age of new media, the town of Danville appears to be attacking the issue from just about all sides.

In an effort to better serve their town of 43,000 residents, Danville officials operate more than a half-dozen social media accounts, an online-only newsletter and a smartphone app -- all aimed at connecting the townspeople with their government, and vice versa.

"We can't rely on one form of communication to keep residents informed," Danville Mayor Robert Storer said. "That's why the town will continue to be accessible and responsive to the community in the varied mediums of communication. It's what I believe our community expects, and it's the right thing to do."

Social media

Danville officials recognize the value of actively using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to distribute information and interact with community members, according to Geoff Gillette, town public information coordinator.

"We use these channels to showcase our events and programs, but we also use these channels to disseminate critical information that can be of use to our residents in emergency situations," Gillette said.

The town first entered the social media arena in November 2012, tweeting from the downtown tree-lighting and posting photographs on Facebook, according to Gillette.

Now, there are three town-operated Facebook pages: the "Village Theatre and Art Gallery" (with 197 likes), the "Danville Police Department" (358 likes) and the main account, "Town of Danville, CA" (1,488 likes).

Danville officials also rely on Twitter to share details and advisories with the public. The official town account (@DanvilleINFO) has 706 followers and has sent out more than 830 tweets.

The town also maintains profiles on the social-networking website LinkedIn and video-sharing sites YouTube and Vimeo.

Gillette said while the town's social media platforms have gained some traction, officials certainly want to see public interest increase. "Social media is a fantastic communications vehicle ... So having more people following/sharing/liking would help spread that information exponentially," he added.

Danville Today

As part of its transition into the digital age (and to cut down on printing costs), the town switched its long-time newsletter, Danville Today, to online-only in fall 2012.

"The reason for continuing to have the newsletter in an online format is that it allows us to highlight programs, services and current events here in town and post it in a single, easily accessible, location," Gillette said.

Danville Today averaged about 1,000 pageviews per week in 2013, the newsletter's first full year as digital-only, according to Gillette. The most read article, with 2,800 page views, was a piece about the town's "Music in the Park" program.

Danville Connect

The town last summer unveiled a new customer management system, Danville Connect, which people can access using a free smartphone app.

The Danville Connect application offers direct links to the town website, the Danville Today newsletter and ways to contact all five town council members.

It also allows people to submit inquiries -- on a range of issues such as maintenance, graffiti, pot holes or town facility rentals -- right from their smartphone. The service requests can include photographs, comments and GPS locations.

Inquiring community members can also track the status of their requests through Danville Connect, which is also available through a portal on the town website.

A little more than 400 inquires have been submitted since the town launched Danville Connect on Aug. 1, according to Gillette. The reviews have been largely positive so far, he added, with user surveys returning "good" or "superior" ratings more than 80 percent of the time.

The new system has also garnered positive feedback internally, with the switch to digital making it easier for town staff to assign and manage maintenance requests, Gillette said.

And count the mayor among those supporters.

Storer said he submitted a service request using the new app earlier this month, after being approached by a couple who complained about sidewalk stains near several downtown trash cans apparently caused by leaky garbage bags being dragged on the ground.

Town staff responded to the query within several days, devising a plan for power-washing the area and preventing the issue in the future, according to Storer.

"I was thrilled (the couple) were thrilled," he added.

Other outreach

Town officials are looking into a variety of other ways to enhance communications with its citizenry, Gillette said.

Last week, the town unveiled a new website aimed at updating people on key construction projects around town. It is part of a larger program called "The Insider's Guide to Danville Improvements," which also relies on local merchants -- dubbed "Danville Insiders" -- to pass out informational brochures and act as liaisons between residents and town staff.

Another new outlet is the "Open Town Hall" online forum, which Danville representatives used late last fall to obtain public input about the upcoming Osage Station Park playground restoration.

Town officials also hope to begin video-recording town council meetings in the coming months and posting the videos online.

However, if none of the digital tools seem desirable, residents can always reach out to the town government the old-fashioned way, initiating personal interactions, the mayor said.

"For those who are not comfortable with using social media, we will always be just a phone call away," Storer added.

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