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.

We spoke to Christian Archer, Castro’s 2008 campaign manager and current political aid to the mayor for his Facebook Page, about how it figured in the election and how Castro now uses the Page to highlight his pet issues. Castro has been enthusiastically using different types of technology since his campaign, Archer tells us, noting not only Facebook, but also pointing to live town halls on his web site, Flip videos, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. During the campaign Castro began using his personal Facebook profile to communicate with supporters, and once elected, he created the Page and has been trying to migrate fans there ever since, Archer said.

“One of the promises we made during the campaign was (that) this Page wasn’t just going to be for the election,” Archer said, noting that Castro is the first San Antonio mayor to have a Facebook Page, although to be fair, there’ve only been two other mayors since Facebook was founded in 2004. “The percentage is still not huge that check our Facebook — it’s not going to win or lose an election — but it is vital to the people who are online.”

Castro’s Facebook Page was promoted on campaign literature and the same is being done now that it’s a part of the mayor’s official communication platform, Archer tells us; this may be one reason why Castro’s Page is much larger than others we saw. Growing the Page was important because Archer said Castro wanted the interactivity available on Facebook to constituents 24/7, allowing them to get involved without having to be activists and also because social media has become a way for the mayor to promote causes that might not draw the attention of the local media.

“A lot of this stuff will never get covered. We’re able to communicate a lot of smaller things that might not make the 6 o’clock news, but yet are still important,” Archer explained.

The amount of time and attention spent on Facebook Pages seemed to have a direct impact on the number of fans and interactions, but this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes mayors who only sporadically tended to the Page had larger followings than others who were on Facebook almost daily.

Case in point, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn constantly updated his Page but, in a city of almost 600,000 he only squeezed out 855 fans; meanwhile, Utica, New York Mayor David Roefaro added 2,000 fans from a city of 58,000 people. Lots of factors could have contributed to this difference, perhaps one Page has been around longer than the other or there are links to the Page on city web sites, but such differences are curious, nonetheless.

As previously mentioned, the quality of information on the Pages was also essential to success on Facebook. Houston Mayor Annise Parker was elected to represent 2.2 million residents and does a decent job of talking about her work on Facebook to her 4,700 fans, while Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton’s constituency of 670,000 has awarded him about 6,300 Facebook fans. Even more interesting, Detroit’s Mayor Dave Bing was once a popular basketball player, an entrepreneur and now mayor but has just 727 fans in a city of more than 912,000 people. What’s more, Bing posts regularly and includes pertinent government documents among his photos for people to more easily access information.

There are lots of questions here that don’t yet have clear answers. Are some cities more Facebook-centric than others? Do some mayors promote their Pages more than others? Do different regions of the country feel more comfortable as fans of politicians? Are mayors just less interesting to Facebook users than a President, Governor, Congressmen or Senator? Is it just that some politicians are more beloved than others?

Facebook users currently seem less compelled to become fans of their mayors than of other politicians, for whatever reason. Some cities’ mayors don’t even bother to have Facebook Pages. New York’s Michael Bloomberg is a good example (but he does have Twitter, YouTube and Flickr). Creating a successful Facebook Page for mayors seems to be part work (updating, etc.), part promotion (including it on web sites and other official literature) and part luck (do people in your city care about mayors on Facebook?). All that said, we expect mayors, and their campaigns to do a better job figuring out how to use Facebook in the future.

For more tips on using Pages and other Facebook features to build fan bases, be sure to check out our Facebook Marketing Bible and our new subscription service for premium reports and data, Inside Facebook Gold.