Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Paris Just Reached 1 Million Twitter Followers
Its nearest online rival, New York, doesn’t even come close.
Paris just cemented its position as the most popular city in the world. On Twitter, anyway.
The French capital’s official account broke records when it surpassed the million-follower mark on Monday morning, making it the first city account to have done so. To honor the milestone, Paris has set up a website, 1million.paris, that features a time-lapse film of a drone flight over the city and a collection of tweets. A host of Parisian bigwigs have gone online to celebrate, starting with Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who opened the congratulations with this firework gif.
Paris’ Twitter success places it leagues ahead of its nearest competitor, New York City, which has so far managed just 444,000 follows. Perhaps slightly chastened by their transatlantic rival’s success, New York City bit back on Twitter (where else?), albeit with a riposte so self-consciously gentle it was clearly designed only to tickle.
If the gap between the two cities seems laughable, bear in mind that London has just 15,300 followers to its official account. If Paris’ huge Twitter following makes it a whale to New York’s dolphin, London is basically krill.
So why has Paris done so well online? Being one of the world’s most photogenic cities helps, and City Hall has shared some pretty memorable images. Take this one of the city hoisting a disco ball up beneath the skirt of the Eiffel Tower in the run up to Bastille Day celebrations:
Then there are simple, magical shots they’ve shared, like this one of the Seine quayside covered in fresh snow:
Paris sous la neige. ©Jean-Baptiste Gurliat. pic.twitter.com/wQfLpyAE— Paris (@Paris) January 19, 2013
A slower uptake of Twitter in France may have helped Paris grab the valuable digital real estate that is @Paris. By the time many U.S. cities got around to establishing accounts, for instance, they found that their most obvious handle choices were already taken. To take an amusing example, the District of Columbia’s intuitive handle, @dc, was grabbed by a certain Dave Cohen.
More importantly, Paris has done of a brilliant job of creating a presence that feels like it belongs to the city rather than to people in office. It’s presented itself as a standard bearer for its beauty and culture instead of another propaganda mill.
Take, by contrast, London. Mayor Boris Johnson already has a huge social media presence—1.95 million people follow him on Twitter—that overshadows that of the city itself. But when you go to the city’s official account, you get not an iconic photo of the city but a logo saying “Mayor of London” in a strident Keep Calm and Carry On-style layout. When a city’s Twitter profile presents itself primarily as a platform for a showboating public figure, it’s no great surprise that few click the follow button.
Sadly, not all the reasons for Paris’ Twitter success have been cheerful. With the Charlie Hebdo shootings followed by the horrific November terror attacks, 2015 was a tragic, grisly year for the city. Rumors rattling around social media during these periods of crisis have often served to make people more, rather less anxious. Follower counts rose during these crises.
It’s hardly surprising that many Parisians turned to the city’s account as a source of instant information they feel they can actually trust. This backdrop makes Paris’ evident pleasure in its social media success heartening. After the grim year it’s had, Paris City Hall deserves reason for cheer.