David Riggleman has served as the City of Las Vegas’ communications director since 1999, a role that has required an adjustment over the years to accommodate the growth of social media.
With active accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most recently TikTok, the city has more than 539,000 followers across all platforms. It also recently announced that it has passed 1 million views on TikTok, where the city has posted videos detailing everything from a day in the life of Mayor Carolyn Goodman to a glimpse of the size of the city’s road signs.
Riggleman said the city’s social media platforms average about 350 messages a day — about 11,000 a month, often with questions about resources and services — which his team of four (plus one part-time worker) responds to every day, even on weekends to further cultivate this relationship with the audience.
In addition to social media, Riggleman also oversees the city’s television channel (KCLV Channel 2), web content, marketing and advertising, city publications, and emergency communications.
Riggleman spoke up The Nevada Independent about its role, what it’s like behind the scenes and the importance of local government’s online presence. The following questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What has it been like to see the city grow so much over the past 23 years and the development of social media?
Riggleman: It was dramatic. When I first came to town, we spread information. But then we were often criticized for not responding to questions that people had because we didn’t have the opportunity to have a two-way conversation at the time. Well, social media has really allowed us to have this two-way conversation because not only can we broadcast and post all the information, but people can ask questions and we can work things out for them.
When social media came along, I wasn’t quite sure how it would fit into the city’s overall communications plans. I thought, “Well, is it just a fad? Is it just something where people post what they eat for lunch? Or where did you go on vacation? Or should there really be something more important behind it?”
Well, what changed my mind was – way back when MySpace was a big deal – we were going to have a neighborhood meeting and found out that about 300 people would come to that neighborhood meeting because they were concerned about noise in the area. And it was interesting to me that you could have 300 people out there talking and we weren’t even aware of it. We were not part of this conversation.
And I have decided that we have to change that. If the community is out there having a conversation, then the city needs to be part of that conversation. And that was really a wake-up call for me. Social media is more than just what you had for lunch. It really is the way people communicate and we will communicate in the future and in fact that’s exactly what happened.
Q: Why is it important for local government to have a presence on social media?
I think we’ve established the fact that when you’re trying to find accurate and timely information about anything that’s going on — take the pandemic, for example — the city of Las Vegas is the safest place you could go , your social media platforms were, our blog to get this information. And that was so important because initially we were trying to make sure people understood social distancing and then it was time to wear masks and then vaccines came. I think it’s just a lesson we’ve learned that if we should have a major crisis, maybe like an earthquake or a flash flood or whatever, that the ability to communicate accurately and quickly on social media, for protecting the community.
I think one of the strengths of social media is that it helps show that the people who work in government and city government are like everyone else. They are hardworking people who come to work every day. You are doing a good job. And it just helps put a face to the people who work here and humanize them. And I think that helps build a strong bond with the communities and people see that the people who work here are really just like them.
One of the things we want to show is that Las Vegas is an interesting place. Not only is it the entertainment capital of the world, but we have a really strong city government here trying to serve the community. So we’re trying to mix up the posts so you’re not just seeing some of the cool stuff that’s going on – especially when there’s a new feature downtown, a new object that’s doing something exciting (surely we’d like a part of that be and highlight it too)—but we also want to show our commitment to making our community a great place to live.
Q: How do you deal with so many messages?
We have people from literally all over the world following the city of Las Vegas and one of the advantages of Las Vegas is that we have this iconic name that people all over the world will be interested in, but we also have a huge following with locals.
We get about 350 messages a day, or about 11,000 a month. People used to pick up the phone and maybe email you. Now they will communicate with you through social media and I’m really proud of my team because we try to be responsive and we are responsive seven days a week. If anyone has a question about the Bluegrass Festival and it’s happening on Saturday, we won’t wait until Monday to respond and give you the details. You know, if you have any questions, we’ll respond this weekend. And that’s just a commitment we’ve made.
It’s interesting when you do that, set the expectation that someone will always be there to respond. But we felt we had to do this to build that credibility with the public. Here, too, we didn’t want to be perceived as disseminating information, which then cannot be addressed.
A lot of questions come from people trying to find resources. Maybe they are asking and went to the wrong jurisdiction and then we are directing them to where they can find the information. I think sometimes, especially people who are new here, think that everything is the city of Las Vegas. While so much of it is in the county or maybe even North Las Vegas or Henderson or whatever. And then there are a lot of questions about what’s going on in town, like, “How do I enroll my kid in swimming lessons?” or “When’s the next pickleball tournament?”
Q: What are your experiences of using the algorithm to your advantage?
It’s something that requires a lot of patience. You really need to pay attention to the analytics. Because that’s the other thing that’s great about social media – you’ll see immediately what you’re posting, whether it’s successful or not.
You can also use analytics to find out where you want to spread your message in the future. It helps you understand what the audience is seeing on the different platforms. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Next Door, YouTube and the audience is a little different on each of these platforms.
The algorithm is always evolving and you need to keep paying attention to the analytics as they will tell you how things are behaving enough to adapt to the changes as they are always changing. And just when you think you’ve reached the sweet spot, the algorithm changes and we have to adapt again to keep up with the way communication evolves. And that’s just the nature of social media. It can be challenging because it’s constantly evolving.
Q: What does the future hold for the city’s social media?
I never thought that communication had evolved to where it is now. But I have to tell you that I was really happy and embracing the change. Because as I said, in the past we’ve shared information, but we’ve often been criticized for not being very responsive. Picking up the phone or sending an email or maybe posting a message on the website weren’t really the most convenient ways to try this. And now, with social media, I feel like it’s just opened that door where we can have that dialogue with the people that live here in Las Vegas and really with the world. And that was so exciting.
Before the pandemic brought everything to a halt, I went to a seminar on TikTok and the presenter’s point was, ‘This is going to be a force to be reckoned with. You can try to dismiss it, but it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” And I’ve been listening.
So the question is, what will the future look like? That’s going to be hard. I mean, we always try to keep our eyes on the road and look at it. I think one of the things that we’re hearing a lot about is the Metaverse, where people can virtually come into town and have their avatar walk around City Hall, and they can do it from the comfort of their own homes. They can virtually attend a council meeting via an avatar without ever actually having to leave their own couch.
I think this whole concept of the metaverse and giving people a virtual glimpse of places is going to be a very, very strong direction for social media to go because of everything I’m hearing and everything I’m seeing.
These things always start out as some sort of fad, but then someone figures out how to find a practical application. Who would have initially thought that TikTok would be such a great way to communicate government information. But it sure is. And I think the Metaverse will be like that too. People will find practical application where it is beneficial to the people using it. It’s not just like video games. It will be useful to be able to interact with the city or pay a bill or take care of a parking ticket.