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Creative Economy Marketing with Social Media

One of the key elements of an effective creative economy strategy is the identification of target markets and marketing goals. Social media has become an important tool to help economic developers accomplish this. In fact, it’s hard to see how any such strategy could work without employing social media as a communications vehicle.

It’s worth repeating that the difference between a traditional economic development investment attraction marketing strategy and the new creative economy attraction marketing strategy is that the target audience is not businesses, it is people. And these days you can’t communicate with people more reliably or cost effectively than through social media.

Perhaps “communicate” is the wrong word, though. The word should probably be “connect.” If social media is regarded primarily as a communications vehicle that might imply that it is just another channel for pushing out a general message. That is how many economic development organizations in North America seem to regard social media. They are just getting on board this new mass communications bandwagon.

Well, you can see why. The bandwagon is huge now. ComScore, the Internet marketing research company, reports that social networking is the most popular online activity worldwide. It accounted for almost one in five minutes spent online in October 2011, and now reaches 82 percent of the world’s Internet population. One of every two persons in North America has a Facebook account.

Mobile devices are fuelling the social addiction. Regarded as indispensable by young people, they show promise in taking social media into every kind of marketing and communications activity. Almost one third of the US mobile population age 13 and older accessed social networking sites at least once in October 2011.

It’s important for economic developers to understand what this means, and what it doesn’t. It does not mean that social media simply replaces brochures or other traditional marketing methods for purposes of general broadcasting.

Rather, the pervasiveness of social media gives economic developers the ability to reach narrowly targeted niches, to build interest and create communities of interest, to attract visitors and tourists and to start conversations.

All of these things can help an economic development team to identify target markets and goals for attracting the creative class. Creative workers are more plugged in to the web and social media than average.

But exactly how are they plugged in where you live? In what ways do the creative workers most suited to your community use social media? You need to know this in order to formulate a strategy to drive your social media activity. Social media can be a huge time waster if there is no plan or direction.

Making Connections

Social media enables the creation of connections with people through special interests. If a community has a special interest in attracting cheese makers or quilters or videographers or snowboarders or consulting engineers, it can create an online community or join an existing community and position itself accordingly, thereby attracting the “right” people.

Here are some ideas for social media strategies to help identify target markets among creative people and determine how to approach them.

Students and graduates – For many years it was a common lament of smaller communities that they lost their bright young people to big cities. These days, though, many of those former students have reached stages in life when they are reconsidering where to live and work, and remembering the good old days where they grew up. What social networks are your graduates engaged in? Where do your current students network? Should you consider setting up a Facebook site for ex-pats as Buffalo has done ( Keeping in touch this way with former students as they move through their careers could be a long-term productive investment.

Civic image and identity – People in creative classes are likely to be attracted to communities with reputations for attractive qualities. Social media can help to reinforce those qualities through citizen engagement. Vancouver, British Columbia, provides a good example. Its mayor is leading an initiative to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. Vancouver set up a website,, with related accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, soliciting citizens’ ideas for making the city more environmentally responsible. More than 10,000 people from Vancouver, and 35,000 from around the world, contributed to the plan that was submitted to council in July 2011.

Tourists – Your most likely prospects among creative people will be those who have become familiar with your community as tourists. Undoubtedly they used social media sites, including those of your own tourism organization, in making decisions about where to visit. Maintain a presence on external tourism related social media sites, and be sure to include business information in the follow-up messages your tourism department sends to those who have visited.

Business and industry associations – Take advantage of the social media connections that are maintained by leaders of creative companies already in your community. They can lead to opportunities to join forces with wide reaching industry groups and the events they produce. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, for example, launched the second phase of the Colorado Cleantech marketing initiative during the WindPower Conference and Exhibition in May 2011, including advertising, public relations and social media efforts. The campaign targeted industry leaders and national and international companies in wind, solar, biofuels, smart grid and natural gas. What associations are your community’s creative businesses linked to? What other companies involved in those associations are looking for investment opportunities? While you’re researching such connections, maintain awareness of the social media sites published by your local creative companies, and follow the tweets of their thought leaders.

Educators and researchers – Institutions of education and research in your area present channels for connecting to talented people. Through social media, your economic development department can become aware of new ventures and trends in the market, and identify potential opportunities whereby local businesses can be paired with research facilities and experts. You can even develop a leadership profile for your community by working with the institutes to hold work sessions, seminars, webinars and information presentations, all promoted and reported through social media.

Citizens and staff – Economic development departments are not isolated, or shouldn’t be. Your citizens, too, want prosperity for your community and will have good suggestions that can be gathered and evaluated through social media, a process called crowdsourcing or “ideation.” New York City demonstrated the concept in a project called “NYC Simplicity Idea Market,” launched in February 2011 to gather ideas from employees on how the city government can work more effectively. At a blog called, employees of all levels and agencies posted ideas, commented on the ideas of others, and voted for those they like best. The most popular submissions went to the mayor’s office. The project attracted participation from 15,000 city employees.

Targeting Campaigns

A targeted social media campaign can be used to develop relationships with people who are otherwise very difficult to find.

To create such relationships with targeted creative class individuals, social media can be used widely to share stories, extend invitations for visits, encourage two way discussion, share photographs or otherwise engage prospects to tour the region and explore the possibility of moving themselves and their families.

You will need a unique social media strategy for each targeted group, designed specifically to find people with an interest in enhancing their quality of life by locating in your community.


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