City spokesman Matthai Chakko. Photo: Matthai Chakko
City spokesman Matthai Chakko will oversee the city’s Twitter account. Photo: Matthai Chakko
City spokesman Matthai Chakko will oversee the city’s Twitter account. Photo: Matthai Chakko

After four years of consideration, the city of Berkeley launched its Twitter account Monday afternoon to help improve the consistency and flow of information it provides to the public.

The first tweet from the city? “Hi, Berkeley, we’re here!” was posted just after 12:20 p.m., and followed quickly by a link to a news release about the launch.

The account — @CityofBerkeley — will be a conduit of information from every department, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko, who will run the account. It already had more than 3,400 followers before posting a single tweet.

“The goal is for departments to be communicating much more,” he said. “We want to improve the amount, and the quality and consistency, of information to the public.”

Chakko said last week he was looking forward to the launch.

“What I’m most excited about is that we’ll be communicating with a voice that represents the whole city,” he said. “To have every department involved and communicating is a big step for us. It’s a good step.”

The city will now use Twitter in addition to email, Nixle alerts and the BENS emergency notification system. The city also has its 311 service center, which has both online and phone access options. For the time being, Facebook is not part of the plan, said Chakko: “Our focus is on seeing how this goes first.”

The city also plans to pull together all of its significant news on a single page on its website, which people can subscribe to for email updates.

“The news items will seek to increase transparency of City processes, increase awareness of City events and facilitate greater access to city services,” according to an April 20 memo from City Manager Christine Daniel to the Berkeley City Council about the new effort.

According to the memo, council asked for an update on the city’s social media plans April 1. The memo was the response.

In recent years, the city has not regularly put out news releases or consistently shared information about what was happening in different departments. Now, all departments are required to funnel shareable, timely, relevant news to Chakko, who will then put it out over email and Twitter. He said the city is focusing first on Twitter because it’s fast and efficient.

“It’s unfiltered, so people get it most directly,” he added.

Chakko — a former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle — said he has met with people from every city department to train them in how to write news items. As part of the Twitter program, departments will submit news items to Chakko, who will then edit and post them.

Departments will not have individual accounts or be able to access the city’s main account for the time being.

“It gets confusing if you have multiple people handling the same account,” he said. “We just want there to be a certain quality of information coming out.”

But it’s possible that, down the line, individual city departments might be allowed to create their own accounts.

“We just need to use one well first,” Chakko said.

Social media policy is complete

Monday, the city also made available its new social media policy, dated April 7, which outlines Berkeley’s approach to using the tool.

The policy credits social media with making it easier for the public to engage with municipal efforts, while at the same time expressing concern about how it can sometimes have a negative impact: “Social Media can be used destructively, to discourage participation and thereby suppress unpopular ideas, and can be hijacked for purposes other than those for which they are intended. Moreover, by using Social Media, the City may be enabling Users to post their own content to City-maintained Social Media sites.”

As per the policy, “Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, Nixle and the posting of videos on Youtube and Vimeo” have all been approved in concept for municipal use. Guidelines are included for how individual departments would use those sites to share information in compliance with city policy.

Currently, individual departments do not have Twitter accounts or any other social media presence, though the policy seems to allow those in theory. Those who are interested in that approach, as per the policy, “must develop a six-month plan to post on a regular schedule,” and get approval from the city manager to do so.

In addition, they must commit to a regular posting schedule or face consequences, and “any Social Media site that is not updated for one week or is not monitored as set forth in the applicable appendix to this policy must be taken down. In such cases it may not be re-created for six months.”

More specifically, “Twitter accounts will have a minimum of three posts a week and should strive to have posts every weekday, excluding holidays.”

In most instances, as per the policy, information must appear first on the city website, which may be followed by links on social media that direct back to the website. The policy notes that the police and fire departments, and Office of Emergency Services, are allowed to use social media first “for emergencies.”

“Live events may occasionally call for direct posting, but they must be approved in advance by the Public Information Officer for the City or, in the case of the Police and Fire Departments, their respective PIOs,” according to the policy. “Departments should use Social Media to link to outside sites only when necessary to provide information that is suitable in City context and cannot be made available in a timely manner from the City’s website, such as in rapidly developing, critical situations or emergencies.”

However, the city does not plan to use social media as the “primary tool” during emergencies: “The Berkeley Emergency Notification System, known as BENS, will remain the primary source of that information. Emergency information may be released on social media sites, but only after it is released on the BENS or other emergency information systems.”

Read the City of Berkeley’s social media policy.

Berkeley to launch Nixle crime alerts for phone, email (04.08.14)
Berkeley officials: Social media ‘critical’ for transparency (04.01.14)
3 years on, city of Berkeley still stuck on social media (02.19.14)
Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page? (03.14.11)
A council member takes to Twitter, other officials lag (05.27.11)

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for local news? Support independent journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside member for $5 a month or even less, or by making a one-time donation.

Avatar photo

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...