Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Six Ways Local Governments Can Use Social Media to Promote Energy Conservation

By Dennis D. McDonald

Here are six ways local governments can use social media to help promote energy conservation. If you think of more please comment below this post or send an email to

  1. Establish a gateway or portal site on the municipality’s web site. 
  2. Publicize named experts.
  3. Establish neighborhood working groups.
  4. Work with energy utilities. 
  5. Openly investigate procurement of alternative energy sources. 
  6. Promote transparency in the municipality’s own energy consumption. 

1. Establish a gateway or portal site on the municipality’s web site.

Your city probably already has a municipal web site that describes municipal services, organizations, and departments. There should also be a clearly identified and linked page or region specifically devoted to energy conservation that provides a constantly updated view of information people, discussions, and groups involved in energy conservation.

This page should display a master calendar of energy related events and should connect with social media tools such as blogs, networks, and discussion threads that reflect ongoing conservation activities and interests.

Some of the elements on this “front page” should be automatically generated and some should be created and edited by city staff. Make sure to keep this page constantly refreshed and changing. Also, provide a way that people can subscribe to receive updates via email and RSS subscription techniques.

Finally, offer an online search tool that web site visitors can “tune” to target the energy portion of the web site or the city’s whole web site.

2. Publicize Named Experts

Make it easy for the public to identify and contact individuals within the city government who are responsible either for managing specific conservation activities or who are tasked to track specific energy related topics or activities. Provide each of them with a page they maintain themselves that provides a description of their own areas or expertise, their contact information, and automatically generated links that reflect their involvement in discussion groups and their own calendared activities.

Individual blogging (i.e., individually maintained web sites where articles and discussion threads can be posted) should be an option where each “expert” can express his or her views on topics of interest and establish direct communication with the public.

Behind the scenes, provide communication and tracking support to ensure that contacts made by the public via phone, email, or posted comments on each expert’s blog are responded to by a human — ideally an expert — within 24 hours. Auto-generated responses should be minimized. 

3. Build Neighborhood Working Groups

The concept here is “neighbors helping neighbors save energy.” For each identifiable neighborhood the city should provide an easily generated social network that is linked to the main conservation web site but which is open to participation only by members of that community.  Neighborhood calendar, blogs, discussion threads, picture galleries, and voluntary  “citizen profiles” should be quickly and easily available.

Each “neighborhood” should be assigned a city employee who shares network administrator responsibilities with a neighborhood volunteer and who serves to monitor and promote the group’s activities.

The city may promote certain conservation activities city wide via blanket approaches and each neighborhood should be encouraged to develop its own approach to promoting and sharing ideas about conservation, energy saving, recycling, ride-sharing, use of public transportation, carpooling, hybrid vehicles, and related topics. Ideas that are particularly useful can be made available to other neighborhood networks with the agreement of their originators.

The city may also use each “neighborhood community” web site for advertising or posting information about city wide activities, but each neighborhood would be encouraged to create its own identity reflecting unique interests.

4. Work With Energy Utilities

The city should take the lead in working with gas and electric utilities to make data available to the city and to each neighborhood that reflects the unique consumption profile of each. This might be based on the use of “smart meter” generated data or through some other geographically-targeted reporting method that can be provided by the utility as a byproduct of its own customer service or customer relations program.

The goal is to provide local, relevant, and where possible, graphic illustrations of the a mount, type, volume, and costs associated with energy consumption.

5. Openly investigate procurement of alternative energy sources

Solar technology for household electricity generation is still expensive. Nevertheless, private sector and public sector initiatives are emerging to directly and through financial subsidies and tax incentives promote energy generation at the household and neighborhood level.

The city should establish a program to investigate the feasibility of a city-sponsored investment in solar and alternative electricity generating methods and publicize its efforts via a social publishing and networking vehicle such as an off-the-shelf blog or wiki platform. Private sector involvement should be encouraged as should involvement by all relevant city departments including attorney general, finance, public works, engineering, communications, and related utilities.

Plans, maps, and documents for public review and comment should be made available online. Subscription features should be incorporated so that changes or additions can be immediately “broadcast” to subscribers.

6. Promote transparency in the municipality’s own energy consumption

A key part of the municipality’s “conservation” web site should be an ongoing display of all energy related purchases made by or on behalf of the city, including fuel, vehicles, equipment, reimbursement for official travel, gas and electricity purchases (see item 4 above), investments in energy related business enterprises, conservation-related education and training, and cost of energy web site maintenance and support. Such data should be available over time and methods should also be available for public comment and suggestions for improved efficiency.


None of the items suggested above requires technology that cannot be purchased, leased, or accessed “off the shelf.” All proposed functionality is currently available from a variety of self-hosted and remotely hosted tools and vendors.

Some of the functionality can even be supported via a mix of “free” tools although it is noted that there are limits to the customizability and connectability of “free” tools, some of which are advertiser supported in ways that might not be viewed with favor in a public sector application.

One challenge to implementing the above suggested initiates is organizational and political. Energy conservation as defined above is inherently a multidisciplinary and multi-departmental affair. There are potentially complex governance issues raised by providing a publicly unified approach via web based portal that must provide new “social” features while at the same time integrating when necessary with existing web- and non-web-based systems.

Another challenge is that the above approaches, when taken together,  provide multiple opportunities for citizen involvement that assume more direct interaction between government officials and citizens than may have been the case in the past. The opportunity to collaborate on policy development, for example, will be viewed as threatening to some traditionalists who are accustomed to formal development, release, and review cycles. 

Still, it is this very real involvement that provides the opportunity for the greatest participation by the public. Efforts that only expose the operations of government without also providing a mechanism for involvement will be viewed by some as public relations window dressing, and dismissed.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dr. McDonald is an independent technology management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. His email address is and his Twitter ID is @ddmcd.

To download a free .pdf version of this document, click here.


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