Boston Mayor Marty Walsh hosted a half-hour Twitter chat this morning. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much.
There were serious questions about violence, school funding, and affordable housing. There were stupid questions — Walsh’s favorite cookie and whether he buys flowers on Valentine’s Day. He answered some of each, but his answers to serious questions weren’t really answers. Because you can’t effectively communicate a strategy to curb violence or reform the city’s transportation infrastructure in less than 140 characters.
The truth is, a 30-minute Twitter chat during which you pick easy questions to answer fully and then selectively provide vague answers to serious and hard questions is pretty useless.
Walsh said he will do another Twitter chat soon.
Which is kind of like telling your friends that you own a phone, and you’ll be turning it on for 30 minutes, but only 30 minutes. You’ll let them know when that 30-minute window will occur by sending out a press release.
But Twitter works best as a conversation, one that you can have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One that can involve people in different neighborhoods, at different times of day, who agree and who disagree.
Like a phone, you don’t have to answer every tweet. You can ignore crazy people. You can even turn it off while you sleep.
It’s not unprecedented for mayors to be great at Twitter. For examples, Marty can look to two places that — at least in recent days — seem like the exact two places one shouldn’t go looking for political role models: New Jersey and Canada.
Cory Booker, now a US senator from New Jersey, was once called “The Mayor of Twitter” with close to 1.5 million followers. The former Newark mayor was a pioneer in the effective and interactive (and entertaining) use of Twitter by an elected official. Newark residents caught on quick. Tweet at Booker and he tweets back.
For another example, look north. Canada is getting a bad rap on the mayoral front these days. But if you look past the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto to Calgary, you find a great model of how a mayor can use Twitter the right way.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has more than 152,000 followers. Nenshi gets Twitter. He’s good at Twitter. And not just because he’s funny – although that helps. He uses Twitter the way Twitter is used best—to inform and interact with city residents.
Walsh is young, or young-ish anyway. (Isn’t 46 the new 36?) His recently appointed chief of staff is 29, and last worked at Huffington Post. (Huffington Post LOVES Twitter.) And Walsh is mayor of a city chock full of young people, a voting block often criticized for not making it to the polls.
We need more from Walsh than 30-minute Twitter chats and the predictable “big game” tweet.
It’s time to make every day #ASKMJW day.