Embrace the chaos.
This is the the mantra Jennifer Davies has adopted in her time as public information officer for the City of Las Vegas, and the head of its social media team.
Even if it weren’t Las Vegas, running social for a city usually means that there’s always something going on. In the past year and half, what Davies has seen runs the gamut from the feel-good success of the local Little League team to the fatal shooting of two Las Vegas police officers. She knows she has to be ready to roll with the proverbial punches.
Davies, originally from Michigan, attended Michigan State University where she received a degree in communications and public relations. When she moved out to Las Vegas, she started off in entertainment and travel PR.
Even though she graduated in 2008, Davies said, it was still to early for social media to have made it into any of her classes, so her first experience learning about social platforms like Twitter came from her first job at an agency where they launched a Twitter account.
“I think I got to know more about it and really fell in love with the way that storytelling worked on there. It was so different from anything we had seen before,” she said.
Soon after, Davies went to University of Southern California and got a master’s degree in communication management. Eventually, she went to work for the local power company. It was her first foray into government communications.
In May of 2013, she took the job doing social media for Las Vegas.
Davies wasn’t the first person to run social for the city, but she was the first to do it full time. There had been a public hearing in the spring of 2013, and a community partner brought to the attention of the city manager that there was a lot of activity on social media regarding the hearing, that the city probably didn’t know about.
“I think it really inspired her to really pull back and say, ‘Listen, we’re missing the boat on this if we’re not at least listening, if we’re not contributing content,'” Davies said.
While many city governments are embracing social, not everyone is convinced it’s worth the effort or perceived risks of stepping into the social space. Davies said that with the way the recession hit government staffing, many governments are still not devoting more resources than a part time person.
“When you consider monitoring alone and planning content and being out there and available and answering questions and responding to what the community needs, it really is a full time gig, and if you can put someone behind that, I think that they’ll see that you really do get a lot of value out of that,” Davies said.
In the relatively short time she’s been in social full time for Las Vegas, she’s seen the returns outweigh the risks.
Most notably, in January, Davies proposed introducing a social media element to the Mayor’s State of the City address. Davies invited not just journalists, but social media influencers to live tweet the event with a dedicated hashtag. The address also featured a live Twitter wall.
For an event that’s not typically seen as the most exciting happening in Las Vegas on any given day, it did remarkably well, racking up 900 tweets during the speech, and 1,500 the rest of the day. They trended organically on Twitter, and even trended above Consumer Electronic Show (CES), which is the largest convention to come to Las Vegas every year.
“State of the City was pretty huge — to have not been in that position for that long, and to be given the space to try something that we had never done before because people were freaked out,” Davies said. It turned into one of the most significant moments of her career.
As this past summer started, Las Vegas made national news when a couple shot two las Vegas police officers in a pizza place before continuing into a Walmart.
“Active shooter situations, obviously, are unfolding across the country but for us this was really the first time that it had hit home,” she said.
The situation shifted from public safety and getting information to the public about lockdowns etc., to figuring out how to respond to the aftermath of the shooting.
“Our pages were able to serve as a place where people were coming together and dealing with this grief,” she said.
Their aim was to keep everything tasteful and un-self-serving, but still share things like images of the Las Vegas police department’s shrouded badges.
“It’s a big responsibility to know that people depend on you for that information, so I think once you open up that door, you really have to be committed to being there and being available,” Davies said.
Toward the end of the summer, when the unexpected hit again, it was by far a happier affair.
Las Vegas’ Little League team Mountain Ridge made it to the World Series. The city supported through social.
“Our community rallied around that like nothing I have ever seen. Of our top five posts of the last 90 days, four of them are related to Mountain Ridge,” she said.
Otherwise, Davies plans for as much as she can. That makes embracing the chaos easier to do. In the office, they call her a “little hurricane.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the job is dealing with the little-known fact that the Las Vegas strip isn’t actually within city limits.
The proximity does benefit them. Las Vegas’ mayor can get up to 5,000 media inquiries a year, many of which involve national attention. (A quick aside about Carolyn G. Goodman, Las Vegas’ mayor — she carries around poker chips with her contact info on them. Davies was able to convince her to not only join Twitter, but replace the fax number on the chip with her Twitter handle.)
Though, that does mean there’s a lot of noise on social media to weed through. Davies said they act on a case-by-case basis, after all, Las Vegas is a tourism town.
“At the end of the day, people are tagging us when they get here and me favoriting their tweet or responding to them makes their trip,” she said.
In her own words…
How do you unplug?
“I’m generally available 24/7 except when I’m sleeping. My husband and I are foodies and we love coffee, cocktails, and eating. We love to go on weekend trips to new places, so when I do go out of town for those long weekends, my team is great. They step in and babysit everything for me for the weekend. So, I can get away and not worry about work stuff. I’d say those little trips keep me sane.”
Where’s somewhere you’ve gone recently?
“We just went to Portland in July. That was awesome. And we went to San Francisco in September, too. It was a shorter trip. My husband’s a big Dodgers fan and they were playing Dodgers/Giants, so we went to the game and hung out in the city for two days, so that was really fun, too.”
If you could try a different profession, what would it be?
“I think I’m where I should be. I’m very passionate about what I’m doing and I think it’s a perfect fit for my personality and I absolutely love it. I think even if I didn’t do this, I would have always wound up in the communications field because I love the storytelling nature of things and the quick pace and how things are always changing. But, I love TV and the production side of video as well. We actually have our own TV station, so I’m very fortunate in that regard. They indulge my interests and they let me do segments occasionally for our little news program that we have and I absolutely love it.”
Is there a social media account that you follow for fun?
“I absolutely love The Mindy Project — Mindy Kaling I think she’s hilarious, so I love her on social media. I think she’s great. ”