City shares ways for residents to "Get Connected" 

click to enlarge Shannon Entz, a senior planner with the City of Oklahoma City, talks with residents during a “Get Connected” event about ways to use social media and other technology in order to connect with city and community resources. - BEN FELDER
  • Ben Felder
  • Shannon Entz, a senior planner with the City of Oklahoma City, talks with residents during a “Get Connected” event about ways to use social media and other technology in order to connect with city and community resources.

In this modern era of community development, an active Twitter profile might be as important as neighborhood signage.

“Social media can help create an identity for a neighborhood,” said Shannon Entz, senior planner for Oklahoma City’s Strong Neighborhood Initiative. “A good example … is Classen Ten-Penn and Classen Highland Park. Both of those neighborhoods have created an identify for themselves, and social media has played a part in expanding their message.”

In 2015, it’s not breaking news that technology influences how organizations and governments communicate with residents. But it’s an area community and city leaders hope to expand.

Entz said digital tools like Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor can help neighborhoods bridge communication gaps and reach key demographics.

“The goal for us is to connect neighborhood residents better with one another, as well as with their city government, schools and neighborhood associations,” said Entz, whose office hosted a social media training event last week.

click to enlarge Get-Connected-3.jpg

It was a first for the city.

“The way people connect is different for everyone, but there are tools that can help people stay plugged in with their community,” Entz said. “And that’s our goal.”

Language barrier

New neighborhood association, city department and school officials say they are mindful of more traditional communication methods and understand that not everyone has an online profile.

Even so, at last week’s seminar, older residents created accounts for apps like Nextdoor that provide users access to community information they might not have otherwise known about.

The tools have become useful in overcoming language barriers within the city’s growing Spanish-speaking community, especially for Oklahoma City Public Schools, which has a student population that is 50 percent Hispanic.

“We have the ability to translate exactly what it is we are putting out,” said Deisy Escalera, who works in the language and cultural services department of the school district.

Other groups, such as the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma (NACOK), also have used digital tools to improve communication with the Hispanic community.

“The south side is growing,” said Ana Carmina Herrera, southside community organizer for NACOK.

She was hired to focus on Hispanic neighborhoods.

However, while technology plays an ever-growing role in neighborhood development, Herrera said traditional communication such as paper flyers and home visits are still important.

“There are several neighborhoods on the south side where there is an older population,” Herrera said. “If you send information through the school, well, they don’t have kids. If you put it on Nextdoor, well, they don’t have the app. So door-to-door is still important, at least when first organizing.”

City Hall

OKC’s communication department has used social media to connect with residents since 2007, when a major ice storm created a need to distribute important information online. The city’s Twitter profile actively engages residents who have questions or report problems. The OKC GOV app, launched last year, also offers resources.

“It’s always a struggle to connect with all of our residents,” said Zack Nash, the city’s creative services manager. “[Before social media], some people … thought that all we did was pick up their trash and when they flushed their toilet, it just disappeared. Social media has really allowed people to connect with the city and see what we do in all departments.”

Even as the popularity of digital tools grows, Nash still believes human interaction is important.

“I’m seeing places like Better Block OKC and the different districts that are thriving,” he said, “because we are getting back to that face-to-face interaction.”

While digital connectivity has enhanced city and community growth, Barbie Smalley, a NACOK community organizer, said recent development stems from a desire to connect personally with one another.

“As much as the digital age plays a part in 2015, we cannot forget how old-school we have to do it, too,” Smalley said.

There is a push to get to know neighbors, Smalley said, and while Facebook and Nextdoor allow people to meet, the ultimate goal is to connect on a personal level.

“We talk about Nextdoor and the city’s mobile app when helping neighborhoods become organized,” she said, “but we also talk about flyers and encourage door-to-door organizing.”

It’s a digital world, but even last week’s event encouraged neighborhood and city leaders to sit down with residents and help them learn more about digital interactivity tools and how to maximize their use.

“This is still the goal,” Smalley said. “It’s about getting together.”

Print headline: Connecting OKC, Social media and old-fashioned pavement-pounding work to bring residents closer than ever.

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