By Anna Lothson
Patrick Rollens became increasingly popular when he joined the Village of Oak Park staff. He is liked more, been tweeted at, and more and more people are following him.
This may seem odd since his name isn't well known in the village yet, but anyone who has visited Oak Park's Facebook and Twitter accounts in the past week have read the new guy in town.
Rollens, a former Chicago Tribune editor for one of its Triblocal branches has joined Oak Park as the new social media coordinator. He is tasked with keeping Oak Park informed with up-to-date news and information about all village-wide happenings.
The world of social media is developing quicker than most can follow, but Rollens is not green to the technology. His personal account has sent out more than 5,300 Tweets, has 1,119 followers and follows 690 accounts. Oak Park, as of Tuesday morning, had 1,331 followers, follows 137, and its Facebook account has 3,329 "likes." Rollens would like to see Oak Park's numbers double.
David Powers, the village's communications director, had stressed the need for a staff member to keep residents informed through a village source, but even he knew an expert was needed in this role.
For Oak Park, that means more than simply disseminating information to residents; rather it's about making sure Oak Park is in tune with what its residents need and want to learn about in a two-way dialogue.
"What I like to do is let people know there is an actual human being behind the social media accounts," Rollens said. This means being receptive, not just reactive to questions and concerns.
When he took over the post Aug. 20, he stepped into the forums created by his predecessor who left a few months ago. The foundation was solid, Rollens said, but he's ready to get the accounts more active.
"Our social media efforts have been based on putting out information," he said. "Moving forward, my goal is to listen just as much."
Rollens stressed it's about interaction, not intrusion on residents. This may involve him seeking out questions people ask on Facebook or Twitter, even if not specifically aimed at the village. People don't always feel comfortable coming to the village meetings, or contacting a staff member, to express concern, but the social media sites offer a buffer that Rollens plans to work with.
"If I play my cards right, it will actually be a little fun," he said. He's looking forward to following dialogue about village issues and stepping in to offer tidbits of advice when available.
Following the Twitter timeline, seeing who is chatting around town, catching up with people posting pictures around the village — these are a few ways he hopes he can connect Oak Parkers to Oak Park.
"Hopefully I'll be able to rope in those messages by casting a pretty wide net," he said. That net may soon include the newest photo craze, Instagram, and seeing what people like on Pinterest.
Rollens wants to see how residents perceive items around town, whether it be a sporting event, village meeting, or problems on a street, in real-time data so he can keep the proper staff updated with what their residents care about most.
"[The social media sites] might be the first point of interest for people looking to move into Oak Park," he added.
Using interactive technologies to keep audiences informed, entertained and up to date is one job Rollens knows he can't ever perfect. Luckily, the news industry has made him ready to adapt to the ever-changing ways people choose to communicate.
"Try as we might, we can't have all of the dialogue take place at village hall," Rollens said. "The change is happening where the conversation is happening."