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Regional Outreach – Multiplying the Impact

Success breeds success in economic development, and a busy website breeds business.

A regional development website should be at the center of many types of communication. Blogs, news releases, newsletters, surveys, case studies and social networking interactions combine to show the viewer that there is energy and activity in the economic community. A collaborative communications network can be built to manage such a site and this approach offers many advantages – but there are also significant challenges to overcome.

Involvement and Engagement

If effectively designed, a regional website can present a picture of unification combined with diversity. That is accomplished by demonstrating that the partners and geographic areas in the regional organization are all involved in its communications and engaging with its audiences.

You can see how this collaborative communication creates an image of business in action by visiting www.wmep.org. This is the site of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), one of 70 not-for-profit centers throughout the US providing assistance to small and medium sized manufacturers and linked together through the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

This type of partnership exemplifies a regionomic marketing organization. Its partners have a common goal of strengthening their region by addressing specific issues or supporting specific sectors. In the case of WMEP, its website aggregates input from many partners to deliver knowledge in continuous improvement, business strategies and best practices to Wisconsin manufacturers.

What a busy place this website is! Beginning on the home page and extending through its blogs page and its news section, its newsletters, polls, image galleries and various resource sections, visitors can see that contributors throughout the partnership and its stakeholders are delivering messages and taking part in initiatives. This site is full of exclamation marks. It inspires a viewer to think, “Wow, manufacturers in Wisconsin must be doing a ton of business!”

On a smaller scale but also exemplary for collaborative communication is the Nova Scotia Association of Regional Development Authorities (NSARDA). On the home page of www.nsarda.ca visitors can click on a map to call up the websites of the association’s 13 regional development authorities in this eastern Canadian province. Their mandate is to facilitate economic development by assembling resources from private, public and non-profit sector partnerships.

Judging by their websites, the development authorities have created busy and enthusiastic economic communities. Sites such as www.greaterhalifax.comwww.creda.net and www.annapolisdigby.com offer profuse collections of news, events, reports, promotional materials and, most persuasive, continuous interactions with audiences by means of comments, videos and a variety of social media. The overarching message is that everyone is connected – and that’s a mark of success for regional economic development organizations.

Content Management Decentralization

To achieve this level of collaborative communication requires a large time commitment. It’s not easy to keep a website updated and constantly engaging. However, it’s of critical importance to do so if the site is to reflect and support the aspirations of a growing regional organization.

A best practice is to apply what we refer to as content management decentralization. Spread the communications responsibilities around. If you have 20 people working on the site instead of one, you can achieve 20 times more than if one person is trying to do everything.

Resources are limited, of course, so website content management must often be a part-time responsibility, and is often assigned to people who are not skilled in using web applications. The use of content management systems can overcome these limitations if the systems offer intuitive tools that users can master with minimal training and apply intermittently at any time.

By allocating different website sections and topics to different people, you can develop subject matter experts who are enthusiastic and are able to cope with the quantity of updates that they are responsible for. You can give staff members who are passionate about a particular topic – culinary tourism, for example – the ability to focus on and communicate about that topic.

Furthermore, you can facilitate regional collaboration by encouraging staff from component organizations to take responsibility for a portion of the regional website’s content. That way you enhance the capabilities of subject matter experts who think regionally, beyond the geographic boundaries of their local municipality, and so widen their experience and influence.

Inherent Challenges

To really benefit from content management decentralization, regional development organizations must deal with challenges that can sometimes impair their web based communications.

Roles and responsibilities must be carefully assigned. Assignment targeting is a critical success factor. People that are enthusiastic about a particular topic should be assigned to it – and they must be accountable.

Another is training and the continual upgrading of skills and knowledge among your communicators. The web and social media are changing day by day. Your communications staff and their products should not remain static.

Resources will vary among the partners in a regional economic development organization. This means there might be inequitable distribution of abilities to contribute to outreach activities. This is an issue to be addressed early in discussions about your website design and content decentralization plan.

Messaging Consistency

Finally, there has to be consistency in messaging and clarity in the communications culture. A major challenge in decentralized content management is finding consensus on key messaging and a consistent tone. Lack of consistency can become an insurmountable obstacle to communications effectiveness. If visitors find inconsistent messages on various web pages or sites, they will interpret your busy interactions as mere chatter, not connectedness.

Keep your web communicators in touch and in tune with regional economic strengths and goals. The more you know who you are, the better you can communicate as a region.

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