A few weeks ago, Cory Huff saw a homeless man outside his window in Portland, Ore. Concerned for the person’s safety, Huff decided he needed to do something. But he didn’t call police or dial an operator. He logged on to Twitter and sent a message to Mayor Sam Adams.
A few hours later, the mayor personally responded—not some unknown intern. He tweeted at Huff the number of a social services hotline to call for help.
That quick and personal response is par for the course for Adams, who’s active also on Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare, and even Google+.
“It’s important to me because I don’t want to govern inside a bubble,” Adams told the Daily Dot.
“It gives me another avenue of information.”
To say Adams is a prolific Twitter user would be understatement. On Sept. 13, @MayorSamAdams sent out more than 25 status updates. Most of the time he’s responding to people’s questions or complaints. No issue, not even a pothole or public signage, is too small for Adams to address. Just last week, for example, he responded to a Portland local who wondered why his neighborhood street corner didn’t have a stop sign—in under 30 minutes. .
“I will talk to safety staff about it,” Adams wrote.
Adams hasn’t always been so transparent. Soon after being sworn in in January 2009, he admitted to having sex with an 18-year-old legislative intern and trying to cover up the scandal. While his tenure in city hall was marked by two recall efforts, Adams’ efforts online have helped repair his image in the local community as he prepares to leave off in January.
For in an era when politicians have become increasingly disconnected from the constituents they serve, leaders like Adams illustrate how an active Twitter account can break down barriers. Sometimes the mayor even calls upon citizens to take care of problems themselves, like when someone was concerned about a dead crow and vector control was unavailable. “Hiya. Could you/neighbor help a Mayor out and pick it up for us? :),” Adams tweeted.
The mayor’s liberal use of social media came in handy in mid-July, when a reservoir was contaminated with E. coli bacteria, and the city put out a boil order. From Portland’s Westside Emergency Operations Center, Adams sent dozens of tweets in the following days telling people where the contamination was and when water usage was safe.
“I got a lot of positive reactions from that because I was able to knock down rumors and answer follow-up questions,” he said. “I think it was invaluable.”
Since Adams first logged onto Twitter in 2008, he has gained more than 54,000 followers. That’s a small fraction of the half a million people that call the Rose City home, but Adams said his followers are a good cross section of the people he serves, and his Twitter usage is an example of how social media and local governance can be combined in the future.
“I don’t have to rely on the mainstream media filter,” he said.
Adams has also embraced the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, becoming the first mayor in the U.S. to set up a city page to promote local projects. It’s difficult to measure the effect such an effort has had, but Portland does have the highest Kickstarter success rate per capita in the country, according to a recent presentation by Kickstarter cofounder Yancey Strickley at XOXO Festival.
It’s all part of a larger initiative to bolster the city’s reputation as the Silicon Forest. Adams also created the Portland Seed Fund, which funds various start up projects, especially in the technology sector, an area of the city’s economy that Adams called “robust.”
How social media will be used when Portland’s next mayor takes office early next year remains to be seen. And Adams himself doesn’t know how he’ll use his own social media footprint when he’s not leading the city, but when in doubt, you’ll know exactly where to find him: on Twitter.
“I enjoy the social media relations I’ve made,” he said, “and I’d like to keep it up.”
Photo via Sam Adams/Twitter