News

Consultant hired to help Palo Alto with social-media updates

City approves $160,000 to support outreach efforts

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."

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by hmm
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 12, 2014 at 9:59 am

The residents of Palo Alto need more transparency and detailed information, not carefully crafted messages that costs the taxpayers more than $6k/month and provide neither.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:19 am

Palo Alto PD did a great job of getting information out yesterday during the storm. Much better than the City, the school district, or even the Weekly.

I have no idea who did it, but I strongly suggest consulting with PAPD on this one and perhaps save some money.

I would personally like to know what roads are about to be resurfaced, dug up, etc. before I leave the house. WAZE is not so great for local streets. Just because Middlefield is being resurfaced on a Saturday, it doesn't mean that we have all the time in the world to sit in traffic.


8 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

Why do Palo Alto residents "expect and need more and better engagement than the average community?" as Pat Burt says at the end of this story. Why do some on city council think we're so special that we have to spend another 160 K on this? How many residents actually use these sites to get information on Palo Alto?


9 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:36 am

Get a high school student for free! THey know how to use social media better ...and they'd probably get better engagement and outreach.

What happened to the half time social media people that were hired earlier


10 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

And, I agree completely with Resident. PAPD and the Emergency Services did a fabulous job of keeping us up to date with information. Kudos to all of you for your great work yesterday.


9 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:39 am

What a shame that PA doesn't have any social media experts and the city has to pick a firm from San Francisco to tell us PA is the technological hub of the world. Silly, silly.

I too have to praise the Palo Alto Police Dept for their fast response. For literally more than THREE years I've been complaining to the city, the utilities dept, etc. about the flooding at a Middlefield intersection and the fast-flowing rivers created from the flooded intersection and nothing was ever done.

But yesterday I sent a note to the PAPD via their Next Door alerts and within hours in the middle of the storm they managed to fix the problem!

Thanks, PADP and Next Door!


Like this comment
Posted by Clay
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

#madeofmoneyiguess @PaloAlto


11 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:07 am

A $100K here, a 100K there. What's money when it is not staff's money. They probably live 'someplace else". can't this bunch at City Hall do ANYTHING without hiring outside consultants.?? And let's hope the next council is more
'fiscally prudent'. Is the Council listening to civic discontent? Probably not. At least one won't read the Weekly comments in this column. But then SHE is known to have said the SHE knows better what is good for the residents then they do.


5 people like this
Posted by Just sayin'
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:43 am

I would have done it for $130k!


11 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:52 am

Another unbelievable expenditure. We need to be updated on things like floods and the PAPD did a good job. Most of the rest of social media is just more puff pieces that are unneeded and I agree a student could do well at. At least Scharff and Holman questioned this and hopefully, the next council will consider some of these expenditures more thoughtfully.


4 people like this
Posted by golden goose
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:57 am

Oh, the city'll be fine until they kill the golden goose. Go blithely along their merry way overspending on city staff, consultants and "communication" persons.
This is an outrageous expenditure of taxpayer funds. Fine until it all runs out or our taxes are raised soooo high that this is totally unaffordable (close to that now for many of us).
It is also discrimination: not all are on social media, especially the elderly. Isn't the elderly population significant in Palo Alto? I am not elderly, but have relatives who are and I choose not to be on Twitter or Facebook, commercial services on which people experience a lack of privacy and sometimes hacking.
I did receive phone notifications on my cell and landline and via email from the Palo Alto Police Dept. yesterday regarding the major local weather/roads situation and that was reasonable and plenty sufficient without resorting to hiring a 160K person at the city. Oh, I realize there will have to be "justification" and therefore this person will be constantly Tweeting inane nonsense, as is often the case on Twitter.


10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Did Palo Alto seek bids for this work or just award it to a favorite in-house contractor?

Both High Schools have tech clubs who could have easily done this work and probably would have reached a younger demographic and reached out in more forms of social media than Keene even knows about.


7 people like this
Posted by Berry
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

This is stupid. We could get High School students to do this for free as a class project. I don't want social media updates. I want the city council to limit development, fix the parking issues around town, get affordable housing for senior citizens, and stop it with bad decision making such as this!


3 people like this
Posted by overtaxed
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Waster of money. I'd rather have another cop on the street, or 4 teachers..


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm

@goose, I don't think you need to be "on Facebook" to see Palo Alto's page -- Web Link
Nor on Twitter to see Web Link or Web Link which are the city's general page and the PAPD specific page. Sure, the sites prod you to log in or sign up, but that can be ignored as long as read-only is adequate. The danger is in becoming addicted, similar to PA Online.


4 people like this
Posted by me
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 12, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Maybe this clever firm can suggest they get rid of all the different facebook pages for the city departments and bring them under one roof. IF you want to know what's on in the city, look at one place not each department! So why hire someone to teach each department how to do it! Give one person the job and save thousands of dollars and time.

And if you were hired to do PR for the city already, isn't this a part of it? I would think you were already trained in this field...if not, the interview process didn't go well.

Put the money to good use not waste it on organizations that don't know palo alto!


8 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 12, 2014 at 5:32 pm

My middle-school-aged nephew will do it for lunch money!

My college-bound son will do it for one semester of tuition at NYU!

Most of the kids at Paly will do it for the publicity alone!

No need to spend righteous dollars on this--I totally agree with Berry!


6 people like this
Posted by Nckster
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:10 pm

How about spending some money on emergency preparedness? The sandbag stations have been "staffed" by volunteers, and that can be improved with a little extra money for sandbags, flash/flood lights, shovels, signs... The entire chain of command, aside from the top which is PA Police, for neighborhood disaster preparation, response and recovery is comprised of volunteers, and that can be improved with some extra splint, flash/flood lights, first aid kits, or even first aid training sessions...


4 people like this
Posted by A citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by wow
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm

There are many retirees live in the city and are willing to do it for free! Why you need a consultant on YouTube clips and Facebook updates?


6 people like this
Posted by fomad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Dang! 160K! None of the current PA employees use Twitter and could show the rest of the crew how to use it? Kind of an insult to the PA teachers who are grinding away making 60K/year. This person will probably run a few trainings, hold a few meetings with some higher ups, and be ghost!


2 people like this
Posted by fomad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Dang! 160K! None of the current PA employees use Twitter and could show the rest of the crew how to use it? Kind of an insult to the PA teachers who are grinding away making 60K/year. This person will probably run a few trainings, hold a few meetings with some higher ups, and be ghost!


4 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I'm sorry, Palo Alto residents. This sounds like something that could be solved lower budget, as per many of your suggestions.


8 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2014 at 7:38 pm

$160k for someone to tweet from city hall!? WTF!? Another painful example of just how expensive and useless our city govt has become. One thing is for certain, they have WAY too much cash on hand if this is what it's being spent on.

Do you think $160k might be enough to add additional pumping capacity on Page Mill at Alma so it won't flood in the future? Or even chip away at those pesky infrastructure projects that the city govt like to whine about, but never actually does anything about.

Unbelievable.


6 people like this
Posted by swede07
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Gee Whiz..

How did we survive before the social media came to be?
Did we have the vast amount of "extra time" it takes to
log into the social media snoop into who is doing what
and how long that's been going on?

Gee whiz..$160,000 to spend on this foolishness, Palo Alto
city just has too much money and has to discover new ways to
FLUSH that money down the toilet!
What will they discover next?
Hire a High School intern to show you how to tweet or Facebook!


1 person likes this
Posted by Al
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Start advertising these social media websites on the side of police cars and fire trucks. I see them driving and parked around the city. A small decal that you could read from about 10 to 15 feet. Also, most fire stations are on the main streets. Maybe a led sign with updated info in the front yard of these stations. Schools do it.


3 people like this
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm

....another great idea from city manager Keene. Why does local media ( The Weekly) keep supporting Palo Alto city management nonsense without question. Which one of Keene's friends won this contract?


6 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I would say, notwithstanding the ones deleted by the editor, that all 27 posts here are unanimous that this is a huge waste of money and the nadir of idiocy by current leadership.

Web Link

And please note this is separate from the also hiring a former city staff from Half Moon Bay to further help Jim Keene and his "team" get to us at about the same rates (their combined $500,000 not enough, apparently), that I spoke against at public hearing.


2 people like this
Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2014 at 10:54 am

Keene and Staff are using social media to reach out to the so called Silent Majority in Palo Alto. The real majority of residents (who vote) do not support the current Council drive to over build and over spend. So, Staff is reaching out and getting support from employees of Palantir, Tesla, etc. These young twenty somethings are showing up at Council Meetings in droves. They don't live or vote here, but when they are there en mass, Council can justify that the City must meet their needs. We now have a new silent majority that justifies the positions that Staff and the Gang of 400 ram down the throats of Palo Alto citizens.

The role of government is to provide for the healthy, safety and needs of the citizens. The current mob running oour city government provides for their own needs and those of their business interests. The citizens are simply the source of revenue and an inconvenience.

I look forward to the incoming Council turning this around to a more healthy and just purpose.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

A COMPLETE AND UTTER WASTE OF OUR MONEY! A bloody outrage. What was in the head of whomever it was at City Hall that had the idea and secured approval for this pathetic waste of money?! S/he should be fired for egregious waste of public money.

As if anything like a significant number of Palo Altans get their information about the latest nonsense at City Hall from Twitter Feeds, Facebook, or other so-called "Social Media" sites, i.e., garbage dumps.

Someone should follow up on this useless rip off of the public trough.

Planting redwood trees and flowers around town would have been a much more worthwhile way of spending $160K!


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2014 at 11:37 am

City Council Member Pat Burt is cited and quoted in the story as follows:

"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.' "

What a cartload of manure! Does Burt actually believe the stuff he spouts? A "two-way conversation with residents about the city's future"?!!! LOL.

We need "more and better engagement" "than the average community." No facts, just arrogant opinion.

We, the voters of Palo Alto, are ultimately culpable, because we elect people who can get away with such meaningless discourse and such gross wastes of public money of the sort that Burt defends.


2 people like this
Posted by Connections, get your connections here
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 19, 2014 at 11:48 am

Maybe they can hire a $500,000 consultant to integrate these $160,000 social media updates into the $250,000 "living interactive art" in the new $4,600,000 first floor of City Hall.

Of course we need a few "we care about community input" coordinators so our "managers" can go to some more conferences to brag about what a connected city we are.

By the way, how's that "wired" city project going?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

He said – she said – who is lying? Justice Brett Kavanaugh or PA resident Christine Ford
By Diana Diamond | 69 comments | 6,806 views

Let's Talk Internships
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,068 views

Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition
By Douglas Moran | 1 comment | 996 views

Couples: Sex and Connection (Chicken or Egg?)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 941 views

Zucchini Takeover
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 827 views