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Best Practice #1: The Economic Development Web Strategy

It’s hard for economic development organizations to stay on message these days. Harder than ever, in fact.

Online Social Trends are Being Embraced by EDOs

A wide variety of new web properties have been launched and broadly embraced in recent years. Web properties such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Twitter, to name just a few, have radically redefined how everyone uses the Internet in their search for information and entertainment.

Many economic development organizations have recognized the potential of riding this latest trend in social behaviour and have started their own representative sites on one or more web properties in an effort to reach a broader audience or a different audience.

Managing the Evolving Arsenal of Websites can be Disorienting

Suddenly EDOs are finding themselves managing three, four or more websites that have all grown organically in a mostly ad-hoc fashion. All of them need tender loving care and feeding that costs staff time or supplier fees. While they may attract visitors, members, views or fans, most activities deliver dubious returns on investment. Keeping the sites full of interesting and useful information that draws attention and drives traffic is a time consuming process that requires continuous consideration.

Messaging and Strategies are Often Lost

And the result? In many cases the challenge of managing the various properties is compounded by the fact that the goal is unclear and the message is getting lost. The overarching economic development strategy is dissipating. Many EDOs are in a conundrum. Now what?

What once was an economic development billboard website, later evolved to an interactive website, and now has further evolved into a web strategy. A web strategy spans multiple sites and various platforms. It encompasses a wide range of online tactics, content generation requirements and it takes a comprehensive, concise, cohesive approach to managing the many facets of today’s online marketing requirements for economic development.

The Need for a Cohesive Web Strategy

This brings us to our Number 1 best practice for economic development online – the need to develop and maintain a cohesive, focused, goal-oriented and measurable web strategy.

What is a Web Strategy?

Your strategy needs to recognize that the web is a channel with many purposes: attraction, promotion, communication, relationship building and conversion.

For each purpose the strategy must clearly identify goals, target audiences and messaging as well as relevant web channels or platforms. The strategy has to address the main website but also encompass all portals, all platforms and tactics including search engine optimization and online advertising. All activities that form part of your online marketing and communications practices should be a part of the web strategy. Most importantly, it has to align with and support the overall economic development marketing plan, ensuring consistent messaging and always working towards overall goals.

Now is the time to make sure, by means of a top-down strategy, that all online messaging is aligned and that multiple platforms and tactics are working together in a cohesive manner.

Consider Sustainability

For all of your websites, portals and platforms, the strategy must address a program for managing updates and content on an ongoing basis. It should provide for timely content creation, dissemination and tracking. A set of recommendations should be developed to address all web sections and services, again mapped back to the goals identified in the economic development strategy.

Your Web Strategy, Your Bridge

As noted earlier in one of our previous articles (“How Can Your Website Stand Out to Target Prospects?”, July 7, 2009), it is the job of an economic development organization – and therefore its web strategy – to build a communications bridge between the public sector and the business community, specifically site selectors.

For that bridge to be firmly supported by all its pillars, economic development departments need a comprehensive web strategy to pull together the various organically evolving web activities, to ensure consistent messaging and to effectively focus marketing and communications activities.

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