Lindsay Crudele knows she isn’t doing journalism, but she doesn’t care. As the City of Boston’s first Social Media Director, Crudele has simplified and streamlined the use of social media for a notoriously complex beast — a city government.
While City Hall doesn’t exactly apply a critical perspective to the inner workings of the government, Crudele strongly believes her team’s work provides Boston residents with an important public service. “We’re telling stories across the city. Everything that we put out is factual and reliable.”
Under Crudele’s leadership, the City has amassed over 1.5 million followers across its social media platforms – a diversified presence on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and SoundCloud. Crudele directs strategy, governance, training, and analytics for all these platforms, focusing on the 50 Twitter and 50 Facebook central accounts from departments ranging from the city’s Archives to the Centers for Youth and Families.
She grew up wanting to be a print journalist, getting her first big break one summer by scoring a coveted spot as a “kid reporter” for the Providence Journal. “I convinced an editor to allow me to review every waterpark, apple orchard and carousel in the state of Rhode Island,” Crudele says. “Storytelling was always really in my blood.”
After college, Crudele worked as a producer for Here and Now at WBUR. But it wasn’t until she landed a job at a community newspaper that she began to understand the power behind the interaction between local government and citizens. She ingratiated herself with Mayor Menino’s staff, landing a role as the Digital Director of Menino’s final campaign in 2009. It was Crudele who convinced the Mayor to join Twitter, a platform that Menino would use assiduously throughout his final years in office. Perhaps Menino’s most famous use of the platform was on the night of April 19, 2013, when he simultaneously confirmed the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and rallied a city with this famous tweet:
Crudele says Menino’s enthusiasm for the platform kicked off a chain reaction back in City Hall. She started to see social accounts popping up across departments: Police, Parks, Tourism, Disabilities. Crudele jumped on the opportunity to combine traditional community organizing with the ability to tell the stories she saw happening on a daily basis.
Crudele’s hire in 2012 was the first step in a road to revolutionize City Hall as a digital hub for Boston. In 2013, Boston was named the #1 digital city in the country by the Center for Digital Government Digital Cities Survey. And just this week, Mayor Marty Walsh hired Lauren Lockwood as the city’s first Chief Digital Officer.
Crudele began her tenure by building what she calls an “enterprise program” across City Hall departments, centralizing access to all 51 city departments to provide coordination and consistent messaging throughout all social messaging. Crudele worked with public information officers to help them understand the potential successes — and looming pitfalls — of social media in a gaffe-obsessed culture. Across City Hall, she helped representatives cultivate their communities on social platforms. Some needed more help than others. Crudele points to Joe Bagley, the city archaeologist, as someone who has thrived with the freedom and transparency of social media. Bagley posts images and updates from active sites across Boston, like this recent live-tweet from dig at a former tenement housing in Roxbury. Just this week, the Boston Fire Department got some good press after illustrating why you shouldn’t block fire hydrants on Twitter.
Crudele’s goal was to turn City Hall inside out. “Being engaged on a day-to-day basis helps us build trust in communities that we can then leverage for emergency moments or other important moments in city life.”
That trust was put to the test in April of last year. After the bombs went off at the Marathon finish line on April 15, Crudele’s team mobilized. “We’ve been building trust, building communications, building connections throughout the past couple of years prior to the attacks,” she said. “I’m pleased that the system was in place at that time, and it allowed us to quickly spring into action for the rapid response model of the emergency.”
Through the week of April 15, City Hall used social media to communicate clear, reliable information straight from the source. Crudele focused on easily shareable graphics, churning out simple information that would help residents understand what was going on. The Police Department shared up to the minute updates across their social channels, and as citizens tried solving the crime on their own using Reddit forums and live-tweeting police scanners, they worked to correct rumor. “The volume of social conversation at that time was so incredibly vast, that it was very important to clarify what the correct information was going to be,” says Crudele.
Just as important as the breaking information the city provided during Marathon Day and the city-wide lockdown on April 19, Crudele is most proud of how City Hall’s social media nurtured a sense of camaraderie and community in the wake of the attack. “It showed that social was a place to band together,” Crudele says. The Mayor’s office concentrated on sharing messages of strength and support, and created the One Boston Tumblr to display photographs and messages left at the finish line. Crudele secured a partnership with Twitter, which donated a promoted trend for The One Fund, which boosted the campaign’s visibility and correlated with raising about 5 million dollars in just a few hours.
The departments across City Hall organized as well to provide residents with information relevant to their expertise. The Department of Neighborhood Development, for example, used social media to find and assist residents locked out of the 15-square-block crime scene with tasks like feeding their pets.
Apart from the crucial public service the city provided that week, City Hall’s work on social media has reversed what had historically been a complaint-based relationship between citizens and the city government. From 2013 to 2014, the city doubled the citizen participation rate for reporting issues to the government. The Public Works Department, for example, uses social as a means for citizens to report and communicate problems. Reporting of potholes increased over 300 percent in one year through their “Spot Holes” social media campaign.
Crudele, however, is fueled by what she sees as the city’s larger purpose on social media: providing a way for residents to communicate their own stories. “As a former journalist,” Crudele says, “it’s become very clear to me that the changing nature of digital media means that we have a new opportunity to tell our stories in a way that it’s not just about how the press tells the story, but we’re about to empower storytellers across the city.”
Crudele thrives on telling stories that the public wouldn’t expert from the Mayor’s office. The Married in Boston Tumblr is a contrast to the idea others have of City Hall, Crudele says, where people just come to pay parking tickets. “The social program has allowed us to show that there’s a lot more about life in city government than you might assume.”