On June 27, 2008, Kasim Reed, a Democratic state senator from Atlanta vying to become the city's mayor, posted his first tweet: "Busy on the campaign trail!" No one responded. It was a dark, harrowing day.
Things have improved for Reed, at least online. Nearly five years later, the mayor has tweeted more than 1,200 times and amassed close to 38,000 followers. It seems that @KasimReed, the online extension of the mayor's voice, has finally caught up in spirit and panache in recent months with Kasim Reed, the ambitious politico who's currently gunning for a second and final term.
That's largely because Reed, who's described by his spokesperson as more of a "pen and paper kind of person," has tried to boost his and the city's Internet persona. And although he's actively participated in online forums in the past, he's wholeheartedly embracing Twitter for the first time as a way to engage constituents, uplift supporters, and openly debate his detractors.
He's not the first Atlanta politico to embrace the Internet — who can forget former Mayor Shirley Franklin's late-night comments on blog posts or overlook Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, Trinity Avenue's true social media trailblazer? But Reed's slowly becoming the city's most prevalent political Tweeter. And, to be honest, it's been quite entertaining.
It hasn't always been easy for the mayor, who struggled mightily in his early days as a Tweeter. During his loneliest days, he audaciously implored followers to view his latest and greatest photo galleries — using far too many exclamation points — and even dabbled into winking emoticons to express his excitement over a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In an April 2009 message, he wistfully stated: "I'm still looking for more friends on Twitter!" Once again, no one responded. It took the mayor, who often wouldn't post for months at time, nearly a year to even engage other Twitter users.
Reed started to harness Twitter's potential and showed glimmers of his 140-character prowess. Thanks to national TV appearances and mentions from an array of influential online figures such as rapper-turned-entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, So So Def owner Jermaine Dupri, and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, he gained more followers. The future started to look bright for @KasimReed, who had once spent months posting meaningless updates that got lost in the Twittersphere's abyss.
In early 2012, Reed finally embraced Twitter as he feverishly supported President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. He boasted about a trip to the Varsity with the commander-in-chief and used both the #jobs and #economy hashtags in a single tweet — #aboldmove. From that point forward, Reed never looked back.
Since then, the mayor has cultivated his Twitter persona, sharing intimate tidbits and sometimes directly responding to his constituent's wishes. He's talked about his adoration of speedy Chinese transit, affinity for Cajun rice, and objections to the idea of a sequel to Tequila Sunrise, his favorite film. The mayor even answers customer service requests. Got a problem with your watershed meter? He'll fix it. Want more actual peach trees in the city? Reed's your man. Even if he can't grant every wish, he is listening.
In addition, Reed has used Twitter to fire back at critics on everything from contentious stadium debates to last summer's T-SPLOST campaign. He's defended the city's sewer system management, even correcting naysayers' egregious spelling errors. Call him a flip-flop over gay marriage and prepare for a barrage of dissenting retweets and hashtag campaigns. Most recently, he sparred in 140 characters with CL News Editor Thomas Wheatley about a straightforward story — which he labeled a "cheap shot" — about President Obama's upcoming Atlanta fundraiser.
And it's not just on Twitter. One late night in early April, he signed up for an account on the Saporta Report and fired back at columnist Maria Saporta for depicting city councilmembers as his "enemies" during the Atlanta Falcons stadium talks. Last week, he even wrote a good ole fashioned letter to the AJC about why unemployment data should be viewed regionally.
Sure, he's no Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose former communications chief now works in Reed's office. The New Jersey mayor's personal, sometimes over-the-top touch to Twitter has resulted in him shoveling an elderly resident's driveway and helping a constituent propose to his girlfriend. Booker's 1.38 million Twitter followers, more than four times the number of people he serves, make Reed's seem miniscule by comparison. Elsewhere, Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Michael Bloomberg have enlisted staffers who oversee their social media empires with largely positive results that make Reed's operation appear small.
But the mayor's online presence surpasses most elected officials in Georgia, including Gov. Nathan Deal's newswire or the lone tweet by state Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Buckhead, announcing his congressional bid. He's even gaining ground on savvy public officials such as Hall, who famously used Twitter to summon an ambulance for an ailing woman.
All this brings us back to the question: What does @KasimReed actually tell us? For some people, Twitter redefines the public image of who they are. But for Reed, each additional 140-character message reinforces his actual personality. He is opinionated, ambitious, direct, extremely partisan, occasionally thin-skinned, and sometimes wonkish. That all comes across.
Whether or not you support Reed, you have to admit that his Twitter persona is refreshing — and even enjoyable. I'd much rather have a calculated political figure let his guard down online, occasionally revealing his true colors, than not communicate at all. He's come a long way.