Cory Booker: Elected Officials Should Act More Like PR Pros

Newark Mayor/oversized political personality Cory Booker has a suggestion for politicians and government officials who want to engage their constituents and build their public profiles: be more like Ashton Kutcher.

No, really: Booker, who remains one of the world’s most popular politicians on Twitter, wasn’t suggesting that the South by Southwest attendees who gathered to hear him speak should produce reality TV shows or promote smartphones. But he did credit Kutcher with bringing him into the social media fold by introducing him to the land of 140 characters–and he implied that the most successful political leaders of the future will be those who follow him headfirst into the digital maelstrom by interacting with real-life people rather than just posting press statements and linking to complimentary op-eds.

See, it’s one thing for an elected representative to have an official account–they pretty much all do at this point. But Booker’s social voice is closer to that of, say, an “influencer” like Richard Branson than Vice President Joe Biden, whose feed consists of fairly rote announcements created by administration communications staffers.

In Booker’s own words, social media allows politicians like him to more effectively do their jobs by serving the public in the most direct way possible. In a sense, this brand of political engagement resembles customer service. For example, Booker famously used his Twitter account to offer shelter to neighbors who had their power knocked out by Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to the convenience of the tool he says that “I will find out before anybody in my government when a light is out.”

Booker thinks that Americans are tired of “scripted politicians”–and that those who focus on engaging with their audience like good PR people will stand out as our politics grows more thoroughly digital each day. The public also likes to know that its representatives have a sense of humor, and Booker’s lighthearted response to the many tweets mocking his “Superman” status is a good example.

Will this openness lead to some light, Scott Brown-style embarrassments? Sure. But we live in an era characterized by low public trust in government and big business alike. Politicians, like brands, ignore the value of true audience engagement at their own peril.