I Speak for the Mayor

Here’s an interesting concept I heard about the other day
that I’d love to see become a best practice.

You guys know I don’t like to talk about work, but something came up
that was just too good not to share. During a recent citywide social
media meeting (Wait, your city doesn’t have them? Maybe that should be
today’s best practice.), we discussed a weekend when our
social-media-loving Mayor didn’t have anything on his calendar, so he
decided to personally respond to everyone who reached out to him on
Twitter. (Look around your office. If anyone who works in
Communications’ jaw is on the floor, they’re probably reading this
right now.) Everyone. In most places this would be a great thing (and
I think it was a great thing here, too), but in a city of 1.5 million
generally cranky and sometimes contentious residents, it can get a bit
hinky. Rest assured, we as a government survived. But we, thanks to
our Mayor, also learned a valuable lesson: he doesn’t know everything
that’s happening in our city.

For a Mayor like ours, who likes to be hands-on and give the right
answer the first time, you can understand how frustrating this must’ve
been. So, we came up with a plan to have all of us in each of the
Departments check in on the tweets directed at our Mayor. If there was
something that fell under our purview (Health for me, Parks for
another fellow, Licenses and Inspections yet another, etc.) that the
Mayor didn’t already address, we were given carte blanche to answer
the question. No approval needed, no coordination through myriad
channels necessary. If you’ve got the answer, give it. We weren’t
provided with schedules, no assignments given; just check in when you
get a chance. True social media spirit.

This is an important tactic for a variety of reasons. First, and maybe
most importantly, it takes the burden of being the City’s everything
off of the Mayor. He is high visibility, so everyone knows his Twitter
account and reaches out to him first. Then he’s presented with the
choice of ignoring constituents or repeating his “Ask Me Anything”
weekend. No good choice there. Maybe just as important, though, is
that allows the public to see that our City government is more than
just a Mayor and his handlers. It’s real-life experts who spend all
day thinking about that question you just asked. It’s real customer
service. (Key point: serving the customer/constituent in the format
and fashion that they request—huge.) And in today’s economy, proving
that your job is important and necessary is a big bonus. Finally, by
actively participating in the Mayors’ very popular feed, those
smaller, more specific Twitter accounts and users get the kind of
visibility they can’t pay for. Win, win, win!

(And as for those trite downsides: speaking for the Mayor and the lack
of approvals? Every person on an official City Twitter account is
speaking for the Mayor all day long already. He’s the one responsible
at the end of the day, so why not let him benefit from that
relationship by relieving some of the burden? And unless your Mayor
already approves each tweet now… Well, you’ve got bigger problems if
that’s the case.)

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