During his conversation at our Campaign School last month, Toronto city councillor Paul Ainslie outlined his communication strategy with his Scarborough East constituents — along with how he tries to reach out to city as a whole. Becoming chair of the Government Management Committee supplied Ainslie with further motivation to use social media to stay in contact with a wider-range of #TOpoli-watchers. As a result, he arguably emerged as the most accessible ally of Mayor Rob Ford, at least when it comes to leveraging some of the tools at his fingertips.
By contrast, Willowdale councillor David Shiner — a 15-year fixture of the downtown Clamshell whose tenure predates amalgamation — is among those local politicians who have never sought an online presence beyond their their for re-election, if at all. Shiner’s own website is now only helpful in the sense that it indicates that you are better off calling or emailing than looking there for any indication of what he does, let alone what he stands for.
So, it was not entirely surprising that on the same day we debuted our Toronto City Council Social Media Report Card — inspired by the first season of talks at the Academy of the Impossible — that the vote for a plastic shopping bag ban met with some confusion. While the left-field idea was a response to the majority decision to stop charging a nickel for each bag, there was confusion about where the councillor who successfully introduced the idea stood politically. Not even Mayor Ford could grasp that this movement was sparked by one of his allies: Councillor Shiner.
Would it have made a difference if Shiner was tweeting his plastic bag sentiments for the past 18 months or more? The pundits who swap their thoughts through the medium might have been less surprised. But then, there might have been one less day of drama.
Since performing actual public service is what these councillors were technically voted in for, there is a tendency to overestimate the extent to which they need to worry about web aesthetics, even if the face they put on online can be an even more essential part of perception than their wardrobes. Keeping tabs on who is not making an effort is now as essential as recognizing those who do.
And there are clear flaws with the presentation at every grade level: Twitter updates are pushed to too-private Facebook pages with no regard for the fact that the latter has a different demographic and functionality than the former; content produced for the last municipal election seems to linger more prominently than updates about what the politicians did after they won; the occasional use of Flickr by some tapered off, as per the overall trend, but no councillor seems curious enough about who among their constituents might be found on Foursquare, Pinterest or Tumblr; and, despite having bid for their jobs with the expectation of having to constantly be on camera, there is practically no evidence of any understanding of how YouTube actually works.
Adam Vaughan, the councillor with the most experience in — and most critical opinions about the current condition of — the corporate mainstream media, expressed his contrarian stance toward these tools during his Campaign School visit, and has left office staff to maintain a functional online footprint for him. Yet, in any other case, such shortcomings are not so calculated.
Meanwhile, another Academy guest, Don Valley East councillor >Shelley Carroll, has also raised her profile through Twitter — to the point where she is assumed to be a representative of a downtown ward rather than a suburban one, a duality that should serve her well in any forthcoming mayoral ambition. Behind her and Ainslie in the initial rankings are councillors Karen Stintz and recent Campaign School visitor Kristyn Wong-Tam — in part because they have taken the step of developing distinct social media channels related to their different roles. But these efforts are also still embryonic compared to where they could already be.
Check out the report card for the full visual experience — clicking on "label" will group them by grade.
A-: Paul Ainslie, Shelley Carroll
B+: Karen Stintz, Kristyn Wong-Tam
B: Mark Grimes, Josh Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, John Parker, James Pasternak
B-: Maria Augimeri, Josh Colle, Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, John Filion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragdeakis, Mike Layton, Joe Mihevc, Peter Milczyn, Gord Perks
C+: Michelle Beradenetti, Mike Del Grande, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Jaye Robinson
C: Rob Ford, Ana Bailao, Gary Crawford, Anthony Perruzza, Michael Thompson
C- Vincent Crisanti, Norm Kelly, Giorgio Mammoliti, Pam McConnell, Adam Vaughan
D+: Raymond Cho, Frances Nunziata
D: Glenn De Baeremaeker, Doug Ford, Ceasar Palacio
D-: Ron Moeser, David Shiner
F: Frank Di Giorgio, Doug Holyday, Chin Lee, Gloria Lindsay Luby