Rachel Sterne had to know she was in for some public scrutiny after Mayor Bloomberg announced her appointment as the city's first-ever chief digital officer this week. Presumably the 27-year-old entrepreneur and Columbia Business School professor was hired in part for her social-media savvy and public presence online. Her work with GroundReport, the citizen news portal she founded in 2006, also seems likely to inform the next logical step of aging initiatives like Bloomberg's 311 system. Indeed, Sterne, who will take home $115,000 for the gig, told the Times, "A big part of this is listening to New Yorkers and being responsive,” and said she planned to use Twitter and Facebook to do it. But after the Journal culled messages from her Facebook wall about the new job, Sterne ended up changing her privacy settings to reduce her digital footprint, or footprint-in-mouth, if you will.
The Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment issued a statement saying, “Rachel will be working on creating appropriate forums for feedback on public matters. Her personal Facebook page is for her and her friends." But we're guessing City Hall cared less about the commenter who posted "AMAZEBALLS!!!" than the one who wrote, "P.S. maybe while you're there you can teach mike how to check accuweather.com?"
If you want to give Sterne your two cents on her upcoming report about how the city can improve its digital efforts, you can still follow her on Twitter, stalk her on Tumblr, answer her queries on Quora, the tech scene's highbrow alternative to the shameful delight that is Yahoo! Answers. The bigger question is whether all this the press will make the Bloomberg administration more skittish about social media's potential to backfire. Just think how many retweets Bloomberg would have gotten if he posted his Bermuda vacation's plans before the December tsnownami.
Update: AdWeek unearths more concerns about Sterne than just her sudden embrace of online privacy, alleging that Bloomberg's young hire is more of a self-promoter than a digital communications expert. Sterne has little experience in management and less than that in public policy. At GroundReport, she managed an editorial staff of three. Her next start-up, a digital-media consultancy called Upward Strategy, was a one-woman operation. What's more, GroundReport, which like most new ventures was funded by family and friends, had an all-time high of 60,802 monthly unique visitors.
“Despite the site never receiving any traffic, Sterne used Ground Report to win a bunch of do-gooder awards, put herself in the spotlight, and become an authority on all things entrepreneurial and tech-oriented,” an acquaintance of Sterne’s said. “In the meantime, all the attention led her to realize she was really best at promoting herself and others so she struck out as a ‘digital PR consultant.’”
The new field of social media is rife with amateurs and hacks presenting themselves as experts. Sometimes the best indicator of success is getting people to pay attention to what you're
saying tweeting. Was the city looking for an attention-grabber with tech connections like Sterne, or is this Cathie Black: The Redux?
Who and What Is Rachel Sterne? [AdWeek]