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Best Practice #3: Put Social Media to Work for Economic Development

There was a time not long ago when the term “social media” was unfamiliar to many economic development departments and needed explaining. Today social media services are well understood but it is not always clear what they mean to an economic development web program.

Back in June 2009 one of our Economic Development Tech Trends articles predicted that by the time the recession had ended, investment attraction websites would have a different appearance – a new “social dimension” would be added.

Well, the recession is over, at least in theory, and we do see that the majority of investment attraction sites prominently display icons inviting networking, collaboration and evaluation by visitors using social media. A 2010 survey of Canadian economic development trends by technology company YLM found that 60 per cent of Canadian economic development teams are using social media and another 18 per cent are planning to have them in use by the end of the year.

While such media do help to create a “buzz of economic vibrancy,” as predicted, their use has become so widespread that they no longer differentiate one investment attraction site from another, or demonstrate the place-making advantages of a community by their mere presence.

Simply catching up with social media is not enough to make an EDO competitive. Now you need to move ahead, to the strategic level from the tactical.

Social Media can Meet A Multitude of Economic Development Purposes

A best practice for an economic development web program, therefore, is to put social media to work by means of a strategic plan. The plan should be designed and implemented with careful thought to achieving specific goals that support the overall economic development strategy.

As a first step, be clear about your goals. Why are you devoting resources to social media on your economic development site? If it is merely to keep up with everybody else, or to present a contemporary appearance your investment might not generate the desired measurable return.

After all, the care and feeding of a social media service is very time consuming. If your first step is simply to make one or more services available you will add considerably to the workload of your department without necessarily adding to its success.

Start with your goals, then develop a social media plan to address them. You will find that social media platforms are surprisingly adaptable to meet a variety of goals. They can help create awareness of your region, locate leads and prospects, generate discussion, build local business communities, create niche communities such as students or artists, boost traffic to your website and more.

Remember, though, that your goals will not be achieved when you have set up the social media service and launched it. That’s just the start. Be sure to identify how each service will be managed, including the frequency of updates, who will be responsible for it at all times and, critically, what means will be used to report on the activities of the service and how its effectiveness will be measured.

Patience and Culture

As is often the case when building relationships, expectations must be realistic and patience applied before a final evaluation is made. The rewards of social media will not be apparent immediately but with appropriate planning and implementation they can produce important achievements for a municipality or region.

It is important to remember that social media must be implemented not as a technology, but as part of the culture of an economic development organization. Staff members must want to interact with the people they meet through the web and find value in doing so. Your organization must be receptive to ideas that will come from outside in this way.

You can see the potential for idea generation at On the home page is an icon called CityLink Seattle that clearly positions the city government as being involved with citizens continuously and actively. Every aspect of the site involves interactivity through RSS feeds, blogs, the Seattle Channel LIVE on cable and other social media. Seattle’s Economic Development Department contributes to a blog called “Bottom Line” with a rapid-fire series of announcements, each inviting reader responses.

At the department’s own site,, readers can sign up for the growseattle Daily Digest as well as e-mail updates and monthly newsletters. They can click on a big icon stating, “speak with someone now.” Seattle’s integrated websites reflect an understanding of the relationship between growth and social interactivity at today’s non-stop pace.

Oh, and how is Seattle doing? An item in the Bottom Line blog from May 13 reports the results of a national study showing the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue economic region to be the strongest in the United States.

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