Cory Booker is a Hero, But Could He Have Done More?

Cory Booker (@corybooker), the mayor of Newark, NJ made headlines recently with his heroic efforts to rescue residents from Snowpocalypse one tweet at a time. Whether its delivery diapers, shoveling entryways, or sending snowplows, he stepped out of bureaucracy to come across as a real, caring human being anxious to aid during a time of crisis. With over 1 million followers, his personal and humble approach touched not only those he helped, but everyone who read his updates.

As I read articles praising his use of social media, there is a side of me that can’t help but think why didn’t he do more with Twitter? Not more in the sense of a kid getting upset for only getting 99 train tracks for Christmas instead of 100 … but more as in why he didn’t take advantage of the golden resource at his fingertips?

Cory Booker, like you and me, is just one man that can only be in one place at one time.

But Cory Booker, unlike you and me, has over one million followers on Twitter.

Delivering food to one house makes for a great PR story, but there are thousands in the same situation. With so many followers, he could have mobilized an army of volunteers. Get a message out and have people organize a coordinated effort; don’t just try to take it on by yourself.

To be fair, he did mention dozens of trucks and hundreds of workers, and he did reference volunteers, and he did encourage people to help…but what if he used his 1 million followers, plus the power of the retweet, to organize a network where people can practically and systematically help those around them?

Imagine what could have happened with city employees working alongside local (and very likely non-local) residents, all made possible because of Twitter?

Again, what Cory Booker accomplished was without a doubt, amazing. His use of Twitter was groundbreaking and a big win for Government 2.0. But imagine how powerful Twitter could be in these situations if it’s used to rally an entire community.

That’s one of the core principles of Web 2.0, isn’t it? One person can do a lot, but a community can do so much more?

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Julia Gregory

Great post, Jon. I think the answer is: because he didn’t understand HOW to do it. It was a valiant effort and he got some attention and he probably helped scores of folks. But just because he has over a million followers, doesn’t mean he knows how to wield that power. “Thinking socially” is still a fairly new concept and especially among government types. We still have some of the old hierachical models stuck in our brains and making that leap to thinking socially takes more than just the ability to attract followers. The NJ response is an excellent argument for integrating social media into a Crisis Response Plan. The Red Cross held a summit in DC in August that featured astounding research, data, and first-hand accounts of how social media was employed to find, reach, and organize people during several critical emergencies in the past year or two around the world and in the U.S. I think there is no reason NOT to do this. In fact, I think we can do it in Texas. It will take much more than one mayor tweeting, but you’re right, there is so much more that could have been done – if you are familiar with the social ecosystem and networked with the right people.

Martha Garvey

I agree. I live a few towns over from Mayor Booker, and I actually offered help via Twitter after the storm. Nobody took me up on it, but it did stir me to look for an opportunity–I went over and volunteered at an animal shelter in Jersey City.

We in Hoboken were in better shape than Newark, but I can’t help but think that just as people have used “phone trees” in the past to mobilize action and touch base with neighbors, it would be so helpful to use Twitter and location-based services to mobilize not just mayors and city employees…but entire cities. And folks don’t even have to have smart phones to make this work…SMS alerts work just fine, as we know.

Jon Lee

Thanks for the comments, y’all!

Julia – Perhaps Mayor Booker’s understanding of Twitter began for political reasons: outreach with a personal flair, which definitely carried over in his tweets last week. As other bloggers have noted, the City of Newark could have integrated social media into their emergency management plan and used free tools like Ushahidi and SeeClickFix (latest post on govfresh.com).

Martha – Interesting that you tried to help but couldn’t get any offers. I bet there were many others like you that wanted to do something but didn’t know how. I wonder if Mayor Booker had tweeted repeatedly and asked for retweets with links to organized volunteer efforts, what kind of reach it could have had.

Steve – You’re good friends with the mayor right? You should tell him in person.

Jon Lee

Hi Joseph, I hadn’t heard of Groundcrew.us before but it looks like a great site. Yea, there are definitely tools out there that governments can use to organize disaster recovery efforts, especially when you can forecast the disaster in advance like a snowstorm. Thanks for sharing.