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Meet the city’s online voice

By Morgan Davy [1]

BELLEVILLE – Mayor Neil Ellis [2] might be the face of Belleville [3], but Aaron Bell [4] is the voice.

Bell is the communications coordinator for the city. He’s responsible for everything the city puts out on social media.

It’s important to keep the members of the community in mind when posting to social media, says Bell.

“I think that any tools that we have to communicate with people, I look at as a positive thing. It gives us the ability to connect with people, give them information, and answer some questions. Particularly with what we do there’s a lot of misinformation out there. It’s a great opportunity to give people a way to connect with us.”

Although some might be nervous with that much responsibility, Bell says he is glad he can tweet and post without being censored by his bosses.

“Fortunately in our world our senior management trusts me to put that information out unfiltered. I don’t have to pass that through anyone before I send it out, which is very helpful when we’re talking about Twitter.”

On April 7, city council began three days of budget deliberation and Bell was in charge of live tweeting [5] from the meetings. He says his biggest obstacle was shortening the information into the size of a tweet.

“It can be really tricky to condense something into 140 characters. There were quite a few opportunities in the past few days where people went back and forth with some decisions, and it was kind of hard to explain it in 140 characters. You need more context than that. As somebody who is trying to explain things you definitely have to cut through and summarize it as quickly as you can.”

Bell goes on to say, “I’ve built some communications guidelines that we use as an organization. But it’s all public information and it’s kind of easier that way because anything that gets said in those meetings is open to the public. The key is obviously for me to make sure that anything I’m putting out there is accurate.”

As the budget meetings were winding down, a heated debate between a councilor and the Mayor almost ended in Jodie Jenkins being ejected from the room. Local media recounted the conversation and considered it breaking news, but there wasn’t a single tweet from the city’s account about the exchange.

“The challenge that I had with that is I had actually stepped out to take a phone call and when I came back in everyone was looking at me like, ‘I can’t believe you just missed what just happened’. But having said that I’m not sure that I would have (tweeted) anyway. What I am putting out there is the factual part of what’s happened. I try to not have much opinion in that kind of thing,” says Bell.

Bell has only been in his position for a couple of years, but has a lot of experience in the field; something he says keeps him on track with his busy schedule.

“I’ve been doing social media and media for 20 years and I teach at the college. I’ve got a lot of experience doing that kind of thing, so I think that helps a lot.”

In the end, Bell says his job is to make sure the people of the community get the information the need.

“More than anything what I am hoping to accomplish is to help the public and people that are interested in what we do here and maybe even give people that are interested in running for mayor or council in the election this year a bit of an idea of what goes on. Social media can be a great way to make those connections and keep people involved in the process.”