27 May 2014

The 5 "musts" of social media for economic development

Alissa Sklar is the director of marketing for GIS Planning. She has extensive experience as a consultant, writer and educator in the fields of technology and communications. Dr. Sklar has a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Massachusetts of Amherst, and has as worked closely with B2Bs and economic development agencies to assess, develop and implement social media strategies for business development.

Social media for economic developmentMost economic development organizations have recognized the enormous potential of social media for place marketing, boosting their SEO (search engine optimization) and engagement. Many start (quite logically and appropriately) with LinkedIn, as that network is specifically designed for business interaction. From there, many often branch out from there to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Flickr.

As I follow them on these different accounts, I’ve noticed some broad patterns in how their feeds are managed. Some have become accomplished experts at disseminating useful, interesting and relevant information to tell the stories of their locations, others are still fine-tuning their voices online, experimenting with different kinds of content. That’s to be expected as we all collectively determine an emerging set of best practices for these new media.

Many more, however, appear to struggle in figuring out what to say. Many open accounts but abandon them or leave them dormant for long periods of time, often ignoring comments, mentions and shoutouts.  That’s worse then not having an account at all - the online equivalent of not answering your phone, or leaving your store unattended when prospective customers come to call. If you aren’t able to maintain a social media account for any extended amount of time, it’s preferable to suspend it or at very least leave a notice advising visitors that it’s temporarily inactive.

If you are committed to maintaining one or more social media accounts, here are 5 “musts” for your updates and posts:

1) Balance “owned” content with lots of “earned.” It’s your feed, and you can post what you want, but too many dry, self-serving marketing messages won’t accomplish much. “Earned” content has an intrinsic value to readers, because it’s interesting, entertaining, useful or provocative. “Owned” content may make the higher-ups happy (if they don’t know much about social media), but it’s the “earned” content that will keep people coming back for more, drive up your follower numbers and encourage engagement. ChooseNJ has been very active on social media, and post a wide variety of focused and general interest updates about the state of New Jersey. On the left, you can see an item of wide appeal that boosts local content.

2) Feature available sites and properties. As an economic development organization, this is some of the most important information you have to offer. Take advantage of your location analysis application to feature available land and buildings - every day or even once a week. ZoomProspector clients can link directly to a property report, so followers can see all the relevant details along with photos and realtor contact information. This will also make your regional real estate brokers happy, because you are driving more qualified leads their way. The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis has been doing this regularly since they launched DowntownSTLProperties.org, as you can see in this example.

3) Tell the stories of your location. Our brains are hard-wired to appreciate narratives. Tell us about your home-grown business successes. Profile your entrepreneurs. Take us through the changes that saw a local business in a declining industry reinvent themselves for a digital age. Write up the beginning to end story of a company who chose to expand into your location. These can be written up as case studies, blog posts, short videos or even one-paragraph summaries, accompanied with a picture and a link back to their website. Your local business community will appreciate the exposure and support, you will build rapport and appeal to potential investors. This LinkedIn update from MEDC showcases a business celebrating their 125th anniversary.

4) Post pictures and video. The single most important thing you can do to boost impressions and encourage engagement is to include pictures and videos, along with descriptive text. Readers quickly scan feeds, and images are far more likely than text to capture our attention. You can use free tools like Skitch or Jing to capture screenshots, use site and property images from brokers, ask business owners for pictures of their businesses, facilities or products. Free images can be had on Flickr if you specify Creative Commons images in the Advanced Search field, and you can always buy inexpensive stock photos from the many services available online. Be sure to include text descriptions with keywords, since most people use words on search engines to find what they are seeking. This example from the City of Scottsdale, AZ shows how a video can be leveraged on Twitter.

5) Use numbers strategically. Short posts with data insights get attention. Have the numbers of college educated workers gone up in your region in the past five years? Have employment figures improved? Is there a new development zone, industrial park or tax incentive in your region? Post facts & figures about your data to get people’s attention. In this LinkedIn post, the Greater Halifax Partnership uses both data and an attractive chart to showcase important information about their region.

GIS Planning is committed to supporting our clients' efforts online and off. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter (@GISPlanning @ZoomProspector and @SizeUpBusiness) and Facebook (GIS Planning, ZoomProspector and SizeUp) to stay on top of news, trends in economic development and helpful tips. 


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