A Twitter follower sends a picture with his child playing in snow while riding a toy truck to Naheed Nenshi. Nenshi promptly shares it with his 150,000 followers. It is the kind of mundane interaction that occurs a million times a day on social media, regardless of platform.
What’s different in this case however is the person doing the retweeting. Naheed Nenshi is the mayor of Calgary. A young progressive, Muslim, Harvard educated, community organizer just re-elected to office with 75 percent of the popular vote and ranked second, behind Canada’s Prime Minister, as the most important Canadian by Maclean’s magazine. How did Nenshi attain such a status, especially within the heartland of Conservative Canada?
Better than anyone else in Canadian politics, he uses social media to tell his story, and that of other Calgarians, connecting with voters in a meaningful way.
A former Nenshi youth campaign worker told me that the mayor’s strength is his authenticity. In this respect he may have no equal. Nenshi, who writes all his own tweets, goes beyond the trite civic news bulletins and event announcements typical to most political Twitter feeds. In fact his Twitter account serves more like a community bulletin board than a personal social media page.
To be sure, Nenshi tweets about his mayoral responsibilities, but he also injects a relatable human element into his discourse, sharing not just his stories and experience, but those of his constituents as well. He engages constituents on all matter of topics. He is just as apt to retweet the picture of a child in a toy car as he is to elucidate about urban planning or flood response measures. It gives the strong impression to his constituents that he’s paying attention to them and listening. Social media is an incredibly effective tool for showing, spontaneously, that he cares.
And his followers care back. During the floods that washed over much of southern Alberta this past summer, particularly devastating Calgary, a Twitter campaign urged Nenshi, who had worked non-stop for weeks, to get some sleep.
Can Nenshi’s approach work for everyone? Not necessarily, but there is a lesson for those prepared to show up differently. Nenshi is successful because he has utilized social media as a true extension of himself, virtually shaking the hand of his constituents every day.
Cameron Summers is a public affairs practitioner based out of Edelman Toronto. He has been an advisor to Canadian political and business leaders for 20 years. Cameron provides strategic direction and oversight for Edelman Canada’s public affairs campaigns. His Twitter handle is @camsummers.