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St. Pete could use taxpayers' money to boost social media posts for good publicity

Posted at 6:49 PM, Mar 03, 2017

Thousands of your tax dollars could soon go to paying “social media influencers” to tweet, snap and post about St. Petersburg.

St. Pete leaders want to blast a message out to millions of people on social media: Come live here, bring your business here and make the city your next home.

The idea: hire “influencers” to put the message out there. People with plenty of followers who can talk up the city.

Kanika Tomalin, St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor explained, “When they’re trying to decide where am I going to live? Why would I live there? We want St Pete to be top of mind.”

Mary Carson Adams says it makes perfect sense. When she saw pics of USF’s St. Pete campus on Twitter, her questions about the campus were answered. “Is it beautiful? Can I do fun things outside? I knew I found the right place,” she added.

To some it sounds eerily similar to something Visit Florida did that got them in hot water. They paid pop artist and rapper Pitbull $1 million to tweet using the hashtag #LoveFL and make a “Sexy Beaches” music video featuring Florida beaches.

RELATED: Contract fallout: major shake-up at Visit Florida

The Pitbull deal was so controversial that it led the tourism agency’s CEO to resign. St. Pete’s idea to hire social media influencers is cheaper: $85,000 but it doesn’t sit well with St. Petersburg resident Samuel Gordon, “Absolutely not. I think that money could be going somewhere else like infrastructure, roads, better schools. Pretty much anything but paying social media celebrities to advertise for the city.”

Adams disagrees, “It could only bring more people to St. Petersburg and to me, that’s a good thing.”

The city argues the $85,000, which has already been budgeted as part of the city's marketing funds, is an investment that’s worth every dime. Having social media stars tweet about the city would encourage more people to move to town, start businesses and spend money here in Tampa Bay, Tomalin argues. 

Some city council members tell us they’re skeptical of the plan. The board will discuss the idea at their next meeting.

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