Harness The Voice of Your Community

Ed BurghardIn past posts, I have challenged the choice of using social media as a communication channel to promote your community to capital investment decision makers. The basic principle underlying that challenge is the need to preferentially invest your limited communication budget in channels where your target audience is active and is seeking the type of information you are providing. I continue to be highly skeptical that social media is (at this time) a reliable choice to communicate with CEOs. There are simply not a sufficient number of CEOs engaged in social media channels. And those who are engaged in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (or other social media channels) are not seeking information about locations for capital investment, so the probability of your messaging actually catching their attention and interest is low.

However, I do believe social media is an interesting tactical choice to communicate with the people in your community. Social media can be a cost effective way to inform and enroll these citizens in the vision for your community development. They can contribute to your communication efforts by raising the volume of your messaging when they share news with their social networks (online and off-line). When you consider that companies and entrepreneurs already living in your community will create the majority of new jobs, it is not difficult to imagine that a positive buzz can translate into a return on your investment.

Let’s take a look at the logic flow for a social media effort designed to harness the voice of your community.

Who is Your Target Audience?

Citizens of your community interested in understanding and playing an active role in helping you improve the overall business climate and economic performance.

What is Your Strategic Objective?

Leverage the collective community voice to amplify the volume of your core promotional messaging.

Where Should You Consider Communicating With Your Target?

The goal is to ensure your community is informed of the great things that are happening and feel excited and empowered to act as “connectors” and share their take on your news with their personal network. Done well, the added voices of your community can help you create a much louder positive buzz. It is an opportunity to educate/inform interested citizens about what you are doing and why. Once informed, they will be in a better position to comment on and disseminate the information broadly.

There are a number of social media channels you can consider. In this post, I am only going to focus on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. They are three popular channels you will typically find the citizens in your community are using frequently. My goal is not to discuss the pros and cons, but rather to provide you examples of how communities are using the channels today.

Facebook – This is a communication channel that many communities are taking advantage of Knoxville, TN; Cleveland, OH; Boston, MA; Philadelphia, PA and Pittsburgh, PA are good examples of how Facebook is currently being utilized to engage citizens. To get even greater value from their effort, these cities can adopt a practice of routinely posting local business success stories and encourage sharing of thoughts about why their cities are a great place to live and work. Facebook is a great place to experiment with tactics like contests and other concepts for engaging people in creative ways. You can also use a Facebook page for public service announcements like Montgomery County in Rockville, MD does. Or sharing events like the City of Orlando, or even conduct market research like Fairfax County in Virginia.

LinkedIn – This is a great choice to reach the business members in your community. Like Facebook, a number of communities are experimenting with LinkedIn. There is a wide range of approaches that you can study to decide which direction might be most appropriate for your community. For example, Chicago shares information about its officials. Toronto, Ontario uses their LinkedIn page to share links to blog posts. The City of Chicago, IL has also created a group titled “City of Chicago Alumni Network” to keep in touch with people who once lived in their community. Boston, MA has created a group to promote networking within their community.

Twitter – The city of Calgary, Alberta does a nice job using Twitter to share news. New York City, NY tweets under their “I Love New York” campaign. Elk Grove, CA uses tweets to inform and engage citizens about committee activity and opportunities to get involved. Even the Federal Government is experimenting with Twitter to communicate with citizens. The State Department’s Public Liaison Office has a Twitter account, as does the State Department itself, and U.S. Commerce Department , and even the EDA.

My Counsel – Be Strategic

I think social media offers promise as an effective communication tool for speaking to and engaging citizens in your community. But, like any channel choice you need to be strategic in your approach. It is okay to experiment as long as you proactively learn and make improvements as required; and, if you keep your eye on both your investment and return. Costs associated with social media will primarily be a redirection of your overhead costs rather than a typical program cost. You will need to keep track of how much time your staff is devoting to supporting a social media effort and what opportunity costs you may be incurring because other work is being deprioritized. Contrary to popular belief, social media is anything but free.

Learn from other communities. Consider reaching out to companies in your community and seek their expertise. Chances are several have been experimenting with social media and will have great insights that can help you avoid costly mistakes. If you have any Board members who work at a local Advertising Agency, definitely seek their counsel.

Whatever you do…be purposeful.

Your Thoughts?

What role is social media playing in your communication plan?  What success have you had?  What failures have disappointed you?  Are you measuring cost and ROI?  I look forward to hearing about your experience.

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9 Comments so far

  1. David Birchler

    October 25, 2011

    The only use of social media I have seen, designed to promote investment, is Hatch Detroit. http://hatchdetroit.com/. Co-founders, Nick Gorga and Ted Balowski use what they call “Crowd Entrepreneurship” to decide where to invest the non-profit’s money. The funds come from donors, who also vote for their favorite start-up business entered in the current contest. The donors all receive discounted products and/or services from the winning business in the current contest. The co-founders receive no financial benefit from the non-profit organization.

    This crowd entrepreneurship idea appears to be very popular with young Detroiters who have moved back to the city with the intention of making a difference. I applaud their efforts and hope many more young, bright minds are attracted to the Detroit metro region as a result of their unique, entrepreneurial ideas.

  2. John Marshall

    October 25, 2011

    Social media also includes blogs, Youtube, and press releases to name a few. When used correctly, all of these assets can have a powerful effect on SEO, as well as put you in the conversation with site selectors, business owners, and community leaders.

  3. Larry Porter

    October 26, 2011

    All Social Media tactics are strategic choices that should fit into the context of an overall marketing strategy. Choice of channels, tactics, and content are determined by the target audience “buyer personna”. If your audience isn’t social, then other channels may yield better ROI, However a recent marketingsherpa.com statistic states that 81% of online adults use social media and 86% of technology buyers use some form of social media. I am sure that other industries use SM use for business and information purposes.

    If a specific business audience is not social yet, then I think it will come and it would be advantageous to have a strategy and expertise in place to respond. In B2B marketing I find Linkedin and Twitter are more focused. I find the combination of personal and business uses confusing on Facebook and have stopped liking companies as their feeds create too much clutter. (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be valuable for other businesses).

  4. Beau Parry

    November 2, 2011

    Social media can be an incredible sink of time if not properly conducted with a good game plan. But just as the automobile became a necessary tool that changed our economic structure and the way we earned income, the SOCIAL MEDIA REVOLUTION is real and not going anywhere. Let’s not forget the data mining side that is the cash cow that works just like TV commercial ads during the Superbowl. These companies want users and eyeballs, and where they have those, brands can be pushed and a new digital ecosphere now exists. No reasonable human would deny the need for face-to-face and real human interaction, but most users forget what truly drives SOCIAL MEDIA and thats the people sharing their voices, helping it evolve each day. Other uses: Smart employers leverage Social Media as HR tools. An individual seeking a job with a solid social media presence can augment his/her credibility and proof of accomplishment. And thus we return to the question at hand, TIME. It is, like anything else in life, what you make of it.

  5. Linda Armsey

    November 2, 2011

    Like many things you can rule social media or social media can rule you. I haven’t reached a balance just yet. Nothing can replace face-to-face but that’s not always possible or practical. My biggest problem is understanding just what the potential of LinkedIn is. (Facebook I can take or leave.) It seems to me that until the majority of members are committed or forced to understanding how to use the medium, LinkedIn will be a frustration/nusance to many.

  6. We’ve discovered the active voice that social media has in our world. Not only does it build relationships and trust through dialogue and interaction, it provides a multi-faceted approach to building online presence and credibility. We have a website that we continually update, along with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Each of these venues has a specific reach and audience, and all work together to keep our customers and employees in touch and in tune with what we’re doing as a company. We believe that social media is here to stay as a viable tool for your business!

  7. […] contrary. On the other hand, if you are an economic development professional who wants to create a dialogue with the citizens in your community, I think Facebook may be a great […]

  8. […] published my observations on strategies that make sense, as support for an EDO investing is a social media effort. In this post, I’d like to share […]

  9. […]   […]

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