Episode 4: Lauren Gold – multilingual social media and community engagement

Welcome to Episode 4 of the Technology in Human Services podcast!

In this episode, I explore the idea of going to where your audience is and connecting with them there. For most nonprofits, getting on social media tends to mean setting up a Facebook page, Twitter account, maybe LinkedIn and Instagram. Many do it even before figuring out if their audience or clients are there.

But, what if the people you’re really trying to connect and engage with aren’t on those platforms? What if they don’t speak English (or your native language)?

san-gabriel-weibo-display-300x225In 2015, the City of San Gabriel, in California, jumped onto Sina Weibo, a Chinese language social media network. They were the first city government in the U.S. on the network.

They did it because it made sense.

It’s paid off.

I originally interviewed San Gabriel City Public Information Officer Lauren Gold for a Cities of Migration article. It was great to hear about their success reaching out to local Chinese language-speaking residents. It was even better to hear how their efforts have created a deeper sense of connection, trust and inclusion with the community. It’s what we all kind of dream of when we think about the possibilities of social media.

I also wanted to connect with Walter Yu. Walter wrote a simple call to action in 2013: Five ways organizations could engage Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. It became the foundation for the City of San Gabriel, and others, including local police departments, to broaden their connections with Chinese-language residents.

This is part 1 of my discussion, with Lauren. In the next episode, part 2, I speak with Walter.

(note: the audio is a bit off. That’s totally my fault. I’ll post about learning about podcasting technology soon, and what went wrong. But, I’ve also learned a lot about editing audio! The audio is as clean as I could make it (with some help from an audio editor), so I hope you won’t be too put off by it and take the time to listen to the amazing advice)


  • Lauren gave me a bit of background about the demographics in San Gabriel and what hat led to their decision to start using Chinese language social media.
  • Lauren talked about what outreach to the Chinese language community looked like before using Chinese language social media.
  • The City of San Gabriel was the first American municipality to set up an account on Sina Weibo, but they learned from other public organizations who went before them.
  • The fact that Sina Weibo actually had a local office helped them get set up the right way, including setting up a “verified account.”
  • We talk about Lauren’s experiences using Weibo, in particular how it’s impacted community relations with the local Chinese-language population.
  • Importantly, Lauren discussed how online success has led to offline, in-person success in community engagement as well. They’ve been able to increase the quality of interactions among residents, connecting them to their own community. Lauren says the subscriber numbers aren’t as important as this outcome.
  • Lauren talked about how they manage a Chinese-language social media account, in practical terms.
  • Having support of city council and the city manager was very important for the City to move forward using Weibo and, ultimately, WeChat. That leadership was essential to devoting resources to the work.
  • Having a staff person who speaks fluent Chinese is much better than using Google Translate. Quality of interactions and authenticity of the account have paid off.
  • The City has been asked by other municipalities about how they can make it work for them, Lauren is happy to share and thinks more cities should be on the platforms, as it’s been so effective.
  • Lauren says to go for it, pilot a project, and see how the audience reacts. Be where your audience already is and engage with them there. Lauren says that it’s very different to post on Facebook in Chinese, vs. using and posting authentically on social media they’re using.
  • Moving into WeChat happened recently (July 2016), which was a logical extension of their outreach efforts. Because it’s a more mobile-focused app, it’s even more popular than Weibo.
  • Lauren’s final piece of advice is that when you use social media, you’re the frontline voice of the organization. Being responsive may actually surprise people (in a good way) that you’re responding to them and helping them connect with the city more actively. Give people different ways to connect with your organization, and the city.

As always, thanks so much for listening. Let me know what you think, or what you’d like more of.

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