How much is Meck County paying ‘influencers’ to promote social distancing?

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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Mecklenburg County is hiring 30 social media influencers to promote social distancing but could not give an estimate as to how much this will cost taxpayers.

“Do we really believe young people aren’t aware of what’s going on that they need to be social distancing, that they need to washing their hands and that sort of thing?,” asked Donald Bryson, the president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative public policy group based in Raleigh. “I don’t think this is really necessary and I’m not sure that it’s good use of taxpayer time or money.”

The county is working with a firm to find the “best” influencers and plan the campaign. Pressed for details, Health Director Gibbie Harris could not name the company, answer how influencers will be chosen, how much money they will be paid or what this will cost taxpayers.

The county wants its influencers – compromised of college students, radio personalities and local celebrities – to create 300 social media posts talking about COVID-19 and social distancing. The “COVID-19 awareness and social distancing campaign,” which also includes four weeks of targeted radio ad buys, is expected to launch “by the end of the week,” Harris said.

“At this point we haven’t signed a contract,” she said. “We’re negotiating price right now.”

Whatever the amount, it’s wasteful spending, Bryson argues, given that local governments across the state are taking massive revenue hits due to the fallout from COVID-19. He also questions why social media influencers are tasked with delivering stay-at-home messages best left to health officials.

“Are social media influencers the best messenger?” Bryson asked. “Do we really think they’re going to carry more weight than the county government or city government? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Jenna Gribble, a social media influencer and blogger in Charlotte, says it is a great idea.

“Right now people are relying on social media,” said Gribble.

Gribble makes her money by promoting products or places online. When she does, her thousands of followers listen.

“I had a guy call me the other day after I posted a picture of a burger from the Comet Grill,” she said. “He lives all the way in Ballantyne and he drove all the way to Dilworth to get it.”

Now, confined to her home and with businesses closed, she says work is scarce. That has impacted her ability to make money “tremendously” and the reason why she hopes to be selected as one of the county’s 30 influencers.

“If it’s gonna put money in my pocket,” she said. “I think it’s great.”

Gribble is already posting about social distancing on her Instagram account. She says the chance to make money while promoting a positive message on platforms young people pay attention to would be a win-win.

“I think we’re influencing them,” she said, “to say, ‘Stay home, please.’”

Harris says the marketing campaign will target young adults and African Americans over the age of 60 with paid ads, paid social media posts, and unspecified “grassroots efforts.”

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