Within the past three years more government agencies embraced social media for public relations and communication purposes. You don’t have to look far to find examples, from the TSA’s uber popular Instagram and fellow accounts or President Obama’s Facebook page (and Bo's viral image) to the CDC and FEMA. Social media use in government offices is both popular and beneficial because there are no media or third parties diluting the messages these public service offices are trying to share. Here at home our new mayor understands that as well.
I’ll go on a limb to claim that Marty Walsh is the most socially active Boston politician to-date. Yes I am including former Senator Brown and City Councilor Tito Jackson, amongst others who are very active online. Do I have scientific proof? No. How can I make such a claim then? I’m basing my statement on virtual witnessing and interactions with the mayor and his comm team. And, am I aware that Mayor Menino was quite active on social too? Of course, whoddaya think‘ya talking to?
Mayor Menino lay the social groundwork that Mayor Walsh is using to become what, in my opinion, every politician in America should be: a social leader. Here are three lessons we can learn from his digital campaigns, even if we don’t work in a government agency.
From his first week in office the new mayor surrounded himself with locals who were socially active in the real and virtual world. His chief of staff, 29-year-old Daniel Arrigg Koh, was the former general manager for HuffPost Live and his chief of policy, 50-year-old Joyce Linehan, knows a thing or two about getting attention, as she’s been a long-time music promoter and publicist for Boston art organizations. The majority of staffers in his transition team are also active on social platforms, like Felix Arroyo or Rosanne Foley. Walsh understood since the beginning of his campaign that in order to have the upper hand he needs to be available anytime to deliver his message, and he has continued this approach as he establishes his office.
Cream of the crop
Some of Walsh's best efforts have been Facebook and Twitter conversations. On January 23 his first Twitter chat took place using #askMJW and shortly after, on February 10, his first Facebook Q&A happened. Right off the get-go Walsh established expectations on transparency and availability on his own terms. To any marketer or public relations professional this is an excellent example of a well executed campaign. Add to it the live-shots of the mayor responding to questions and comments by himself, which earned Walsh even more credibility, and you can imagine how his staffers felt on those specific days... I’d like to imagine Rocky’s Eye of the Tiger was playing on the background. By having something as easy and simple as a chat on the most popular social networks so early in his term, Mayor Walsh already expanded on Mayor Menino’s “of the people for the people” mantra. Lesson to be learned: keep it simple! A politician, like a brand, needs to be visible and reachable easily.
A level above
To please the rest of us cliquey social-savants, Walsh and his staff have resorted to video, images and a lot technology press coverage, too. My favorite effort has been the Vine and Vimeo videography, separate from YouTube, to promote services or track the mayor's first term. They further humanize the Dorchester local. I would like to imagine Walsh’s team didn’t just decide to go with video services that work, they chose video services with a specific following and reputation. Vine is the popular 6-second social video app that’s become famous for amazing animation and stop-motion videos that are now even up for Shorty awards. While Vimeo is respected amongst videophiles and the art community for not being as commercial as YouTube. The videos created reflect this consciousness of grassroots effort meets Brahmin expectations that make them fun, easy and interesting to watch. There is more room to expand on the video and image front and I’m looking forward to the Walsh team’s creations. By trying the platforms that are not as famous the mayor not only expands his reach but also his image of inclusion. Lesson to be learned: When you are trying to reach constituents, or customers, think of all the tools to try and ask yourself if you can utilize them.
The third element of Walsh’s digital life as mayor is his use of analytics and real-time tracking. Whether it is for security or customer service, Walsh is embracing big data, big time. So much so that he recently had monitors installed in his City Hall office to live-view the 911 calls and emergency dispatches of the day, see word clouds for popular topics in Boston and check traffic or pothole issues being solved by public works departments. This is a significant step-above our beloved Menino, who wasn’t even a fan of computers on his desk. The new mayor won’t be able to know everything that is happening in the city immediately. It will take more time to foster relationships and build bridges to get information from the “inside” regardless of him being on the inside (Boston politics for 'ya.) However, showing interest on the issues happening in real-time around the city, and how they compare to a week or month or year before, is incredibly valuable. In order to make tangible change as a mayor, or a business owner, you need to know your data. Understand what your past looked like and how it has carried you into the present in order to implement ideas that will solve issues for the long-term.
I’ll admit that Mayor Walsh was not my ideal candidate, his stance on education made me doubt him and it still concerns me. Yet, now that he is in office I am becoming a fan. The active use of digital channels to communicate, include and monitor will help the mayor move forward with his agenda. It will also help us continue to learn from his administration's trials, successes and possible errors while shining a light on Beantown.