During David Miller’s seven years as Toronto’s mayor, one of the more interesting highlights has been his enthusiastic embrace of Twitter – the social media tool that involves messages of 140 characters or less.
Miller jumped on the Twitter bandwagon nearly two years ago in the wake of Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president, following a campaign that featured the extensive use of social media.
Since he started to use Twitter, Miller has provided people with an interesting inside view of what it is like to be Toronto’s mayor, offered insight and information about events and issues that had not been covered by the media, and directly engaged with his constituents in a way that his predecessors never did.
As Miller’s time as mayor comes to a completion, I managed to do a quick telephone interview about why he adopted Twitter, and what has learned along the way.
Why the decision to use Twitter?
At the beginning, it was just an educated guess. At the time, my thing was “Here is another direct way I can communicate with people.” My whole political career, I have made a point to directly communicate with people because it was easy to get drawn into the difficult issue of governing, and not be in touch. I have always been in touch by going to coffee shops, pubs and shops. When I was introduced to Twitter, it was a logical extension of that opportunity to directly be in touch with people.
How did you think you were going to use Twitter?
At the beginning it was a way to tell people what was going on at city hall about important issues. The press will cover one or two things but, on any given day, there are 100 things going on. It was a way of telling people what I was doing about public policy or events. But some time early on, someone said to me, “Mayor, Twitter is supposed to be a conversation.” It taught me a very powerful lesson that Twitter wasn’t a one-way communication tool, which I hadn’t realized. In addition to the listening aspect – like the coffee shop where I hear the pulse of Toronto – I became engaged with it and literally had conversations with people that changed the whole nature of how I used [Twitter]
Any surprises about using Twitter?
The original way that Twitter was set up on Blackberry, my default was directly messaging people. I would answer and hit the button. People felt I should be sharing. What surprised me about it was the passion people had, and I was somehow violating an unwritten social norm.
How many times do you tweet a day?
I send out something when there is something to talk about – something serious or fun. Typically, a half dozen to a dozen times a day.
Will you to use Twitter after you leave office? Will you continue to use @mayormiller as your Twitter handle?
I will keep tweeting; I guess people will have to stay tuned [about @mayormiller]
Do you think the incoming mayor, Rob Ford, should use Twitter?
When I phoned him to congratulate him, I offered my advice; he hadn’t taken me up on it. If it doesn’t he is really missing something fun.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a digital marketing and social media strategic agency that helps companies create and tell their stories to customers, bloggers/media, business partners, employees and investors. Mr. Evans has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. He is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh and meshmarketing conferences.