How to use social media for economic development
(Originally published July 3, 2019, updated and republished February 14, 2022.)
Since we often hear the phrase “tourism is the front door to economic development,” we began thinking about how social media and digital marketing can grow prosperity by both attracting new businesses, and helping the ones you already have.
Our interest in this topic is also a natural outgrowth of our continuing educational work with a variety of Main Street and downtown development organizations.
(If you’re not in economic development yourself, please forward this link to your colleagues who are – thanks!)
Why social media for economic development? Here are a few reasons:
- For real-time conversations with the people you want to reach.
- To build relationships with prospects.
- For business recruitment and talent attraction, and
- To help your online visibility, SEO, and online reputation management.
What follows are our own ideas, plus input from two colleagues who are experts in economic development.
1) Be as Impressive Online as Offline
If you think investors, site selectors, entrepreneurs, workforce talent, developers, and other prospects are judging your online activities….you are correct.
A weak, mediocre online presence (including on your social accounts) sends a signal that you do not value modern tech-based communications enough to invest time and resources to it. It says that a strong online reputation is not a priority for your town.
This may not be the signal you intend to send, but that is how it is often received. These days, we Google our dates, our restaurants, and the places that we are thinking about traveling or moving to, so you can bet that people are Googling your town before deciding to do business there.
First things first. Make sure that your team has a laser focus on your audience(s). It’s no use doing a bunch of online communication if you can’t precisely describe who you’re trying to communicating with, and for what purpose.
Obviously that can get a little tricky when you want to both:
- Grow and support your own entrepreneurs and businesses that are already in town, and also,
- Look outward to businesses, site selectors, etc. who are NOT already in town.
Think about how you want to connect with each of those types of audiences, and what you can do for each of them.
Remember that being effective on social media means engaging with people and interacting – not just broadcasting – especially when you get a direct shout-out with a tag or mention.
Do not ignore the social media telephone when it rings.
No one wins at this by having the best chatbot, or by “setting and forgetting.” The best, most responsive and authentic human interaction wins, as it does offline.
Here is our specific advice about social media for economic development….with our usual caveat that it’s better to do well on one channel where most of your audiences spend their time, than to spread yourself out across a bunch of them without a plan, and then fail to run any of them properly.
a) We are big fans of a blog on your website. It is a powerful way to help your SEO, and you have total control over telling your story. However, you may not need one – at least not right away – IF your website is easy to navigate and most information can be found on the pages under various categories/tabs. Do tell your website designer that you’d like to have the blog option available in the future, though.
Using either website pages or blog posts, make sure that you have quality content that answers each of the top 5-10 questions you get from your audience/markets, like,
- What’s going on with your workforce development
- Available land or buildings
- Project wins and awards
- Area/regional business news
- Community spirit, arts, and cultural assets
- Transportation and infrastructure information/improvements. (Also include what internet services and speeds are available. It’s always been important, but now it’s a top priority.)
Think through how you can tell your business stories visually, including 360 video and turning data into interesting infographics.
Related post – 10 Main Street and economic development blog post ideas
b) LinkedIn will probably be your primary social media platform. You may need to decide if your team or EDC (Economic Development Corporation) will set up a stand-alone LinkedIn Page, or if you should start a Showcase Page sub-page under your city or Chamber’s LI Page.
Make sure that everyone on your economic development team has an updated, active personal LinkedIn profile that is connected back to the correct Page. (Here is our advice about LinkedIn Page best practices and here is an example of a solid EDC LinkedIn Page.)
c) A YouTube channel is a easy way to “park” your informational videos for long-term SEO benefits.
Pay attention to keywords in your video titles and descriptions, and set up topic-specific playlists. If you upload video to other social media like Facebook, make sure to re-purpose it by also posting the file on YouTube.
Neon Cloud Productions even makes economic development entertaining, with videos that make “Available Land and Sites” come alive…
d) An active Facebook Page might make sense if you have the resources to do it well and keep it engaging. A Facebook Page allows you to easily tag and highlight local business partners, because many of them will not have a LinkedIn Page.
You can share CVB/DMO and Main Street “quality of life” FB posts, plus set up a tab for people to sign up for your email list right from your Page.
Consider setting up a private Facebook Group for your economic development partners; this makes it simple to network and quickly share news and tips.
e) Use Twitter as a way to plug into #econdev news, #BuiltHeritage discussions, to network, and to connect with your audiences in a low-key way. Be active on conference and expo hashtags when you attend events. Before starting a brand account, though, make sure whoever runs it is personally comfortable and reasonably competent on Twitter.
f) We are seeing a surprising amount of economic development activity on Instagram, including on the #econdev hashtag. It is also easy to share appropriate CVB/DMO and Main Street Instagram posts if you have a brand Instagram account. Try different types of IG posts: simple photo, photo carousel, a Story, regular video, or a Reel.
g) Keep an eye on podcasts, including those which might welcome you as a guest.
- Talking Headways focused on transportation, urban design, and economic development
- Getting Neighborly, a podcast about economic development and community in Fairview, Texas (population about 9,000)
- The EconDev Show
- Develop This: Economic and Community Development
- Site Selectors Guild podcast
Don’t forget to monitor your website Google Analytics so you’ll know which social channels are sending you traffic, and which ones convert best on your site.
Take advantage of social advertising to tell very specific audiences about your opportunities; it’s particularly easy and cost-effective on Facebook, and LinkedIn ad targeting has improved in recent months.
Use offline signage – including any empty store windows – to post your social media account information and encourage people to follow and interact with you there.
2) Advice from Alysia Cook, Opportunity Strategies
(At Opportunity Strategies, economic development expert Alysia Cook specializes in strategic planning, customized workshops for things like Board of Director and Chamber of Commerce development, and professional facilitation services.)
Here are Alysia’s tips….
“1. I’m getting an extraordinary amount of reach on LinkedIn using hashtags. When I use the #econdev or #leadership or #chamber (and others) on LinkedIn, I get hundreds more people reading my content, and significantly more comments. There’s no other way to explain my expanded exposure on that platform.
2. Showcase your available properties and buildings more. Photos, videos, footprints, drone footage, etc. Include prices. Everything is negotiable, but don’t list “negotiable” as your price; either list the price or don’t. Make the viewer envision his/her business prospering right there.
3. Include a map on every single thing you post. From a U.S. perspective, people all over the world know where the U.S. is, but they don’t know where your town is in the country. If you live in Texas, Florida, or California, they may recognize the shape and location of your state, but if you’re in one of the other 47 states, indicate your city AND your state on a U.S. map. This map advice applies to other nations as well, of course.
(Note from Leslie and Sheila – we shot a quick 90 second video recently about the importance of maps in tourism, ICYMI 👇👇. Thank you to our impromptu videographer Aaron with Maryland Milestones – Anacostia Trails Heritage Area.)
4. Share testimonials from your happy business owners and managers. Have an inventory of 20+ quotes (both written quotes and 1-2 minute video testimonials) of your business leaders saying why they chose your community and/or why they continue to stay there. [Local influencers can help you with this as well.]
5. Don’t forget to communicate with your locals, too. Social media isn’t just an external marketing tool; use it to keep your citizens informed about how your work is creating and retaining jobs for their economy, for their families, for their kids and grandkids’ futures.”
3) Advice from Sarah “Main Street” O’Brien
(At SarahMainStreetOBrien / Collaborative Development Collective, Main Street and downtown development expert Sarah O’Brien specializes in community development, public sector decision-making, and innovative partner/citizen engagement.)
Here are Sarah’s thoughts….
“I am going to throw out some local initiatives that may not help with site selector visits, but can have far-reaching impact for development, online reputations, and community pride. These are no-cost ideas, so anyone can do them immediately!
** Help your business owners set up a successful online presence, personally and through the work that you do. Every downtown/ED professional should block off 30 minutes a week, at least, to write reviews for businesses in town. You should check in when shopping or eating at a local establishment. You should also share posts and important announcements from those hard-working Mom and Pop stores.
Phone a friend if you aren’t sure what platform is best or when you should use your organization’s channel vs. your personal channel. Be sure to tell your friend to do the same for the businesses they have interacted with recently.
** Stop trying to tell your community’s story in a silo. Host a social media roundtable with community partners, local influencers, a public official or two, and several residents who don’t know what social media is. Do this more than once (gasp!) Perhaps host something regularly at different businesses to discuss upcoming events and promotional happenings, authentic and diverse stories that should be shared, and timely relevant updates and unique opportunities, most of which aren’t heard due to all of the other community noise.
Collaborate and share resources to enhance your messaging as a collective group and watch the power of your influence grow, as does the buy-in from residents, visitors, and potential new businesses about your destination’s shared vision.
** Empower and engage advocates to respond with facts, correct misinformation, educate when possible, and share resources pertinent to whatever drama is happening today. Counteract dysfunctional social media chatter when it is negatively impacting your community.”
Do you have questions, ideas, or tips about social media for economic development? We welcome your thoughts down in the comments….
At Tourism Currents, we help you and your tourism partners learn how to use social media and digital destination marketing to bring more visitors to town. Pick what works for you: our self-paced online course in social media for tourism, our coaching/consulting services, or our speaking and workshop services.
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