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Regional Social Media – When One Voice Speaks for Many

Often overlooked, a fabulous opportunity for regional economic development marketing lies in maintaining an image of a region as an integrated whole, while at the same time promoting specific attractions and events within it that engage audiences through social media.

While many municipalities have developed social media policies, some are still uncomfortable with social media and have not engaged yet. At a regional level this may be amplified as consensus may be difficult to achieve. In some cases the opposite occurs as regional parts are able to step back and let “social media testing” occur through the regional organization at a regional level.

Once the decision has been made to embrace social media, and policies have been established, the next round of consensus building begins. This includes:

  • How to maintain a modicum of information balance across the regional activities and events;
  • How to ensure that all partners are fairly represented;
  • How to communicate with a single voice through the efforts of many publishers;
  • What voice and message is appropriate to represent the region;
  • How to assign roles and responsibilities and resources; and
  • How to manage and maintain multiple social media channels.

Around the governance table the first rounds of questions arise: are all the partners satisfied that they are gaining value from the economic development partnership? Or do they perceive that one particular town, or one industry cluster, is being treated as the focus of attention to the detriment of others in the region?

Social media can help to pave such marketing potholes. Used in a collaborative way, social media linked with regional economic development websites and coordinated with regional communications programs, can promote both a region and specific attractions or events simultaneously.

Social Media for Economic Development

There’s an interesting example of this at www.saratogaedc.com. The Saratoga Economic Development Corp. (SEDC) has made use of social media to spread the benefits of a computer chip plant under construction by GlobalFoundries in the town of Malta in central Saratoga County, New York.

Using article links posted on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, all accessible from the home page of its website, the SEDC has put the news of GlobalFoundries’ $4.6-billion investment in front of a worldwide audience to attract supplier companies to find locations in the county. A three-minute promotional video highlighting Saratoga’s quality of life and the arrival of GlobalFoundries has been viewed more than 3,000 times around the world on YouTube, says Shelby Schneider, SEDC’s director of marketing.

Schneider told the New Albany Gazette that social media are an extremely effective tool for widening Saratoga County’s audience and for generating positive feedback from companies interested in coming to the area. SEDC’s LinkedIn group has more than 900 members, including 200 with some sort of semiconductor manufacturing connection, she said.

Social Regionomic Marketing

Another organization that is demonstrating how to use social media for regional economic benefits is the Fort Myers Regional Partnership (FMRP). Promoting investment in Lee County in southwestern Florida, the partnership uses Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube as collaborative tools to generate and share business leads and ideas in an area from Cape Coral, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island.

Jennifer Berg, FMRP’s marketing and communications director, has established a LinkedIn group for the county that had 365 members as of mid-February 2011. The Twitter page tweets news of companies and people from around the county, with 114 followers. A similarly busy Facebook page has generated 150 “likes”.

All of the identifiable and easily reachable people involved in these social media sites have become part of FMRP’s integrated community of interest, centered on www.fortmyersregionalpartnership.com, in the short time since the partnership started using social media in April 2010. Now FMR has taken another new step by linking its home page to another site, www.bringthem2lee.com, which enables any resident to send someone else a postcard or video with a message about Lee County’s location incentive programs, and be eligible to win a prize.

Citizen engagement! That’s how social media enables local promotion, which in turn promotes regional marketing and vice versa. The Saratoga and Fort Myers regional organizations are demonstrating regionomic marketing at its best!

Regional Social Communications Opportunities

To enable one voice to speak for many through social media, a regional economic development organization must be careful to ensure consistency in its messaging. That takes a shared vision, communication and the discipline to implement social programs. While this is not a simple tactic, as we have noted earlier in this series of articles (please see “Regional Outreach – Multiplying the Impact” published February 8), it is well worth the effort as the results can be spectacular.

Social Awareness

A side benefit of a regional social media program is that more economic development representatives from around the region become social media publishers, increasing learning and sharing the workload. A sense of ownership is developed as well as a sense of responsibility for maintaining and increasing community connections.

A regional organization also has the unique advantage of being able to provide region-wide training, both of social media skills and messaging techniques.

Social Media Roles and Responsibilities

Allocation of roles, responsibilities and resources will always be a bit of a juggling act. Care must be taken to ensure that regardless of who is assigned to what task, that once a commitment is made to a social media channel, someone is actively managing it – all the time. As soon as it is neglected visitors will simply no longer visit or follow, they will not come back.

Overall the benefits far outweigh the challenges as many independent voices can draw attention to activities and events that are both local and regional, directing visitors to stories and websites and increasing the attractive “socialness” of the region.

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