Social Media Growing in Importance in Economic Development

A recent survey of economic development professionals conducted by DCI and the IEDC indicates that LinkedIn is seen as the most valuable social media tool in communicating with individuals outside their Region. LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site founded in December 2002 and launched in May 2003 mainly used for professional networking. As of July 2009, it had more than 43 million registered users, spanning 170 industries. Facebook is being used primarily to communicate with individuals inside their Region.

It is interesting to see how the utilization of social media is evolving in economic development. There is a lot yet to learn about how to create a virtual window into a location that lets others get a genuine picture of what it is like to live and work there. But, the possibility to do so offers an exciting potential to connect with capital investment decision makers and key influencers in a way that can provide an important competitive advantage for locations that master social media in their place marketing mix.

Here are a few of my key take-aways from reading the study data:

  • Most ED organizations are just getting their feet wet with social media. The report indicated 93% of respondent organizations have used social media for less than 2-years. Once more ED organizations have used social media longer, advice on the best way to leverage the communication channel will be available.
  • Social Media use in ED is likely to grow in the next couple years. The majority of ED respondents (51%) indicate social media will become very-to-most important in their place communication efforts. This is great news, because more and more success models will be created that you will be able to reapply locally.
  • ED organizations using social media have a person on staff accountable for managing it. Only 2% of respondents had a fully dedicated staff person, 77% assigned accountability to a staff member as one of their responsibilities versus their sole responsibility. I think creating an internal expertise on social media is a key to successfully leveraging it in your place communication mix.
  • There is an opportunity for the ED community to get more knowledge on the use of video to communicate a location’s benefits. The study indicated only 18% of respondents use video frequently. However, a study recently conducted by Forbes Magazine entitled “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite: How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information” indicates 58% of C-Suite executives view video content on the web from several times a week to daily. One study reviewer concludes, “When you’re dealing with complex concepts, it’s sometimes better to stop talking and just use a video. It’s very much a picture being worth a thousand words.” Communicating why a location is the ideal choice for capital investment is certainly a complex challenge, so video may in fact play a very important role in how the ED community leverages social media in the future. Time will tell.

If you would like to view a summary of the study results, it is available for download from the DCI website. If you are attending the IEDC Annual meeting this year in Reno, Nevada, you may want to spend seek out some of the DCI staff in attendance and chat with them about the study and their observations on how social media is being used effectively in economic development. Another person you might want to catch up with is Mark James of ED Solutions. Mark has a plethora of social media knowledge that he can share. I routinely follow Mark on Twitter and find his insights extremely valuable. Of course, feel free to reach out to me if you like. I’ll be at the IEDC meeting and would be more than happy to share my perspective with you.

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