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Social media to social distancing: Mayor Cantrell taps local influencers to communicate COVID-19

When it's time to get the message out, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has enlisted the help of multiple local social media influencers to help spread the word -- one that's come in handy during the COVID-19 epidemic.

by Chelsea Brasted
April 14, 2020

The video starts, a jaunty tune in the background, and Trixie Minx waves a big white fan of ostrich feathers toward the camera.

“While normally I’m in the business of accentuating curves,” she says, her hand a flourish toward a sparkling corset, “today, we’re going to talk about how to flatten them.”

It’s a cute, cheeky appeal for social distancing, asking for New Orleanians to stick together by staying apart. And it’s coming straight from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s verified Twitter account, by way of a New Orleans burlesque dancer.

If you were to scroll through Cantrell’s social media accounts from the recent weeks, you’d see what’s come to be the usual scenes of press conferences and medical updates about COVID-19.

But you’d also see, peppered throughout, are PSAs like that from Trixie Minx, a reposted message from singer Tonya Boyd Cannon calling the pandemic a “critical moment” in our city’s history and even a live set from Gallier Hall with DJ Raj Smoove. Social media and cultural influencers, artists, musicians and other performers have all gotten retweeted, shared and reposted by the mayor’s accounts.

It’s not by accident.

Social messages from social influencers

Leaning on a “social media influencer roundtable” that came together in November, Cantrell’s team has looked to amplify local leaders’ messages throughout the pandemic by partnering with these influencers. And, according to Cantrell’s social media director Eileen Carter, it’s working.

“If we can get someone you trust to say ‘hey, this is where you can find trusted information,’ it’s more likely they’ll look there again,” Carter said.

Carter arranged the first meeting of this group, which she described as an informal collective of musicians, artists, influencers and local business leaders, well before the pandemic threatened the health of New Orleans residents and visitors. During it, she said, Cantrell and the influencers discussed what services the city already offered or could offer to directly help their followers like, for example, hooking up artist Brandan “B-Mike” Odums with the Office of Cultural Economy.

“Meeting people where they are…”

The connections made during that meeting, Carter said, kicked off a relationship that helped broaden the mayor’s social media audience to, later, help spread the word about necessary healthcare information during the pandemic.

 

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“It was really difficult to get the information to certain communities, especially in the African-American community, when we thought misinformation was being spread that black Americans ‘can’t get’ the coronavirus,” Carter said. “The mayor’s big thing is to meet people where they are: If I can get trusted information to you on your phone, then it’s just very helpful.”

Carter said she’s reached out to these influencers with specific messages and bullet-point details, but that then gets filtered by the artists, performers and business people for their own audiences. The prime example? Dee-1’s “Corona Clap,” which has more than 550,000 YouTube views.

“We oftentimes have a loudspeaker and an amplifier that is greater than that of politicians, or at least as big as them, so now, understanding the power of our voice and influence, I’m all for that, so I told the mayor, always feel free to reach out to me and just to keep me on the same page about what we need the city to know,” said Dee-1, who was in the November meeting alongside Odums, 5th Ward Weebie and VIP Hair founder Ashanti Lation. “If I’m able to reach people through my platform and my voice and my unique style, I would love to.”

 

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Though Trixie Minx wasn’t in that original group, she found herself looking for ways to help in the first days after the city began enforcing social distancing. As a performer, it only felt natural to use her humor and penchant for entertaining to help spread the word.

“It’s been nice to be recognized by the mayor and the people in government that, myself and other performers, are valid parts of the culture and fabric of our unique community,” Trixie Minx said. “And we are able to help in a time of crisis, even if it’s just reading information.”

Chelsea Brasted is a New Orleans-born journalist and a West Banker by choice. She most recently served as The Times-Picayune's city columnist. You can follow Chelsea's work on Twitter and Facebook, and you can contact her through her website, ChelseaBrasted.com.

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