Leveraging the Web – Case Study

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The following is a guest blog post from Stuart Mease, Special Projects Coordinator, City of Roanoke Virginia. Stuart has been leveraging both the Internet and social media as an important communication channel in the Roanoke economic development marketing plan. In this blog post, Stuart shares his experience and general observations about interactive tactics. I hope you enjoy the post and take time to share your appreciation by leaving a comment. If you would like to submit a guest blog post, simply email it to me (Ed Burghard) at eburghard@mac.com. I would like to thank Stuart for taking the time to contribute his knowledge.


The Web and Economic Development

Social media and internet marketing have recently consumed people’s attention and time. Organizations are quickly trying to determine how they can use it to achieve goals and objectives. The City of Roanoke’s Office of Economic Development has been using these technologies for the last few years in its overall strategy.

Roanoke subscribes to a three-prong, diversified approach to economic development focusing on traditional, place and people-based forms of economic development. The Internet has created a level-playing field for small cities constrained by geographical and transportation barriers, but can now more effectively compete and communicate to a larger audience via the Web. As a result, Internet marketing and specifically, social media marketing via Web 2.0 – or as Robert Scoble calls it “The 2010 Web” – has been used to generate buzz about our community.

Here is how Roanoke has incorporated Scoble’s guidance.

Traditional ED

From a traditional economic development perspective, the City has worked with firms like Chmura Economics and Analytics who have created its Jobs EQ technology by compiling large amounts of data from government database using feeds and packaging the data for easy analysis and dissemination to existing businesses.

Additionally, the use of ZoomProspector.com – the Google search for site selectors – also incorporates similar technology to break down the geographical barriers with its mapping of data and incorporating existing technology found with Google Street View.

“The rise of the Internet has completely changed the way that marketing of everything is done now and economic development is no exception,” said Stephen Browne, VP of Sales, ZoomProspector.com. “Internet search engines like Google harnessed the power of internet search technology to market almost anything and now specialized search engines like eBay, eHarmony and realtor.com have come along to do the same for specific markets. We believe that ZoomProspector.com is doing the same for economic development.”

Place ED

Fwix founder Darian Sharazi responded to a simple email request about including Roanoke, VA in its new online regional aggregator of online content. The site takes feeds and tags of region-specific content from other online communities and blogs and pulls it together, linking to application like Twitter, to create the 2010 Web version of a newspaper. At the time he added Roanoke, there were only 10 cities. People were going to the site and seeing Roanoke, VA compared to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. It was so unusual people began to inquire about this Roanoke, VA. Said Sharazi, “Roanoke has been intentional in using cutting-edge technologies to position their business, educational and government sectors.”

Additionally, hanging out online at places like city-data.com, whoisyourcity.com, bestplaces.net, craigslist, wikipedia and submitting positive information about the region as it related to people wanting to move to the area or a business doing research on a community for a relocation became a daily ritual boosting overall search engine optimization (SEO).

The establishment of sites like MyRoanokeStory.com, MyScoper.com, RoanokeNights.com, in addition to pitching local bloggers about our region was also helpful in generating good search results about Roanoke.

Without a budget for paid SEO, the organic approach was used and as a result was seen as much more authentic than paid search. As a result of this online identity, the office was contacted by a Providence, RI newspaper about some of the economic development programs and when asked how they heard about the innovative programs, the journalist said Roanoke kept coming up in his search results, so “I had to call you.”

People ED

In 2007, in order to be on Facebook, a user had to have a “dot edu” email address. Coming from Virginia Tech, I had an account. Before fan pages one could not promote and organization, region or business, but from a personal account, the City of Roanoke logo was added to the profile. As a result, The City immediately received brand recognition among one of its target audiences – recent college graduates. We held a number of programs and events using Facebook to help spread the message. That first-mover advantage went away when it was opened up to all people and others began to see the power of Facebook.

Additionally, our organic SEO had worked to our advantage for our Roanoke Connect database, which matches job seekers to employers. The site amassed 4000 unsolicited registrants coming from 46 states who wanted to be in Roanoke. We directly or indirectly connected over 100 people to jobs in the region.

One of those employers Moseley Real Estate Schools just consolidated offices from around the commonwealth of Virginia to Roanoke and quickly needed to hire people for the fast-growing small business.

“We have found this unique database to be extremely helpful in targeting and hiring candidates who want to be in Roanoke,” said President of Moseley Real Estate Schools, Guyon Moseley.

Additionally, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and FriendFeed have all been used as a source for open communication among current and perspective Roanokers.

Overall with each of our-three-pronged approaches we have been intentional in incorporating new technologies in how we do economic development in Roanoke. This 2010 Web is no different from the 1990 web, the 1980 fax machine, telephone, television, etc. It’s another technology that must be embraced and ingrained into the comprehensive economic development strategy of a community.

If you would like to discuss how your community can embrace the Web in its economic development strategy, then contact me.

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