Site Selectors Comment on Social Media

 

Those of you who have been following my blog posts know that I advocate having a strategic rationale for every media channel choice you make in your communication mix. Don’t be surprised when I repeat that message in Houston at the annual IEDC meeting. I will be participating in a panel discussion moderated by Jim Walton (CEO Brand Acceleration, Inc.) entitled “Audience Driven Economic Development Web Strategies”. Other panel members include Jay Garner (Garner Economics), Eric Canada (Blane Canada) and Anatalio Ubalde (GIS Planning). The discussion will be in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 2nd. I hope you’ll mark it as a concurrent session to attend. If you haven’t registered yet for the meeting, please consider doing so. The agenda looks encouraging.

Social media continues to be a high interest topic within any discussion regarding web strategies. As I was doing some additional background research for the upcoming panel discussion, I came across an article published by GCX that I felt was worth bringing to your attention. GCX conducted a panel discussion that included several site selection consultants. GCX asked a number of questions about the information they use to evaluate location options. One question about social media I found particularly relevant.

EXCERPT

Here is the social media question from that article. The article contains some additional good insights (many confirming in nature) and I think you will enjoy reading it is its entirety.

GCX: Where do community rankings or indicators fit into the research? How about social media sites, especially those posting as to why they like or dislike a community they are living and/or working in?

Caldwell: Community rankings are interesting, but not a part of our analysis. Social media sites are not important for us in analyzing a community. We have face-to-face meetings with business and political leaders in communities that are short listed. This is where we get the information about how the community is working (or not working) together for the advancement of economic development.

Corde: Very rarely do these [components] factor into the decisions. Sometimes for tax comparisons we will use an outside ranking for determining overall tax burden.

Garner: We will not use social media in our searches. We do look at each region’s and communities Web sites and we do read the newspapers online to review issues of concern.

Sweeney: Rankings and indicators are not used much at all, although because of their profile they often have to be addressed due to client exposure to them. Social media sites with community commentary are rarely used by MSC, although that is likely to evolve in the future.

Vranich: I find social media sites to be of little value because so many postings are hugely subjective in nature.

PANELISTS BACKGROUND

Didi Caldwell, senior principal/ partner of Global Location Strategies, Greenville, S.C., www.globallocationstrategies.com

Brian Corde, managing partner, Atlas Insight LLC, Freehold, N.J., www.atlasinsight.com

Jay Garner, CEcD, CCE, president and founder of Garner Economics LLC, Atlanta, www.garnereconomics.com

Mark Sweeney, senior principal, McCallum Sweeney Consulting Inc., Greenville, S.C. , www.mccallumsweeney.com

Joseph Vranich, principal, Spectrum Location Solutions, Irvine, Calif., www.spectrumlocationsolutions.com

MY CONCLUSION (and hopefully yours)

If site selection consultants are your target audience, then based on the feedback from these practitioners, you may want to think long and hard about social media as a viable communication channel to reach them with a compelling message or an advertisement about your community.

Social media will continue to be an evolving tool. As the economic development profession gets more experience with the media channel, its role in helping you get your community’s message out will become clearer. At this point in time, I continue to view social media as unproven and encourage you have reasonable expectations if you include it in your communication mix.

DISCUSSION

What is your experience with social media? Have you found it effective? Are you even trying to measure impact on lead generation? Do you have any examples on what is working and not working? What kind of questions is your Board of Directors asking about the investment you are making in social media? Your feedback will be very helpful to me in preparing my remarks for the IEDC meeting in Houston.

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15 Comments so far

  1. Rod Crider

    July 9, 2012

    Ed-

    It is somewhat astounding to me that some of the leading site selectors do not use social media in their research.

    EMarketer predicts there will be a massive 1.43 billion social network users in 2012, representing a 19.2 percent increase over 2011 figures.

    Booz & Company and Buddy Media found that 96 percent of companies surveyed would be increasing their investments in social media. Advertising and promotions, PR, and customer services were listed as the main uses or benefits but other uses such as market research and recruitment were reported.

    A review of a community Facebook page, for instance, could give them a quick read on emerging issues, priorities and a sense of the community’s culture in a more timely and spontaneous way than a website can provide.

    Nearly every employer does a social media search on potential new hires. Shouldn’t site selectors be proving the same type of research on communities their clients may be considering?

  2. Edward

    July 9, 2012

    Rod – I am not surprised. Site Selectors are contracted to provide an objective assessment of a location. As such, they leverage data bases that provide comparative statistics and provide a level of consistency in evaluating options. Social media is anything but objective (as one of the site selectors indicated) and represents raw data that needs interpretation. There is no real benefit to a site selector’s location assessment to invest the time and energy to process the qualitative information presented by social media channels. And, most site selectors I have spoken with claim they have exceptionally busy schedules and barely enough time to respond to emails. So, it makes practical sense they would not use social media to do their job.

  3. Rod Crider

    July 9, 2012

    Ed-

    I have completed enough RFPs to understand how data driven site selectors are but nearly all location decisions carry some element of subjectivity (i.e., quality of life factors).

    So in order for site selectors to provide a complete assessment of a location, it should include both quantitative and qualitative data. How could a site selector offer a political risk assessment of locating to Greece or Spain, for instance, without using qualitative data?

    And, with 96% of their client base using social media for their own market research purposes, I would think it would be a growing expectation. With the monitoring tools available today, it shouldn’t take much time to carry out this extra step to better inform their clients.

  4. Ed Burghard

    July 9, 2012

    Rod – Your points for why it should/could be used are valid. But, it isn’t to any meaningful degree based on the feedback from these site selection consultants (and others I have spoken to). This may be an area the profession explores over the next few years. In the meantime, today’s reality should be part of tan EDO’s assessment as to whether a strategy to invest in social media as a way to communicate with site selectors makes sense. Given the fact that they frequently use community websites, maybe the dollars would be better invested in improving the quality of info presented there.

  5. Rod Crider

    July 9, 2012

    Food for thought if nothing else. I suspect the views of the site selectors are heavily influenced by their age demographic. They are members of the age group least likely to use social media.

    Linda Burns did a survey that demonstrated social media use by site selectors is still in its infancy stage. As Millennials assume leadership roles, I think this will change.

    I agree that websites currently offer the best bang for the marketing buck. In the meantime, place marketers who want to use social media to connect with site selection influencers should consider how they use each site and build a strategy for each.

    Also, don’t overlook its value in building visibility, increasing participation, and securing funding from local, or internal audiences.

    Thanks for starting the conversation Ed.

  6. Don Holbrook

    July 10, 2012

    The value of social media will not help a community in a site search. But where it does create value is within the concept of an electronic community. As a site location consultant and economic development economist I am somewhat data driven. But I also know that putting a successful deal together depends on the quality of trust that can be developed between myself and the organization’s representative that is constructing their proposal and promises of what they will do for my clients. If you use social media to become a trusted confidant and friend from that perspective you gain two initiatives that could help you in a site search. First, I have a personal relationship with you so I know I can trust you better probably than someone I do not know at all. Second, I will be more aware of your situation and more likely consider your locale if I am looking in your next of the woods. In the end deals go together because of interpersonal relationships and trust in both parties doing what they say they will do.

  7. Charley Bowman

    July 30, 2012

    The comments are not surprising, however, the comment by Jay Garner that he does review regional and community websites. I see many local websites that do not convey an “attitude” of or content for site selection companies.

  8. Jim Walton

    July 31, 2012

    Great article and discussion, Ed. In March, Brand Acceleration conducted a national survey of site selectors and found that the use of social media is growing rapidly. Not surprisingly, the younger site selectors are much more likely to use it. Surprisingly, the fastest-growing age group is 45-55 years of age.

    From our perspective, social media is a very important part of an effective economic development communications plan. We’re not expecting it to be a silver bullet; we just want to engage this audience in useful conversation.

    Overwhelmingly, site selectors admonished communities to use social media to convey useful content, not just community promotions. If all you convey is an endless stream of self-promotion, they’ll tune you out in a heartbeat. Your content must be useful, educational and help them do their job.

    After the recent Google Panda and Penguin updates, content marketing, via social media and other sources, is more important than ever. This is part of what we’ll discuss in the IEDC session you mentioned.

  9. Scott Hall

    July 31, 2012

    Confirmation that we as Economic Development Professionals need to 1) remember who our audiences are, and 2) tailor the messages to each audience. Use of social media can be effective in communicating with existing businesses and/or your local community, but not so much for real estate or site selection communities; it can also be effective with a small business/entrepreneurial development or workforce development program. Accolades mean a lot to elected officials and ED offices come budget time, and to employees looking to relocate, but so many of them are so obscure and questionable that they really are irrelevant in the overall scheme of things, imho.
    1 hour ago • Delete • Flag as promotion 0

  10. Linda H. DiMario

    July 31, 2012

    Ed,

    Here’s my read on this matter: I think these consultants are human! They are absolutely using hard data and face-to-face meetings because they are professionals and to suggest otherwise makes them look less professional. However, they are also being influenced – just as we all are – by thousands of impressions everyday. While social media as a form of influence is not high on the list right now, it has its place in the ground game. The more people on the ground speaking well of their home town or place of business, the more people creating and generating good word-of-mouth, the more “buzz” out in the universe about a particular city – the higher the probability that the site selector will be asked to check it out by their client. It is just human nature!

  11. Spalding

    July 31, 2012

    I am an Economic Devt. Marketing Constultant and Community Branding specialist who also has been a site selector in my past life. Ed and the panelists did not completely surprise me because those people in a corporation or represent a corporation have to justify their recommendations and those recommendations have to be based on facts.

    We need to understand the audiences that each SM medium reaches or engages. Facebook is very subjective and was designed to be just thjat so it is not really a good source of objective information. It can be an addendum to a city’s website but it also helps in tourism and reatail traffic plus it helps improve one’s SEO results. However, blogs can be a very important tool as a means of relaying information in more detail than one can or should put on one’s websites. It can be used as a stand alone marketing piece, an adjunct to, or summation of, a community’s newsletter and, just as newspapers have done for years, be an editorial. However, just as one of you pointed out, SM (including Twitter and Pinterest) is a good tool for informing residents of what’s going on in their community and helps community leaders gather support for political and funding purposes.

  12. Ed Burghard

    July 31, 2012

    Linda – Given a limited promotional budget, where would investing in social media be on your list of priorities?

  13. Matt Fox

    August 1, 2012

    Is it better to focus the SM on your local community/region and have it be served as a business retention tool and perhaps work with your chamber and tourism council for a joint SM presence? I think that by serving the local community and gaining their active use and discussions it will benefit everyone. The region will have a voice for discussing issues and when a site selector either researches SM online or through discussion face-to-face, they will find a community that does care about striving to be better. Again though, as many have mentioned SM can be very unpredictable as to the direction (self serving) or the comments that are promoted by others.

  14. […] might be a stretch to see these people as “social”. Just as another data point for reference, Global Corporate Expansion published an article  about a panel discussion of site selectors use of social media. The panel sentiment was less than […]

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