IndyQ&A: How City of Las Vegas uses TikTok and other social media to better connect with residents
David Riggleman has been the communications director for the City of Las Vegas since 1999, a job that throughout the years has required adapting to the growth of social media.
With active accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, most recently, TikTok, the city has more than 539,000 followers across all platforms. It also recently announced that it had passed more than 1 million views on TikTok, where the city has published videos detailing everything from a day in the life of Mayor Carolyn Goodman to an inside look at just how big the city’s traffic signals are.
Riggleman said the city’s social media platforms average about 350 messages a day — about 11,000 a month, often with questions about resources and services — which his team of four (plus a part-timer) answers daily, even on weekends, to keep cultivating the relationship with the audience.
Along with social media, Riggleman also oversees the city's television channel (KCLV Channel 2), internet content, marketing and advertising, city publications and emergency communications.
Riggleman spoke to The Nevada Independent about his role, what it’s like behind the scenes and the importance of local government’s online presence. The following Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What was it like to see the city grow so much the last 23 years as well as the development of social media?
Riggleman: It's been dramatic. When I first came to the city, we would disseminate information. But then often we were criticized that we weren't responsive to questions that people had because at the time we didn't have the opportunity for a two-way conversation. Well, social media has really allowed us to have that two-way conversation, because not only can we send any information and put it out there, but then people can ask questions and we can clear things up for them.
When social media was kind of ramping up, I wasn't quite sure how it was gonna fit into the city's overall communications plans. I thought, “Well, is it just a fad? Is it just something where people are gonna post what they have for lunch? Or where they went on vacation? Or was there really going to be something more substantive to it?”
Well, what changed my mind was — way back in the day of MySpace was still a big thing — we were gonna have a neighborhood meeting and come to find out that about 300 people were going to come to that neighborhood meeting because they were concerned about noise in the area. And it was interesting to me that you could have 300 people out there having a conversation, and we were totally oblivious to it. We weren’t part of that conversation.
And I made up my mind that we've got to change this. If the community’s having a conversation out there, then the city needs to be part of that conversation. And so that was really a wake-up call to me. Social media is more than just what you had for lunch. It is really the way people communicate and we're gonna communicate in the future and sure enough, that is exactly what's happened.
Q: Why is it important for the local government to have a presence on social media?
I believe we have established the fact that the City of Las Vegas, if you're trying to find out accurate, timely information about something going on — take the pandemic, for example — the safest place you could go were your social media platforms, our blog to get that information. And that was so vital because initially, we were trying to make sure that people understood about social distancing, and then it was time to wear masks and then vaccines came along. I think it's just a lesson learned that if we were to have a major crisis, perhaps like an earthquake or a flash flood or whatever it might be, that that ability to communicate accurately and quickly on social media is going to be vital to protecting the community.
I think one of the powers of social media is that it helps demonstrate that the people that work in government and city government are like everybody else. They're hard-working folks that come to work every day. They're doing a good job. And it just helps humanize and put faces to the people that work here. And I think that helps build a strong bond with communities and people see that the people working here are really just like them.
One of the things we want to show is that Las Vegas is an interesting place. It's not only the entertainment capital of the world, but we have a really strong city government here that's trying to serve the community. So we try to blend the posts, so that not only are you seeing some of the cool things that are going on — especially if there's a new feature in the downtown, a new property that's doing something exciting (certainly we want to be part of that and highlight it, too) — but we also want to show that we're committed to making sure that our community is a great place to live.
Q: How do you deal with so many messages?
We've got people from literally all over the world following the City of Las Vegas, and that's one of the advantages of being Las Vegas is that we have that iconic name that people around the world are going to be interested in, but we also have a huge following with local people.
We get about 350 messages a day or about 11,000 a month. In the old days people would pick up the phone, they might send you an email. Now they'll communicate with you on social media and I'm really proud of my team because we try to be responsive and we are responsive seven days a week. If somebody has a question about the Bluegrass Festival and it's taking place on Saturday, we're not gonna wait until Monday to reply and tell you the details about it. You know, if you have questions, we're gonna reply that weekend. And that's just a commitment we’ve made.
It's interesting, when you do that, you set the expectation that somebody's always going to be there to respond. But we felt like we needed to do that to build that credibility with the public. Again, we didn't want to be perceived as disseminating information, but then not being responsive.
A lot of questions are from people trying to find resources. Maybe they're inquiring and they've gone to the wrong jurisdiction, and then we direct them to where they can find the information. I think sometimes, especially people who are newer here, think that everything is the City of Las Vegas. Whereas so much of it is in the county or perhaps even in North Las Vegas, or Henderson or whatever. And then there's a lot of questions just about what goes on here in the city, like wanting to know “How do I sign up my kid for swim classes?” or “When is the next pickleball tournament?”
Q: What has been your experience learning to use the algorithm to your advantage?
It's something that you have to have a lot of patience with. You have to really pay attention to the analytics. Because that's the other thing that's great about social media — you're gonna see right away what you're posting whether it’s successful or not.
Analytics also allow you to help map out where you want to get your message out into the future. It helps you understand what the audience sees on the different platforms. We're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Next Door, YouTube, and the audiences are a little different on each of those platforms.
The algorithm is constantly evolving, and you constantly have to pay attention to the analytics because it's gonna tell you how things are doing enough to adjust to the changes because it constantly changes. And so right about the time you think you've hit the sweet spot, well, the algorithm changes and we're going to have to adjust again to stay in step with the way communication is moving. And that's just the nature of social media. It can be a challenge because it is always evolving.
Q: What does the future for the city’s social media look like?
I would never have imagined that communications evolved to where it is. I have to tell you though, I have really been happy and I embrace the change. Because like I said, in the past, we would disseminate information, but we were often criticized for not being very responsive. Picking up the phone or sending an email or maybe sending a message on the website, those weren’t really the most convenient ways to try to do it. And now with social media, I feel like it's just opened this door to where we can have that dialogue with the people that live here in Las Vegas and really the world. And that's been so exciting.
Before the pandemic shut everything down, I went to a seminar about TikTok and the presenter’s point was, “This is going to be a force you're going to have to reckon with. You can try to dismiss it, but it's the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” And I listened.
So the question is, what will the future look like? That's gonna be a tough one. I mean, we're always trying to keep our eyes down the road looking at that. I think one of the things that we're hearing a lot about is the Metaverse, where people can come into the city virtually and have their avatar walk around City Hall and they can do it from the comfort of their own home. They can attend a council meeting virtually through avatar, without really ever having to leave their own couch.
I think this whole concept of the Metaverse and giving people that virtual look inside places is going to be a very, very strong direction that social media will be headed because of everything I'm hearing and everything I'm seeing.
Those things always start off as kind of a fad, but then somebody figures out how to give any practical application. Who would have imagined initially that TikTok was going to be such a great way to communicate government information. But sure enough, it is. And I think the Metaverse will be that way as well. People will figure out a practical application to where it's beneficial to the people using it. It's not just like video games. It's gonna be useful to be able to interact with the city or pay a bill or take care of a parking ticket.