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Sun Citians use social media for issues, engagement

Posted 4/7/17

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

Despite prevailing stereotypes, active adults in the Sun Cities have proven to be resilient adopters of Internet technology, embracing social media to enhance …

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Sun Citians use social media for issues, engagement

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

Despite prevailing stereotypes, active adults in the Sun Cities have proven to be resilient adopters of Internet technology, embracing social media to enhance communication and connections.

For residents and rec centers staff alike, social media sites and other online forums are transforming personal and professional interactions in the community in ways that might surprise the uninitiated.

Recreation Centers of Sun City West operates its website (www.scwaz.com) as most businesses do, to inform those it serves about news, events and amenities. But staff members go above and beyond the usual, using the comments sections on its web pages to directly engage with responders.

Meanwhile, some residents of Sun City use an online message board, Talk of Sun City (www.talkofsuncity.com) to share concerns and ideas and stay abreast of what is happening close to home.

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Navigating through the myriad web pages at the RCSCW web site, page viewers find a variety of news pages covering salient events and issues across the organization and the community. Site visitors may post comments at the bottom of nearly every news announcement or event posting page.

Such comments are nothing new to the Internet. A quick check of YouTube will reveal a veritable mile of contentious and confusing comments trailing beneath even the most innocuous of posts, proving any number of axioms about people and their opinions.

Through the din of acrimony and invective, the last thing readers expect to find is thoughtful engagement and responsiveness to such posts. What would be the point? But RCSCW staff members employ their comments sections as a primary tool to actively engage with visitors to address the needs and concerns discussed there.

“We spend a lot of time on social media,” Katy O’Grady, general services officer for RCSCW stated by email. “It takes a few of us to tackle the online questions because there are so many of them and we don’t like to let them linger for long without an answer.

In her position, Ms. O’Grady oversees both external communications and information technology for the organization. Comments on the organization’s web site are the natural confluence of those seemingly disparate responsibilities.

“Some questions are very simple to answer if the information is right at our finger tips. Some of us have the institutional knowledge to answer questions right off the bat. Other questions require more investigation,” she stated. “It can get time consuming when the information is historical and requires researching, or is very specific and thus requires input from certain managers – who are frequently tied up in meetings during this busy time of year.

“But we are really happy people are coming to us with their questions and seeking out answers. We’re happy to put in the time to get the answers to them.”

As example, a March 7 posting touts the upcoming grand opening of the Pickleball courts at R.H. Johnson Recreation Center, 19803 R.H. Johnson Blvd., drew numerous responses and queries. A visitor self-identified as “Steve” voiced concerns about the impact the new courts will have an already crowded campus parking lot.

“Prophecies of horrendous parking situations created by these new courts are already coming true. Ironic that the picture in this article was taken during the ARC picnic – which blocked off significant parking for their event. Anyone trying to get into the men’s club building that day had to park hundreds of feet away. This will become a regular occurrence once the courts are open. Terrible planning. Just terrible,” Steve stated.

A staff member’s response filed under the moniker “RCSCW PR” attempted to address Steve’s concerns personally.

“Steve, we’re sorry you’re unhappy with the parking situation at the new courts. Right now, due to construction, parking restrictions are a little tighter at this time. After construction is complete, there will be 36 parking spaces for the Men’s Club, 34 parking spaces for Pickleball, and 34 spaces for ARC. During big events, parking will be a challenge, as it always has been,” RCSCW PR states. “Our events are very popular and residents can expect to walk a little further to venues during big events just as they would anywhere else. But during regular day to day usage, we expect to have plenty of parking for regular usage.”

The simple exchange is one of four resulting from the initial press release posted on that web page, with each question or concern answered with a single response. Issues raised by casual respondents and persistent critics alike may occasionally require more dialogue to resolve, Ms. O’Grady stated.

“We have a small number of members who try to engage in long, online dialogues on our social media, and those platforms just are not designed for that. By its very nature, social media is meant to be fluid and quick. As much as we love social media, there is still a place for in-person, one-on-one dialogue,”

For comments that cannot be resolved by a few exchanges, rec centers staff still rely on face-to-face interactions to try to find resolution. Both General Manager Mike Whiting and Chief Financial Officer Tony Struck adhere to an open-door policy, inviting residents to sit down in person to discuss issues of concern.

“With those individuals who are looking for more of a philosophical discussion rather than an answer to a question, we encourage them to come in and meet with the appropriate manager or attend a board meeting and address the directors,” Ms. O’Grady stated. “We want to encourage civic engagement. We have a lot of different avenues to accommodate it. Sometimes social media is the best way, and that’s great. Sometimes, one-on-one meetings are better.”

Talk of the town

In Sun City, many residents frequent a bog site called Talk of Sun City at www.talkofsuncity.com. With a tagline of “Your Online Community,” the site is a simple message board with a home page featuring a list of active discussions which visitors can peruse.

The site was launched in September 2012, judging by the dates associated with the member list, which boasts more than 850 individual user registrations. Of those listed as administrators or moderators at that time, none has been active on the site since 2015.

However, activity on the message board is consistently high. On a Wednesday afternoon, 69 users were viewing the site, which listed the number of “active users” at 20.

Some examples of ongoing conversation threads follow.

A user identified as “pegmih” stated: “I want to have my courtyard resurfaced. It will probably be either kool deck or stain.” Another site visitor responded with a recommendation for a reputable contractor and the offer to share pictures their work offline.

Posting as “Emily Litella,” another user suggested a way to increase attendance at the Sun City annual members meeting.

“Have the meeting immediately after one of the popular, sold out Sundial shows. Offer coffee, tea and snacks for those who stay. Have a separate area for folks who are staying to scan in and be counted,” the user stated.

Yet another user, this time identified as “Riggo,” posted a provocative musing: “Why did you (or will you) choose Sun City over Sun City West? What do you perceive as the major differences?” What follows is a thoughtful, thorough and sometimes ironic exploration of the merits of both communities, with a decidedly Sun City bent.

Sun City resident Bill Pearson, regular visitor to the blog site who visits daily, says it provides value to the community.

“Every morning I open it up just to see whatever everyone has said. I pop on a couple of times a day,” Mr. Pearson said.

He said blogs and message boards offer a chance for residents to really talk about issues and share their perspectives and ideas.

“I’ve always like that kind of communication, because people become part of the discussion. People used to use it as an entrée into the community. I know of some that used it that way before buying their homes here,” he said.

One of the benefits to Talk of Sun City is that is gives prospective residents a chance to see that the people of Sun City are really about before they visit or go through with purchasing.

“It’s the storytellers who really sell Sun City. The more able we are to expand the number of outlets for our stories, the more able we are to reach more people. It’s good for people to see what kind of community they’re trying to move into,” Mr. Pearson said.

At least a half dozen people he knows of has frequented the message board before finally purchasing, but then stopped using the site, he said.

“Once they buy here, they tend not to come back,” he added.

Use of the message board and sites like it are an expected result of the changing demographics of the community. It is not necessarily because younger residents are more technologically savvy, but more a reflection of the difference in their attitude toward authority, Mr. Pearson explained.

“Boomers don’t trust organizational structures and they view things more suspiciously. A more open format for dialogue and discussion suits that audience better,” he said. “As the community has evolved from being self-governed to more of a top-down organization, the site allows people to share their thoughts in a more powerful way. It allows people to vent and get ideas out there that may be better.”