Stephanie Waters, Philadelphia's first digital director

Jim Kenney came out with a shiny new Twitter handle, @PhillyMayor, on Monday. More than likely, though, he won’t even have access to that account on his smartphone. Kenney might come up with suggestions about things he’d like to see shared on the handle, but it will mostly be in the hands of Stephanie Waters.

Waters is the city of Philadelphia’s first digital director. Her job is essentially to help facilitate digital communication between the city and its many departments and Philadelphia’s residents. If it sounds excessive to have an employee overseeing digital communication and social media, the Kenney administration doesn’t agree.

“In 2016 now,” Waters said, “it just seems long past time that you would have somebody that was really dedicated to that.”

Waters explained three primary goals for her first year on the job, the biggest obstacles to improving the city’s communication with residents and how Kenney will stay involved on social media.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

This is obviously a new position. What generally are you going to do and why did you guys think this is a necessary position?

As I’ve found, auditing different departments, the way social media has emerged over the years, it’s like like an experiment the intern does (at first) and then it becomes more important. So every department is in a different place over how much value they’ve added to it. I think that it’s almost nobody’s full-time job. They’re doing a lot of other things, and we can be a great resource to them to help have better guidelines and examples of ways to give people information online and what kind of information they should be giving on Twitter versus Facebook. So that is one of the ways that I see my role and it’s also why I think we thought it was important.

Also, I think Jim just really values Twitter. He values for himself that he can still be in touch with people and talk to them and see what they’re thinking. And I think because he sees how important it is, I thought it was a really great opportunity for us to help other people in the administration see it that way.

So all social media is your purview?

Yeah I say the Internet. Specifically me, I’m working on Jim’s account. My priorities at least right now are @PhillyMayor and @PhiladelphiaGov and the various platforms they are on.

We just met a social media working group (Thursday) for the first time. And it’s basically all the people across the government that have some sort of hand on social media. So I’m going to start working with those people and identify key ones I want to closely work with.

Will Jim be running some of @PhillyMayor as well?

He’ll walk into the room and say, ‘Can we tweet about this?’ It’s sort of more of a combo, but Jim himself tweeting is going to be the @JimFKenney one. We’ll still do Twitter chats with him on @PhillyMayor and like live tweeting Jim from @PhillyMayor.

A lot of people for years have said City departments are out of touch and difficult to get hold of and seem like they’re in this huge tower away from everyone else. So what kind of obstacles do you foresee in trying to battle that perception through social media?  

I think a big part of it is just honestly resources. If it’s not people’s first jobs or if the person in charge doesn’t think it’s important it’s hard to have that prioritized. Part of it is just giving them the tools and the support they need. Everyone has brought up on their own that helping constituents, whether it’s getting a permit they need for an event or whatever, that’s like the best part of their job. I think they want to do this and they just need to know like, you put a period before the @. They’re just like simple things that people are kind of scared of. And when you see people getting fired all the time for their use of Twitter, I don’t blame them.

What’s the one thing generally you’d most like to see the city improve upon digitally?

It would absolutely be just engaging with people. Not being afraid to respond to somebody. I think that can be a fear, like 311, can you do it? You can be scared of starting a Twitter war and people getting angry. That’s obviously not a good thing that I don’t want people to do. But I definitely want that engagement and sense that when you reach out your Tweet or Facebook post is being heard.

What are three priorities you have for this year that you’d really like to get done?

For me, overarching all this is the website. I’m obviously not the one who’s making that happen. That’s OIT (the Office of Innovation and Technology). But to me it’s really important that we get that up and running because it affects the social media tools. If we don’t have a robust place to direct people to it kind of falls apart. I think a big part of the hangup on that is just all the content you have to create. So I think I can help departments understand why that content is important.

The other one, we had a relatively strong email program on the Kenney campaign. I think having a more focused email campaign is something I’m interested in, especially as we go about launching some of Jim’s big priorities, like Pre-K.

Another big goal is just making sure we’re updating things. It’s frustrating when you find dead accounts or Google something and ‘is it like is this Facebook account even relevant?’

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...