But, first, one side observation about the audience. Last year and certainly two years ago, it was rare to see much technology in the audience at a mayors’ meeting, aside from traditional cell phones. At this session, more than half the audience of mayors seemed to have iPads and almost all of the rest smartphones. This, in itself, is a sea change in attitudes and understanding of technology among elected officials.
Perhaps the biggest news about this session is that it was held and that the mayors were leading it. Here are some of the, perhaps not surprising, highlights that give a flavor of the discussion:
- Some of the mayors, a minority, tied the rise of social media to the increase in petitions to recall mayors from office – even a short time after the election when the mayor won.
- Social media cannot be treated in the same way that mayors used to handle a response to a letter from a constituent, in part because of the expectation of a rapid response and in part because the request and response are both visible to a wider audience. At the same time, there is still a large constituency which is not using social media, so the traditional forms of public communications must also be accommodated.
- The 24 hour a day nature of the Internet and social media also means that there are no private moments for mayors. Everything they do can be recorded on video and posted shortly after the event.
- This also leads to a situation where the professional and personal lives of mayors get intertwined on the Internet. Some have tried to separate these using various approaches, but the difference is often too subtle for the average resident.
- Mayors with Facebook pages, which are completely open, find constituents using those pages to make requests for various city services. More popular mayors in larger cities can end up maxing out at the 5,000 friend limit imposed by Facebook. Thus, the experienced Facebook mayors recommended adopting a politician’s Facebook page. Of course, one of the nice things about this style of page is that it is limited to “Likes”.
- The whole experience of governing with Facebook can be overwhelming to a mayor, if the mayor doesn’t properly think it through. The mayors who have been successful on Facebook and other social media have established a formal protocol (and staffing) within their office for managing and responding to the social media.
- Nevertheless, none of the mayors is turning off the spigot. They find the greater communication with residents helpful. They noted that, especially in emergencies, social media gets the message out better than anything else. Some have experimented with actively using social media in governing. One example is http://www.engageomaha.com/ created by the mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.
© 2012 Norman Jacknis