Are directly elected mayors making use of social media?

We’ve been blogging over the past couple of weeks about how various bodies – think tanks, commissioners, civil servants and trade bodies – can make better use of social media such as Twitter. In this post we consider how directly elected mayors can use social media in their work – and share some observations from a brief piece of work we have just undertaken to look at their Twitter presence.

Everyone knows that we’re witnessing an increasing democratic deficit, with cynicism about politicians rife and voter turnout at elections declining. It is increasingly urgent that we find ways to reconnect politics, politicians and voters. Greater localism and devolution is seen by many commentators as the answer to this challenge, with directly elected mayors as an important part of revitalising local political engagement (although it’s been a difficult birth, with the recent referendum in 10 cities resulting in only one switch to a mayoral system in Bristol). Social media has an important role to play in providing a means for directly elected mayors and other local elected representatives to engage in a direct conversation with the people they represent – so are they using it?

With one obvious exception, the answer is ‘no’. Directly elected mayors are largely missing out on the opportunities of social media. We looked at the 16 directly elected mayors across the UK and found that only eight of these have an active official Twitter account (in further two cases – Sir Peter Soulsby in Leicester and Stuart Drummond in Hartlepool – we aren’t sure whether the account is actually theirs, and in any case neither have ever sent a tweet).

In terms of total Twitter following, the winners are:

Elected mayor No of followers
1. Boris Johnson, London 332,580
2. Joe Anderson, Liverpool 2,127
3. Dave Hodgson, Bedford 1,364
4. Dorothy Thornhill, Watford 1,157
5. Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets 1,029

The most prolific tweeters are:

Elected mayor No of tweets
1. Boris Johnson, London 2,096
2. Dave Hodgson, Bedford 1,132
3. Dorothy Thornhill, Watford 1,074
4. Joe Anderson, Liverpool 470
5. Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets 255

Mayor Boris Johnson is the obvious outlier, due to his national political profile and the fact that he is mayor of the UK’s capital. Overall, the social media reach of directly elected mayors, at least measured by Twitter, is small.

Not only this, but it’s often hard to find some elected mayors on local authorities’ corporate websites, for example Mayor Tony Egginton in Mansfield doesn’t have any pages devoted to him on its website. Mayor Ian Stewart in Salford had a campaign Twitter account (@stewart4salford) which has now been taken down and not replaced. It is understandable that this account might be suspended to comply with electoral law, but over in Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson is continuing to use his campaign account (@joeforliverpool).

We are particularly surprised that independent mayors and those from smaller parties are not making more use of Twitter to build their profile. Both Mayor Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough and Mayor Peter Davies in Doncaster don’t appear to have an official account. Given that Twitter is proving to be an invaluable research tool for journalists, this seems even more surprising. Liberal Democrat mayors do however seem to be more fluent with social media compared to those from other parties.

The missed opportunity here is that social media offers significant benefits to directly elected mayors, for example to:

  • Connect with voters using a cheap and easy way to communicate;
  • Build their profile both in their local community and more widely;
  • Engage in an open, transparent dialogue with voters about their concerns;
  • Cut through traditional media by developing an independent news feed that they can control;
  • Ensure that they are seen as accessible and open to voters.

Given that directly elected mayors are seen by the Government as a way to reconnect voters with politics at a grassroots level, we had expected to see much greater use of this medium as a way to engage in civic dialogue. The simple finding is that mayors are missing out.

As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcome – including via Twitter on @guerillapolicy and @newthinktankuk, this blog, and on our homepage.

Directly elected mayors on Twitter

The list below shows the elected mayor, the place and party they represent, their Twitter name, number of followers and number of tweets. The list was up to date as at 1st July 2012. Eight out of 16 elected mayors have an active official Twitter account.

Mayor City / Town Party Twitter name No of followers No of tweets
Boris Johnson London Conservative @MayorofLondon 332,580 2,096
Joe Anderson Liverpool Labour @joeforliverpool 2,127 470
Dave Hodgson Bedford Liberal Democrat @DaveTheMayor 1,364 1,132
Dorothy Thornhill Watford Liberal Democrat @MayorDorothy 1,157 1,074
Lutfur Rahman Tower Hamlets Independent @MayorLutfur 1,029 255
Sir Steve Bullock Lewisham Labour @mayorbullock 955 199
Tony Egginton Mansfield Independent @MayorEgg 418 205
Sir Peter Soulsby Leicester Labour @SirPeterSoulsby 182 0
Stuart Drummond Hartlepool Independent @HartlepoolMayor 81 0
Linda Arkley North Tyneside Conservative @Linda_arkley 67 38
Ian Stewart Salford Labour n/a n/a n/a
Gordon Oliver Torbay Conservative n/a n/a n/a
Sir Robin Wales Newham Labour n/a n/a n/a
Ray Mallon Middlesbrough Independent n/a n/a n/a
Jules Pipe Hackney Labour n/a n/a n/a
Peter Davies Doncaster English Democrats n/a n/a n/a