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PHIL HARDWICK — Smartphone apps for public officials

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now have smartphones. And on those smartphones are so-called apps of every description. How extensive are smartphone apps? From July 2008 to June 2016 there has been a cumulative total of 130 billion apps downloaded from Apples app store. What does it all mean? And what are the must-have apps for a smartphone?

So what is an “app” anyway? It is a software mobile application designed to be downloaded to a mobile device for a specific purpose. Users can find apps for downloading at Apple’s App Store, Google’s Play Store and various websites. As of June 2016, Android smartphone users were able to choose between 2.2 million apps, and Apple’s App Store remained the second-largest app store with 2 million available apps, according to statistica.com.

At the recent Mississippi Municipal League Annual Conference, I had the opportunity to make a presentation on the subject of Smartphones for Public Officials. Below are a dozen apps that I recommended for public officials. The primary reason for these apps is a way for public officials to communicate with their constituents. Obviously, there are other good apps for that purpose, but these are recommended as being useful and widely used.

Doodle – This is a useful tool to schedule meetings for those public officials who are attempting to get several or more people together at the same time. Send an email to – let’s say – a dozen people and ask them to click on a website that Doodle automatically creates. Several dates and times that the user has created will be shown along with the names of each participant. It’s a great visual representation of the best time for the most people to have a meeting. Check it out at doodle.com.

Evernote/Onenote – These two notetaking apps are very similar and they have one very important thing in common: They will sync between the user’s smartphone, laptop and iPad. It is noted that Evernote just changed its policy to allow syncing between on two devices unless the user purchases an upgrade.

Facebook – Facebook now has over 500 million users, half of whom log in every day. Most people use Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends. Facebook also provides a way for public officials – or anyone else for that matter – to create pages for their public body or their public self. Go to the search box and enter “City of” to see some good examples. Note that some cities use the pages for marketing and promotion, while others use them a tool to connect with citizens. Check out the Facebook pages of the cities of Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Tupelo and Vicksburg for some examples. One great thing about Facebook as a way for public officials to communicate with citizens is that it is easy and quick to share messages instead of someone having to update an official website.

Keynote – This is Apple’s version of PowerPoint. It allows the user to create a presentation using only the smartphone app. To connect it to a projector requires some third-party software or an adapter from Apple that costs about $49.

MEMA – This app is from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. It’s recommended simply to be aware of any emergencies that might occur in the community.

Messenger – This is essentially a texting app in the Facebook universe. However, it can be downloaded separately from Facebook.

Periscope – This is an app that allows the user to live stream whatever is going on in front of them. Quite a few member of the U.S. House of Representatives used this app recently when the Democratic members staged their “Sit in” on the House floor. Even though the Republican leadership cut off the official House cameras c-Span showed what was going on by showing the Periscope stream of some members. Public officials should assume that there is always someone with this app showing a public meeting – or a private one for that matter.

Survey Monkey – Who among us has not been invited to take a survey by going online to the Survey Money website? Now there is a Survey Money app that can be downloaded to the smartphone so that the user can create a survey right in the pam of their hand. Very useful when there is a hot issue that a public official needs to take the pulse of their constituents.

Twitter – This app provides a way to send messages of 140 characters or less to “followers.” Celebrities, athletes and a variety of public figures have millions of followers. This writer uses it primarily as a way to stay up to date with breaking news. I also follow some public meeting via Twitter users I follow who tweet during the meetings. However, there is another use that public officials might want to consider. The City of Jun, Spain uses Twitter for its government services. It’s been dubbed as “The town that runs of twitter.” Just Google “Jun, Spain” to find a few articles about the subject.

Weather – Every public official – and citizen, for that matter – should have some type of weather app that provides weather alerts on their smartphone.

WordPress – This app provides a way to post and update blogs. There are apps for other blogging sites, but WordPress is mentioned because it is so widely used.

YouTube – Smartphones have camera and can take videos. Those videos can be uploaded to YouTube without a YouTube app, however view of YouTube videos is better with the smartphone app.

Finally, apps can be useful, useless or somewhere in between. Also, there are many useful apps not mentioned here. Public officials should be aware that it is not uncommon for their constituents to be way ahead of them in terms of apps and how to use them. Used properly, smartphone apps can be an efficient and effective way to communicate with citizens.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick.com, and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com.

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