Fenwick explores Twitter and Facebook

Members of the Fenwick Island Town Council may soon become a bunch of “twits” – in a good way, that is. At last Friday’s regular council meeting, the council discussed the idea of introducing new-age communication throughout the town by means of a Facebook and Twitter page. Web pages for the Town of Fenwick with the social networking Web sites could provide residents with another source for acquiring information.

Councilman Todd Smallwood proposed the idea to the council, first addressing the idea of Twitter, whose users are commonly referred to as “twits” or “twitterers.”

“Twitter is basically a free social messaging facility for staying in touch in real time,” he explained. “A lot of my concern goes back when power went out last year for 13 hours. People weren’t able to get information. With a Twitter account, people could follow what’s going on with our site, and if we have an incident like that again, information can be sent directly to your PDA device, like a cell phone. You can send messages and keep the public updated.”

Users of the Twitter service are kept current on happenings through 140-character updates, similar to instant messages, known as “tweets.”

Smallwood added that setting up an account is free and relatively simple.

“One thing we’d do is collect e-mails from residents and launch a program that would keep people up to date via text message. Residents could opt in or out, and they could change, later down the road.”

As of late 2008, Twitter was estimated to have between 4 million and 5 million users, with a steadily growing membership. By February 2009, Compete.com reported that the site used by “twits” was the third most used social network, behind Facebook and MySpace.

“[Twitter] is really catching on,” said Smallwood. “It’s a great form of communication, and we’d control what goes out.” He added that Twitter could be used to inform residents and users of upcoming meetings and recently passed legislation among other issues.

Smallwood also presented the idea of creating a Facebook account for the town.

“This would be another way to network our town’s accessibility,” he said. “We would monitor who had access to our site, unlike Myspace. Facebook requires you to identify those users and we must grant them access to our site.”

In addition to presenting municipal information, a Facebook site would allow for photo albums, where families would have the opportunity to put up photos of their experiences across town.

“It’s just another way of getting the word out there for our town and promoting interaction,” said Smallwood. “I don’t see a downside to using either site.”

Fenwick Island Mayor Audrey Serio noted that while she was intrigued by the idea, she would like to have more background on the sites and the town’s involvement.

“I like it,” she said. “We should do some research on our own and get some information about these accounts. We need to find out what the boundaries are. We have to remember, a lot of people who aren’t here all the time can’t get town information easily. These sites might be a good idea.”

Newly appointed Town Manager Wilmer E. Abbott has wasted no time fulfilling his duties appointed earlier this month, noting that he plans to examine the town’s potential involvement with the sites in the near future.

“Ocean City, Md., uses Twitter,” he said, “and I’ll be meeting with the city manager to discuss responsibilities that come with it. I’m willing to look into the resources we’d need and get questions answered.”

“The main thing is we want to keep people informed of what’s going on with the town,” Smallwood stated. “We don’t want to experience another situation like last year, and both Twitter and Facebook could be a great way to keep people current on what’s happening with the town.”