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THE SOCIAL MEDIA CANDIDATE: FINDING A BALANCE

Social media is an important tool in any campaign seeking to generate enthusiasm and engage with its supporters. Newark Mayor and Senatorial Candidate Cory Booker is an ascendant political celebrity for a variety of reasons. His ability to leverage social media to heighten his visibility and burnish his brand is a large part of his success, but a closer examination reveals the potential pitfalls for embracing such a twitter-friendly strategy.

As of September 2013, Booker has nearly 1.5 million followers on twitter and over 150,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. But looking beyond the sheer numbers, it is the way Booker has used social media to interact with his constituents directly that has attracted so much attention. The mayor himself is often known to respond directly to constituent inquiries on mundane municipal matters – potholes, trash collection, and snow removal. But he has also used his twitter presence to communicate with citizens on issues of public safety, like coordinating relief efforts in the aftermath and Hurricane Sandy. In 2012, Booker was challenged by an activist on twitter to live on $4 of food stamps per day for a week. He accepted and used his spotlight to champion hunger.

Booker admits to spending hours each day on twitter, though primarily when he wakes up and when he goes to sleep. This gives the impression that he never sleeps and is always working. The fact that he will engage with constituents on twitter in a way that hasn’t been seen before from a politician makes people want to follow him.

Booker has also placed himself in the tricky situation where his followers expect him to respond. If he does not respond he risks the ire of his supporters. If he skips a few days of tweeting, he risks the ire of his supporters. He has also subjected himself to a lot of hate via twitter trolls who have nothing better to do than harass him.

The last big downside is that Booker’s strategy is most effective for a person already in elected office. Constituent services is what sets Booker apart, and if someone tweets you about needing to fix a pothole, it’s helpful to be in a position to do something about it. Booker’s opponent would be hard-pressed to fix the pothole without the backing of city resources.