USC Price student uses social media in job as mayor
When October’s Superstorm Sandy knocked out power in parts of Torrington, Conn., Mayor Ryan Bingham — a student in the USC Price School of Public Policy’s online master of public administration (MPAOL) program — used social media to communicate with his residents.
Through social media, he said, you “can speak directly to people, and they can speak directly to you.”
Bingham boasts more than 4,000 Facebook friends and 700 Twitter followers, many of whom live in Torrington. During the storm, many residents used their smartphones to receive information about the locations of water and shelter, road closures, downed wires and trees, and power outages. They also updated the mayor about what was happening in their communities.
Bingham — who has served as mayor since 2005, when he was only 22 years old — also used social media during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and the nor’easter in October of that year.
“Any piece of information that might be helpful to my constituents, I put out on social media,” he said. “I also use it to get information that may not be information that people call into 911 — if a street is not listed as being out but actually is or if there’s a tree across the road but there are no wires. These things are very important for us to know as we’re staging resources and trying to respond to what the storm is doing.”
Twitter and Facebook have more everyday uses, such as informing people about Torrington’s July 4 fireworks celebration, Halloween trick-or-treating festivities or events in the downtown district. Social media is also an avenue for the mayor to receive feedback and address community concerns.
“I’d say over 90 percent of people who comment or shoot me a message on social media, I respond to it and engage,” he said.
A native of Ventura, Calif., Bingham moved to Torrington when he was 10. After being educated in the Torrington public schools, Bingham headed to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he majored in political science and minored in sociology. When he returned home after graduating, he noticed that Torrington residents felt pessimistic about their city, a former mill town that had lost its manufacturing base.
Determined to help the city achieve its potential, Bingham ran for mayor, knocked on nearly 7,000 doors and won the top office. He has launched a downtown revitalization project to celebrate Torrington’s art deco architecture and create a sense of community for the 37,000 residents. He’s also worked to attract small- and medium-sized manufacturers to Torrington, and he’s won grants from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program to assess, clean up and repurpose the city’s old industrial buildings.
Bingham has been on Facebook since 2005, and his social media savvy has only increased since enrolling in the USC Price MPAOL program in January.
“At the first residency that we had at USC, Dr. Dora Kingsley Vertenten dedicated a specific section to social media and using it effectively,” he said. “So that was actually really good.”
Kingsley Vertenten, a USC Price adjunct professor, also emphasizes social media uses in her introductory “Public Administration and Society” course, which Bingham took in the spring.
“It’s certainly a focus of my course and one of the tools and techniques that we promote,” she said. “It is a core competency. Not everybody gets their information that way, but there are a number of circumstances where it’s critical. It was nice to see that Ryan used it in something as important as Hurricane Sandy and the relief efforts.”
Bingham credits USC Price with teaching him many relevant lessons, which he puts into daily practice as the mayor.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned that has been applicable to my position — organizational management stuff that we’re learning in some of the classes, the material that we’re learning about urban development and social equality. I mean, the list goes on and on.”
“Everything I’m learning is almost perfectly applicable to what I do on a daily basis,” he added.