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Missouri to use social media ‘influencers’ to promote virus safety

Missouri to use social media ‘influencers’ to promote virus safety

Reining in Big Tech giants

JEFFERSON CITY — Coming soon to an Instagram or Twitter feed near you: Social media influencers promoting coronavirus prevention measures on behalf of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

As part of a new effort to spread the message about safety precautions people can take during the pandemic, the governor reviewed a list of prospective influencers last week who would be tasked with reminding people to practice social distancing measures, wash their hands and wear a mask when out in the public.

Missouri Department of Economic Development spokeswoman Maggie Kost said the individuals will not receive compensation.

“The ask is pretty simple; we would like their help encouraging Missourians to take basic precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and get us all back to the things we love,” Kost said.

Among those on the list to be approached for the project was St. Louis native Andy Cohen, a Clayton High School graduate who hosts a late night television show on the Bravo network. (A spokesperson for Cohen said Sunday he would not participate.)

TikTok star Nickolas Ray, a Missouri native with 1.7 million followers, also has been asked, as has Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly on “The Office.” She was raised in the St. Louis area, graduated from Truman State University and has 3.1 million Instagram followers.

Other possibilities include St. Louis Cardinals great Ozzie Smith and Kansas City Royals Manager Mike Matheny, Kost said.

The marketing campaign is just one piece of the administration’s response to the devastating health and economic effects of the coronavirus, which has zapped thousands of jobs and killed more than 2,800 Missourians.

Missouri isn’t alone in tapping high-profile figures on social media to try to reach as many eyeballs as possible.

In the United Kingdom, tax dollars paid a handful of reality television stars to promote a contact tracing program that was failing to achieve results amid the pandemic. Finland also has tapped influencers to try to help contain the virus.

Some cities have test-driven the idea.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined forces with the city’s professional sports teams in the early days of the outbreak to announce a campaign called “We’re Not Playing,” aimed at pushing residents to continue staying home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Missouri’s plan was developed with the assistance of the McChrystal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm that is being paid more than $1 million in federal stimulus money to help the state craft a response to the pandemic.

The firm, which was founded by retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has embedded at least 11 contractors inside state government.

A review of more than 200 briefing documents obtained through a Sunshine Law request shows top agency officials meeting routinely to divide responsibilities for distributing a vaccine, creating a website to track the spread and educating the public about the virus.

Parson has received criticism for bringing in an outside consultant to assist his aides, but the governor has defended the move, calling the assistance “valuable.”

The documents provide a behind-the-scenes view of how the pandemic has taken various department heads and division chiefs away from their usual tasks in order to focus on mustering state resources to fight the spread and promote an economic recovery that is still underway.

Among top aides involved in what is called a “fusion cell” are state Medicaid director Todd Richardson, who formerly served as speaker of the House, and Parson’s chief operating officer, Drew Erdmann.

Despite the scramble, Missouri has been adding cases at a faster rate in recent weeks.

The additional 2,043 positive cases reported Sunday marked the 19th day in October that the state has recorded more than 1,000 new cases. The state’s positive test rate for the past seven days stood at 21.9% on Sunday.

The marketing campaign on social media comes as the administration recently amended a contract with an advertising company to spend $2.5 million on advertising Parson’s economic recovery plan.

The revised contract allows the company, Elasticity LLC, to pre-buy airtime through the end of the year. In previous years, the St. Louis-based firm was paid no more than a total of $1.1 million for its work, state payroll records show.

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