CXO

Lindsay Crudele: Boston's social media director. Storyteller. Beekeeper.

Lindsay Crudele tells TechRepublic about the importance of social media in everyday government processes, and especially during emergencies like the Boston bombing.

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Crudele with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh
Image: Lindsay Crudele

Lindsay Crudele wants to turn Boston's City Hall inside out.

She's the city's first social media director, and one of the main plans for the city during her time there has been increased accessibility and transparency for the the constituents of Boston.

That can mean anything from making sure weather-related questions that roll in through social are answered, even at 1 a.m., or wrangling the city's social presence during unexpected emergencies.

Crudele started out in journalism as a radio producer and reporter, and eventually transitioned into marketing and public relations. She became involved with some community projects that interested her, like a campaign to raise awareness about the last roller rink in the city. In various other campaigns she was involved with, social media was always a natural component.

She also worked as a part of former Mayor Thomas Menino's campaign. Eventually she even got him on Twitter.

"He had an enthusiasm that set off a chain reaction across city hall. We started to see social media involvement from all kinds of different departments in different ways," she said.

Three years ago, she became the City of Boston's first social media director, part of an initial wave of cities adding similar positions as the need for governance, policy, training, and content strategy increases.

Crudele had the benefit of having worked at a city agency before, so she was already aware of many of the accounts and conversations that existed. Before implementing a social media policy, though, she surveyed all the social-related stakeholders in the city to get a grasp on what they were doing and what they needed, and also did a broad asset study to make sure she knew what was currently operating.

"We weren't building from the ground up in every case, but we needed to get everybody on the same page," she said.

The next step was to find an enterprise social media tool that would let her link all the accounts to not only monitor from a single access point, but also to coordinate both broader city-related accounts and smaller or "deeper dive" conversations (like getting in touch with Boston's food initiative, for example).

"That means that during a storm or during the Boston marathon attack, we were able to get into every single digital channel we had and leverage those for amplification of vital public safety updates," she said.

In actually constructing the policy, she noted how important it was to set best practices and expectations, even constituent expectations on things such as turn around time, types of answers, and what constitutes an official City of Boston account. IT, communications, and legal, amongst other departments were involved.

There are 51 departments in the city, each with a social presence. All of the social teams meet periodically as the City Social Club to review best practices and discuss storytelling. Crudele's ultimate goal is goal-oriented, user-centric social media strategy.

Boston's digital strategy is one in which the efficiency, effectiveness, and strong relationships with the community forged during of day-to-day functions ends up preparing the city for the unexpected — like the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Crudele said social efforts unfolded in several ways. First, they needed to provide reliable and timely information that was clarifying to the community, not only the day of the attack, but in the days afterward and during the suspect capture.

Boston also launched fundraising and recovery efforts through the One Fund. Twitter donated a promoted tweet and within seven hours, the One Fund raised $5 million, the result of 101,000,000 impressions.

Third, the city had to tend to community morale. They set up a blog to display some of the notes and drawings left at the finish line.

"We photographed a sample of those and created a blog that people could add to in order to provide some type of healing space, so that helped us create a bridge from city hall to what everyone in the city was feeling at the time," she said

Finding those bridges are an important part of Crudele's work.

Recently, the city introduced a new housing policy and is finding ways to communicate it through social.

"It's a very rich policy document and it's not really tailored for social media. So, one of the things that I've done is work with our content creators in the city to find new ways to deliver that content in a really accessible way," she said.

Accessibility is another important aspect. Crudele has to figure out what conversations or processes at City Hall can be made participatory.

One example is the Married in Boston Tumblr. Crudele said a common experience working in City Hall is running into wedding parties in the elevator as couples get married in the 6th floor clerks office. In keeping with her idea of "turning city hall inside out," she and the office of New Urban Mechanics created a tumblr filled with gifs, photos, and "how we met" stories of the folks getting married.

"It's such a cool experience, unexpectedly heartwarming in this relatively austere building." she said.

Another recent and favorite initiative is "Bostunes." When anyone calls city hall, the music they hear on hold is crowdsourced via social media from local musicians.

"We updated our phone systems in winter to a newly digitized system which supported audio files, so I thought immediately that this would be a great place for a crowdsourcing project," she said.

Whether serious or light hearted, Crudele keeps an important piece of context in mind when considering how Boston's social media fits into the lives of constituents: "They're seeing [social media posts] in the same stream as major brands, and family members, and friends, and we have to be every bit as engaging and relevant as Coca Cola and cute babies," she said.

In her own words...

How do you unplug?

"I am a backyard beekeeper. I really enjoy raising bees for honey. I am a musician. I play bass and sing in a band. Not so much lately, but I do write and play music. I'm an avid cyclist, a bike commuter, so I love to go on long rides. I love to do hikes. Boston's a great place to live because we're close to so many kinds of environments. There's opportunities on coast, in the mountains, and then the city itself is brimming with opportunities. I'm a sometimes homebrewer, so I'm into the whole urban homesteading thing when time permits."

How did you get into beekeeping?

"I was visiting a family member on a holiday and he very casually pointed out his non-operational beehive in the backyard, and I started to ask him some questions, and he told me that each year, it's pretty typical that he would farm 30 to 60 pounds of honey, and I found that very compelling. By the next spring, I'd installed my first hive and I've been doing that for about four years.

"The thing about beekeeping that is so compelling is that there's something incredibly meditative about working around bees because you have to remain calm, you have to move very slowly. No matter what happens, you can't really let the activity get to you. You just have to be deliberate and do the work you need to do. I joke that staying calm around large amounts of swirling bees is what I call 'bee yoga.'"

If you could pick a different profession, what would it be?

"I have to start by saying that I think I'm in my dream job in so far as I am a very social person, I'm a creative person, I love storytelling, and I'm able to tell so many different stories and interact with so many different people, both inside City Hall and out in the city of Boston, so the constituent service piece would have to follow me to whatever that alternative might be.

"There's probably something appealing that I have not explored that would involve working in some type of farming capacity, but I would have to think about that. Maybe spending more time with bees or gardening."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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