Some Mayors Bypass Media, Government and Talk Directly to Constituents on Facebook

Mayors will sometimes use their Facebook Pages to bypass local media channels or government bureaucracies in order to communicate directly with their constituencies, or provide hard-to-find information, we found recently when we looked around Facebook for mayors’ Pages. As part of our ongoing series of how government entities use Facebook, we have reviewed a range of mayors with Pages — we know that these figure prominently in elections, but what happens once the candidate becomes the official?

We looked at about a dozen such Pages to see what they were doing. For the sake of easy comparison, we only looked at the Pages of U.S. mayors, although there were several Pages for mayors in other cities around the world, such as Talisay City, The Philippines mayor Doc Eric Saratan’s Page (about 1,100 fans), as well as elsewhere, like Karachi, Pakistan Mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal (about 68,500 fans).

Here’s a snapshot of some US mayors and their fan counts: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had just 2,500 fans, Houston mayor Annise Parker had 4,700 fans, the mayor of Wentzville, Missouri Paul Lambi had 392 fans, Mayor Jim Byard of Prattville, Alabama had 572 fans, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing had 728 fans, Buffalo, New York’s Mayor Byron W. Brown had 2,200 fans, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn had 855 fans, Utica, New York Mayor David Roefaro had almost 2,100 fans, Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton had 6,300 fans and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had 3,500 fans.

The Wall seemed to be the main hub of activity for most mayors — that’s where they posted the bulk of the information they shared on Facebook, as did their fans. More often than not the mayors posted news links or links to city web sites, blogs/notes and sometimes videos. Several also frequently posted notes and photos were a mainstay on most of the Pages.

Generally speaking, the mayors that used their Pages to speak specifically to their constituents in “localized” terms were the most successful, both in terms of the number of fans and the amount of interaction — and this was not limited to a city’s size. For example, Los Angeles has almost 4 million residents but Mayor Villaraigosa rarely updates his Page and consequently had a paltry 2,500 fans compared to Mayor Brown’s frequently updated Page with a fan base of 2,200 in Buffalo, New York, a city with about 271,000 residents.

Even cities with smaller bases to work with aren’t always able to maneuver fans to their Pages, as evident with Mayor Paul Lambi’s 392 fans from among about 23,800 residents in Wentzville, Missouri or Mayor Jim Byard’s 570 fans from the 32,500 residents of Prattville, Alabama. Both posted hyperlocal information regularly, Lambi going so far as to post his location, “Every Wednesday morning I meet with the City Administrator for a briefing. This morning, we’re meeting at I-Hop.”

Rather, what seemed to make or break these mayors’ Facebook Pages was the combination of genuine interactivity combined with smart promotion of this medium.

San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julián Castro, who we’re told runs the Page himself, seems to have accomplished this balance nicely, as with a city of over 1.3 million people and 3,500 fans, he had one of the largest fan Pages we saw. From what we observed on the Page, Castro managed to almost daily promote local issues like the influx of shoppers from Mexico over Easter weekend, or localize larger issues such as the Census, prompting fans to comment quite often (he occasionally comments back). There are lots of photos and videos, notes are added at regular intervals and he often shares news links on the Wall to prompt discussion.