TAMPA — Inside the studios of Front Row Tampa Bay — a live Internet show promoting the region's business community — the flurry of guests cycled through nonstop. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Dale McClellan, who was recently voted Florida's Farmer of the Year.
The action in a colorful, soft-lit room outside the studio was just as intense as dozens of guests, politicians and business leaders mingled.
Joe Hice of Moffitt Cancer Center was happy to have face time with Buckhorn and Republican National Convention kingpin Al Austin, as well as executives with other area hospitals. "Look around," Hice said, pointing to former Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, now head of lobbying giant Associated Industries of Florida. "There's a lot of networking."
Front Row Tampa Bay, organized by the Tampa Bay Partnership, is finishing its four-day run. It is airing four hours a day from a theater complex in the Channelside District, angling to grab some of the spotlight the RNC is shining on Tampa.
So far, the experiment has had relatively few glitches. A couple of guests had to be shuffled or replaced because of Tropical Storm Isaac. The show was running about nine minutes behind schedule Wednesday. And a planned Skype interview with an aquaculture expert in a conference in Prague in the Czech Republic was scaled back to a live, phone conversation.
But setbacks have been minor compared to the payoff in positive promotion and networking.
One floor up from the studio in the "Social Media Command Center," volunteers were going one step further in pushing positive messages as they monitored Twitter conversations about Tampa Bay. Grumble in a tweet that there's no good place to eat in #TampaBay and one of the 50 volunteers working shifts in the command center is there to offer helpful suggestions.
With one day remaining in the experiment, organizers say they're enthused by the numbers:
• On Tuesday, the live stream video counted more than 4,900 unique visitors from 39 countries, up from 3,800 visitors on Monday.
• About 100 people a day have been in the studio audience since Front Row kicked off Monday.
• The social media center sent out about a thousand pro-Tampa tweets, plus many more re-tweets of happy convention-goers.
Doug McClain, vice president of marketing and communications with Tampa Bay & Co., said his Twitter team was monitoring thousands of conversations, trying to filter out chatter about politics and protests. Monitors examined Twitter profiles to weed out trolls and protesters who are trying to insinuate themselves into the conversation and collect followers, though they may have a broader, negative message.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.