Hurricane Irene: What Governors & Mayors Were Tweeting

As Hurricane Irene tore up the eastern seaboard, governors and mayors in states from the Carolinas to New England took to Twitter in an effort to share information, breaking news and safety tips, and answer the questions of their understandably edgy constituents.

Late last week, as it became clear that Hurricane Irene would be paying a visit to the East Coast, government leaders took to the airwaves and Internet in a full-on information blitz that was criticized by some for being too over-the-top. During the five-day period from Aug. 25 through Aug. 29, the 10 chief executives of the states in Irene's path tweeted a combined 1,285 times in an effort to disseminate information and clear up confusion before, during and after the hurricane.




Cuomo and Christie Take to The Twitters

Governors in two of the most densely populated states hit by Irene, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York, jumped into the deep end of the Twitter pool with a steady stream of tweets as the storm gained strength. The Bridge and Tunnel Boys tweeted a combined 203 times (with a near-even split of 102 tweets for Christie to Cuomo's 101) over the five day period examined by OhMyGov. The duo's tweets relayed basic but important messages about power outages, road closures and other storm developments, sometimes using their own words and other times retweeting posts by relevant agencies. 

Gov. Cuomo made ample use of the #IRENE hashtag to aid Twitter searchers, but mostly stuck to formal statements. Many of the tweets from his @NYGovCuomo account were third-person tweets.

By contrast, Gov. Christie took a more personal approach, peppering his stream of informative posts with a few "@ replies" in response to individual questions and comments.  Christie issued the most famous tweet of the week with his admonition to "Get the hell off the beach," which he stated in an Aug. 28 press conference that his staff live-tweeted from his @GovChristie account. The decision to live tweet the media appearance helped anyone stuck without power or cable to get the key messages -- an important component of social media in crisis communications that more and more leaders are taking advantage of, as Twitter can be accessed via smartphones or even basic SMS texting.  




Christie's approach paid dividends. During the five days analyzed by OhMyGov Media Monitoring, Christie added over 6,500 new followers, for a remarkable short-term growth rate of 12%. He also snagged more than 8,000 mentions on Twitter and 624 retweets, which suggest that New Jersey citizens were listening and reacting to the governor.

These metrics set Christie apart from his colleagues in terms of popularity and recognition, something that has become a running theme for the rising GOP star over the past year. All of this is made even more impressive when one considers that Christie was only the fifth most "vocal" Governor on Twitter during the crisis, trailing Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy in the number of tweets sent.


Christie draws thousands of new followers during storm  (Chart: OhMyGov Media Monitoring)


The Great State of Vermont Will Not Apologize for Its Tweets 

Other state government leaders used the storm as an opportunity to have their distinct voice heard on Twitter.  Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont used his position as leader of small and lightly populated state as an opportunity to post a steady stream of tweets aimed at answering questions and (in some cases) airing grievances during the response to Irene. Shumlin went on a social media tear as he tweeted an incredible 386 times between Aug. 25 and 29 from his @VTGovernor account. The subject of his tweets were almost exclusively regarding the hurricane and he preferred the hashtags #VTIrene and #VTrecovery.




Gov. Shumlin may have tweeted with more frequency than Cuomo and Christie, but that can at least be partially chalked up to the fact that Shumlin leads the 49th most populous state in the union, while Christie and Cuomo have a combined nearly 40 million constituents to manage. Retail politics takes a backseat at that point.


The Mayors Check In

It wasn't just governors who made use of Twitter's ability to reach followers in an emergency. Mayors Vincent Gray of Washington, D.C., Cory Booker of Newark, and Michael Bloomberg of New York all used Twitter in a style much the same as the aforementioned governors, keeping in touch with citizens directly through social media as a complement to their TV and other media appearances. 

Both Gray and Bloomberg went the traditional, but still essential, route of tweeting emergency updates from their offices. Bloomberg was also notable for having two popular accounts through which he could make announcements, his personal feed @mikebloomberg and the official City Hall feed, @NYCMayorsOffice. Followers of either of Mayor Mike's feeds could expect to find constantly updated information and announcements over the course of the hurricane. Meanwhile, Gray struck a even balance between official announcements and directly addressing the concerns of constituents.





But Booker, oh Booker, continued his tradition of leaving no tweet unanswered. The Newark Mayor tweeted up a storm, announcing flooding updates, retweeting announcements, and (many, many times) answering questions regarding everything from overflowing sewer drains to downed power lines. Booker, tweeting as @CoryBooker, became something of a household name last winter when he went on a Twitter rampage during a massive blizzard, so his Irene tweetathon should come as no surprise to his over one million followers.




Hurricane Irene will be remembered for many things, chief among them the loss of property and life that occurred as a result of the storm and its aftermath, but also as an opportunity for elected officials to step up and embrace social media as a tool to reach out to constituents and followers in the wake of an emergency. Most chief executives embraced this opportunity and in the process helped craft what can be looked at as a new kind of playbook for disaster response and management in the age of Twitter. If nothing else, that can be looked at as one silver lining in the eye of the storm.


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