Zencity says Oak Harbor public opinion mostly positive

The $15,000 software is meant to help the city make more informed decisions.

According to a new report from media-monitoring company Zencity, Oak Harbor residents feel like the city is doing a good job.

Although most of the activities highlighted were not accomplished by the city or its staff, the report did track positive interactions on social media about the city giving out personal protective equipment, safety tips from the fire department and advice about COVID-19 testing.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved a $15,000 contract with Zencity last year.

During the month of December, Zencity reported that it analyzed 20,545 interactions in local media. Only 4 percent of views of the city were negative. Most were neutral, and 37 percent of the interactions were positive.

Zencity is a media monitoring software the city spent $15,000 for a one-year subscription to help it figure out what makes residents tick and hopefully help staff make more informed decisions.

Other local governments use Zencity and it has been deemed eligible for CARES Act funding to cover the expense. The city got a discount for the service for its first year, as it normally costs $24,000 annually.

The software uses artificial intelligence to monitor social media and other local media to gauge public opinion. It tracks what people are talking about in publicly available channels (no, not personal Facebook feeds) and can be tailored to root out sentiment about specific topics.

“There are multiple social media pages out there devoted to our communities, and it’s very difficult to garner what the communications strategy is, or how people feel about something, and this would allow us to get a better sense,” Public Information Officer Sabrina Combs said during an October city council workshop.

December’s trending topics included the local economy, education, human relations and services, public safety and cultural affairs.

Specific highlights included 440 interactions about Zanini’s Deli opening, 54 interactions about the state-wide grants for small businesses called Working Washington Grants and 39 interactions about the Home for the Holidays catalog created by Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism organization at the end of November to early December. None of these things were directly related to city government.

The city’s best week in December was Dec. 24-30, when 42 percent of analyzed conversations found a positive view of the city (only 4.6 percent were found to be negative).

The software analyzed 4,139 interactions.

Its worst week was Dec. 6-12, when public opinion was found to be 5.3 percent negative and 18.5 percent positive, according to 319 analyzed interactions.

The following week, public opinion improved slightly to 5.2 percent negative and 25.3 percent positive out of 5,269 analyzed interactions.

Most views appeared to be neutral.

The update also included a COVID-19 vaccines report and recommendations for staff.

Out of 274,000 analyzed interactions across about 200 cities and counties using Zencity in October-November 2020, the software found that talk about the vaccine was on the rise, mayors stand out as central sources of information and vaccine skepticism is high.

Takeaways suggested in the report were that local governments should be proactive about vaccine communication and emphasize safety.

Council members did not discuss the report during the meeting.

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