Cory Booker! (Cue narrator of old "Superman" TV show.) He's hip! He's cool! He has more Twitter followers than God! Races into burning buildings! Rescues freezing dogs! More than a one-man department of city services, he's setting the bar for elected officials, exploiting the Internet for public good and personal political profit! And now he's got some pro tips for you and your little Twitter feed.
With more than 1.3 million followers, charismatic and social network savvy Newark mayor @CoryBooker has more Twitter acolytes than the population of the city he governs. At his presentation "The Media Politician" Sunday at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Booker recalled he agreed to give the 140-character outlet for communiqués a try for three months after tech-besotted actor Ashton Kutcher explained its importance. "I thought I was being punk'd," he said. But then he got a desperate tweet from a homeless Iraq War vet. He hooked up his constituent with the help he needed in a matter of seconds. His Honor was hooked.
He's a little surprised that other politicians haven't caught on to the power of social networking. They hopscotch from one event to the next, perhaps reaching 2000 people in a day, instead of hundreds of thousands in an instant. Booker is still taken aback that his tweeting serves as a role model for much bigger political players. "A mid-level mayor shouldn't be in this place," Booker mused.
Booker shared some lessons learned from his adventures as America's second-most-followed African-American politician (No. 1 lives in the White House), along with some rules he has learned to follow.
Rule No.1: "Do not erase a tweet ever."
Attempting to make a coffee-related joke following the revelation of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's South American love trystback in 2009, the caffeine-addicted Booker said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail with a "hot Columbian blend."After a staffer deleted the post down the cyber memory hole, Booker caught flak. Better to stand by the brainfarts, he vowed.
Rule No. 2: "I always try to retweet my critics."
Not only does it give him points for authenticity and credibility, sending the mean things people say about you to your 1.3 million fans is, well, a little like throwing open the gates of trolling hell. Not that he gave that reason — but when he mentioned this advice, there were knowing snickers in the audience.
Rule No. 3: Tweeting isn't extra. It's a priority.
"We are syndicators of information," Booker said, waving his arms around to indicate Everybody. "We are media outlets." So Booker doesn't so much as "find time" to tweet as he does it incessantly, to the point that some people wonder if he ever sleeps. Yet he still uses traditional channels, including Newark's version of New York City's 311 phone system, to reach older constituents.
Rule No. 4: "You never know the power of a random act of kindness."
Whether it's throwing open his own house to victims of superstorm Sandy (his power never went out) or showing up at a snowed-in citizen's house to personally shovel out the driveway — and let's not even talk about the time Booker ran into a burning house! — ground-level politics has never been as personal, or as effective.
Rule No. 5: "Change the discussion."
After Conan O'Brien joked that the best medical plan for Newark residents was a ticket outta town, the "hurt" mayor started a mock feud by publicly banning the carrot-topped late-night comic from EWR airport. Lots of back and forth later, Conan wound up shelling out a $100,000 donation to the Newark Now Foundation — and Booker got warm-fuzzies from his beleaguered Newarkers for standing up for their city.