Behind the Scenes With Jim Kenney’s Twitter Brain Trust
Depending on your point of view, Stephanie Waters either has the best or worst job in Philadelphia politics. She’s the digital director for Jim Kenney, the city’s presumptive next mayor.
That means she’s in charge of Kenney’s famed Twitter account, where he remarked as a city councilman that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was “fat assed,” that Justin Bieber may have benefitted from a beating, and much, much more. As a mayoral candidate, Kenney’s account has turned relatively tame, so much so that some have wondered if his staff occasionally bans him from using it.
In a brief Q&A, we asked Waters if there is any truth to that rumor and more. Her responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Citified: Before Jim Kenney ran for mayor, he was known for having a, um, colorful Twitter personality. We don’t see that as much anymore. How much of your job has been to rein him in?
Waters: If you look at the entire campaign, I think that Jim has done a great job of being more disciplined. We haven’t taken a special approach for Twitter versus the rest of the campaign. The Jim that you see on the campaign trail is the same Jim that you see on Twitter.
I think a lot of people think that we took [Twitter] away from him or something, and that’s definitely not true. He’s had access the entire time. And sometimes we’re like, what was that tweet? For example, the Madonna one, about Madonna being “cray.” Like where did that even come from? Who knows? But he’s been able to do that stuff from the beginning. I think he’s just been more conscious about what running for mayor means and that he sort of has a different responsibility.
Citified: Some people definitely thought he was kicked off of it.
Waters: We talked about or joked about it sometimes, but we definitely didn’t do it. When I took this job, it was something I thought about, because as a digital person your job is to figure out that balance. But it’s also awesome to have a candidate who loves social media. It makes your job more fun when the candidate actually cares about what you do, and so I think that we just didn’t worry about it too much.
Citified: How much of the time is Kenney tweeting himself versus having you or another staffer do it?
Waters: We tried to be sort of transparent. Traditionally, campaigns they do the “-JK,” like the candidates’ initials, [when they tweet themselves]. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, that’s what they do. Instead of doing it that way, we sort of reversed it a little bit, and so if it’s a campaign tweet, I try to include the #kenney2015 hashtag. … I make exceptions when I’m live-tweeting something, when it’s obviously not going to be Jim.
… Sometimes when we’re in the car, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, what do you want to say about this event?’ And then I actually do the tweet.
And then I think it just depends sort of on what’s going on with Jimmy Fallon, like if it’s a great episode of Jimmy Fallon, you’ll probably see 10 tweets. And then sometimes he might just be really busy and he’s not going to tweet anything for a couple of days. And I think that’s one of the reasons why, honestly, it’s important to have somebody [on staff to tweet]. It’s hard to figure out that role of still having an authentic Twitter voice, but also getting across campaign needs. So figuring out a balance is important.
Citified: Has there ever been a time that you’ve thought about locking him out of Twitter temporarily, or asked him to stay away from it, because he’s in a bad mood or something?
Waters: If there’s been a tragedy or something that we wanted to be careful about, we’ve given him a heads up, like, ‘Hey, we should probably stay off social media.” And we’ve also given every campaign staffer that same heads up just to be sensitive. But other than that, we haven’t taken away any privileges or anything like that. We ask questions in the morning, like, ‘What was this tweet?’ But we haven’t taken it away.
Citified: Which of Kenney’s tweets have elicited questions from you, besides the Madonna comment?
Waters: There was one about his college friends or something at a bar rowing. I have no idea. We didn’t understand what it was, but he tweeted a picture of them, like, ‘These guys still crack me up.’ And we were like what is this? We didn’t know if it was a comedy show or something and we had no idea. So that was definitely one that we were pretty confused about.
Citified: The campaign didn’t advertise on social media until the end of the primary season. When did you start the ads exactly, and how much money did you spend on it?
Waters: We started two weeks out [from Election Day]. … We were just focused on getting people out to vote, and we advertised via Facebook that way and then online, like banner ads and stuff like that. So we weren’t focused on getting likes or anything like that. We were primarily focused on getting people out to vote. And so primarily, we just used Jim’s TV ads and used those in web format.
We spent $20,000. So it’s definitely smaller than your average online consultant would say you should spend.
Citified: Why didn’t you spend more?
Waters: We just didn’t have the money, necessarily. … Our goals will change a little bit now going forward.
Citified: If Kenney goes on to win the general election and become mayor, will he continue tweeting himself sometimes?