Ryan Johnson

At Charleston “Brewvival” beer festival. (Thanks to Chrys Rynearson for the pic.)

Ryan Johnson
Department of Economic Development
North Charleston, SC


North Charleston, SC (pop. 110,000) hosts a website where citizens can notify the city about issues like potholes or streetlights that are out. It’s useful, but not accessible to all residents, given that a fair number don’t have Internet or a smartphone. Of course, citizens can call city offices, but they’re staffed only on weekdays 8 AM to 5 PM.


In early July, launched test of a chatbot that receives citizen complaints via text from any cell phone (ie, including non-smart ones) and channels them to the appropriate city department. The app is called “Citibot” and was developed by a local startup funded by the city’s accelerator business program, with the city as its first customer.

The city believes 98% of the population has a mobile phone. Citibot works 24/7 receiving messages and shooting them to the right people.

As a result, the app goes beyond being a 311 device to take citizen complaints and requests, though it is great at that.

It also allows the city to crowdsource the reporting of issues by its citizens, such as quickly notifying authorities of a fire, accident, roadway hazard, broken water main, illegal parking, or civil disturbance.

In coming weeks, flyers advertising the new service will be posted on 40,000 garbage cans.

Unexpected Lesson

People try to “stump” Citibot with issues they report, which is great, because the more issues that come in, the more the chatbot can be fine-tuned.

Ryan’s Background

Grew up in the Pee Dee region of rural South Carolina where he spent a lot of time outside. Majored in history, minored in political science at Lander University (’06). Likes photography and disc golf. Super into the local craft beer scene, per his picture above (recommends: Coast Brewing Co’s Kolsch beer).

Ryan’s Job

Moved to Charleston region after college and found the city of North Charleston through a temp agency. Moved up from answering phones in the Mayor’s office to secretary, to a newly created public relations role to give the city a presence on social media and work on economic development.

Startling Fact

Youngest Rotary Club president in his Rotary district.

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