With Palo Alto's social-media efforts in full bloom, the City Council on Monday approved spending $160,000 on a consultant who will help manage the city's Twitter feeds, YouTube clips and Facebook updates as well as train workers in how to effectively use these tools.
Under the contract, which the council unanimously approved Monday with no discussion, the firm Comment Ground, LLC, will help with "social media support, development and maintenance of City's social media network and internal training of social media administrators." The consultant has already been working with the city on its social-media efforts under a $75,000 contract. The council added $85,000 on Monday, raising the overall amount to $160,000.
The San Francisco-based company is headed by two consultants with backgrounds in journalism and marketing who, according to the company's website, help clients "build engaged communities that become your most loyal customers and biggest brand advocates." Comment Ground's website also notes that the company was "sparked by grabbing Google's attention -- and funding" with its first media campaign.
In proposing for the new contract, City Manager James Keene cited the fact that the city is "increasingly providing information, responding to residents and engaging with the community via social media." The city currently uses seven different social-media networks: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, Nextdoor and Open City Hall. In total, Keene wrote, there are "more than 45 social media channels that are used to reach various targeted audiences."
"Social media is used by the City to respond to a resident's questions, concerns and comments; drive traffic to its website; provide information to the media; and promote city events, as well as support citywide communications and outreach opportunities," Keene wrote. "These efforts have been focused on directly engaging with those living and working in Palo Alto."
Keene notes in the report that the firm has been working "collaboratively with other departments to provide internal training, social media strategy guidance and best practices implementation for those with responsibilities for social media channels." These services have been costing the city about $6,510 per month, as of Dec. 1, the report states.
"The result has been a significant and substantial increase in both the numbers following the City on its social-media platforms, community response, and increased reliance on social media for information about the City."
Under the new contract, the city will be spending about $6,250 per month on social-media services until Feb. 28, 2016.
The agreement with Comment Ground is the second contract that the council approved in the past month to assist the city with outreach. Last month, the council approved a contract with Flint Strategies to assist the planning department with the Our Palo Alto process, which aims to facilitate community dialogue about growth, development and the city's future. Staff had proposed a $175,000 contract with Flint, but several council members said they weren't clear about what the city will be getting in return.
Councilman Greg Scharff observed at the Nov. 10 meeting that "$175,000 is a lot of money" and raised concerns about the lack of metrics that would clearly spell out what the city will be getting in return. He said it seems like the contract "is a big PR effort for $175,000."
"It's unclear at all what we get for doing this," Scharff said.
Scharff and Councilman Karen Holman both initially suggested not going through with the contract. But they ultimately voted to support an alternate proposal by Councilman Larry Klein that would require staff to return with "clear objectives and applicable metrics" before spending more than $75,000.
Councilman Pat Burt argued that the contract with Flint is not meant to be "PR" but rather to foster a two-way conversation with residents about the city's future.
"I believed for a long time that Palo Alto as a community expects and needs more and better engagement than the average community," Burt said at the Nov. 10 meeting. "And we don't invest in that at our peril."