At a cost of $92,250, St. Petersburg is going to pay social media users with large followings to tweet and post about the city's arts and business scenes. If that sounds like a frivolous use of taxpayer money, it is.
The contract approved this week by the City Council at the request of Mayor Rick Kriseman will pay Sparks Branding House, a Tampa marketing firm, to identify social media "influencers" to come to town and get a feel for the arts and economic development climate in St. Petersburg, and then post about it to their followers. Sparks will identify which influencers to target, and their visits would presumably result in positive promotion, but the city can't tell the influencers what to write.
The city already spends $3 million a year on marketing, and groups such as the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. have efforts devoted to exactly this type of promotion. Such a nebulous but pricey pay-to-promote social media campaign seems redundant and unneeded. And to launch it while Kriseman is seeking re-election raises the question of just who stands to benefit from the good press.