Barrett creates Twitter frenzy over Mayors Challenge

Twitter feeds throughout Milwaukee lit up with the hashtag #voteMKE this week as Mayor Tom Barrett turned to social media to garner support for the Fan Favorite Selection competition within the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge.


Milwaukee stands as one of 20 city finalists within the challenge, which will award $5 million to one grand prize winning city and $1 million to four runners up to help activate innovative solutions to national problems posed by each city applicant.

The competition aims to connect cities in spreading knowledge and taking action to solve large-scale issues. Milwaukee’s application centers on an urban agriculture project dubbed HOME GR/OWN that addresses both property foreclosures and difficulty of access to healthy food. The effort would transform vacant lots into orchards, gardens and small-scale urban farms in order to revitalize struggling neighborhoods and make healthy food more easily available.  

The Fan Favorite Selection competition within the broader challenge offered the general public a way to support their cities and the ideas that struck them as most inventive. Hosted by the Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the voting competition ran online from Feb. 20 through Wednesday.

To promote votes for Milwaukee, Barrett’s office created a social media campaign through Twitter, asking followers to spread the word by tweeting #voteMKE. The campaign launched March 1 and gained steam this week.    

“We thought it was an effective and fun way to get the message out on what we were working on with our HOME GR/OWN project and to engender some community support,” Barrett said.

Barrett’s office also hosted Twitter flash mobs throughout the week to stir up more excitement over the challenge. As the Twitter campaign gained popularity among Milwaukee residents and businesses, #voteMKE became a trending topic in Milwaukee on both Monday and Wednesday.

“We’ve very pleased,” Barrett said. “It’s obviously a very effective way to communicate with people and word has spread very quickly throughout the community, and we’re feeling good about the level of support we’ve received.”

In addition to partnering with organizations and individuals via Twitter, Barrett and his team relied on Facebook, email blasts and billboards developed with the help of Clear Channel Communications as other outlets to multiply votes.

The winning city of the Fan Favorite Selection will receive a $50,000 in-kind grant from IBM to support its innovation as well as coverage and promotion from The Huffington Post.

The 20 current finalists of the Mayors Challenge were chosen by a national panel of judges from 305 initial city entrants. Winners of the Mayors Challenge and Fan Favorite Selection will be announced later this month after finalists build on their ideas at an ideas camp in New York City.

“We believe that the level of support we have locally as well as the fact that (HOME GR/OWN) can be replicated in other cities makes us a very strong contender,” Barrett said.

For more information about HOME GR/OWN and to see a video about the project, click here.

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