Latest News

Electronic electioneering

Creeping on Lexington's mayoral candidates:

■ Jim Newberry said he was heading out at 11 p.m. to thank the city's snowplow drivers during the recent cold weather, and someone sent him a black chicken through the FarmVille Gift Sender.

■ Jim Gray provided a series of updates on his fund-raising prowess.

■ Teresa Isaac recently became "friends" with Mike Scanlon, her old political nemesis.

These are some of the things you can learn by "creeping," or scrolling through, the Facebook pages of the people who want to be Lexington's next mayor.

The social networking site — started in 2004 for students at Harvard University and, available free at www.facebook.com to anyone with an e-mail address since 2006 — seems poised to become an important campaign tool for the three candidates.

Thousands of people have signed up as friends and fans of Mayor Newberry, Vice Mayor Gray and former Mayor Isaac. The difference for those who don't know: You have to be accepted as a friend to get into a personal page; anyone may be a fan on a politician page.

The candidates all have personal Facebook pages, like a rapidly growing number of their constituents, as well as "politician" pages. Think of the personal pages as their home phone number and the politician page as their work number.

All three also are using Twitter (www.twitter.com), which allows users to send and receive short messages (the 140-character limit thwarts a politician's natural tendency toward long-windedness).

For most people, such social networking sites are a fun, if time-wasting, indulgence.

But they seem perfectly designed for organizing political campaigns. If they are used right.

Ben Self is a Lexington resident who is a principal of Bluestate Digital, a political/Internet consulting firm with clients around the globe. He said some campaigns mistakenly think Facebook and Twitter can be used to reach out to undecided voters.

What they really are good for, he said, is identifying people who are willing to knock on doors or make telephone calls.

"People who are passionate about a candidate or issue can use social media sites to find other people who are excited ... and hopefully direct them back to their Web site," Self said.

Dale Emmons, a Richmond-based political consultant, agrees.

"There's not an infinite number of activists available," he said. "It's a great way to gather volunteers."

The Lexington campaigns appear to understand that.

"We've been trying to communicate about the real core pieces of volunteering, signing up for our e-mail list and contributing," said Jeremy Horton, Jim Gray's campaign manager.

"The more methods you can use to communicate with voters, the better it is for everyone," said Matt Bell, the field coordinator for Newberry's campaign.

Although the initial emphasis on the campaign pages has been on getting people to go to the candidates' Web sites, where they are invited to contribute or sign up for e-mail, that is expected to expand as the campaign goes on. If a candidate is speaking somewhere, it will be listed on Facebook. When a candidate takes a position on an issue, look for it to be in an e-mail message, on Facebook and — in an abbreviated form with a link to a longer version — on Twitter.

The candidates' use of Facebook and Twitter varies somewhat.

Newberry and Gray, for example, have personal and political Facebook pages, with the former handled by the candidates and the latter by their campaigns.

Newberry has a personal Twitter account, and his campaign has one.

Gray's Twitter account is used by the candidate and the campaign, Horton said. (With a shared password, more than one person may use an account.)

On the day last month that Gray announced he was running for mayor, for example, a late-afternoon tweet thanking supporters went out while Gray was sitting in an Urban County Council meeting. Gray could have sent it from his phone, but it was from the campaign, Horton said.

Because the Facebook and Twitter pages are connected, the same message went out on Facebook, he said.

Isaac, who says she has been on Facebook longer than her opponents, is the most frequent poster.

She "likes" — a one click Facebook method of agreement — people's statuses and photos, sends birthday wishes and keeps everyone updated on the many community events she attends.

Isaac has three Facebook pages, including a personal page that hovers at or just below its limit of 5,000 friends (politician and "common interest" pages don't have limits).

Colby Khoshreza, who works for Pitch Consulting, which is managing the Isaac campaign, said Isaac writes all her Facebook updates and Twitter tweets.

"Compared to other candidates, when you message Teresa on there, you're really talking to Teresa," he said.

Newberry uses his personal page to let friends know about what he's doing as mayor and what's happening with the approaching 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Shaye Rabold, his chief of staff, posted photos of Newberry reading to schoolchildren and noted the point when he reached 2,010 friends.

Several of the recent posts on Gray's personal page are from people congratulating him on deciding to run for mayor.

Bell, with the Newberry campaign, said the great thing about Facebook is that it's interactive. He envisions that people will see something on the Newberry campaign page that they like and post it on their own pages, setting off a chain reaction.

And, while everyone isn't on Facebook, he notes that a rapidly increasing number of people are signing on.

"I have a 7-year-old sister that's on Facebook, obviously very monitored by parents, and my 80-year-old grandmother is on Facebook," he said. "Facebook cuts across all walks of life."

  Comments