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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