By Jessica Tuquero
With its increasing influence among the general population, social media has grown past its reputation as entertainment for college students to become a valuable tool for businesses to effectively communicate and exchange information.
As a result, we’ve seen an increasing interest in social media among economic development professionals. And while this year revealed more organizations using social networking sites than ever before, many wonder how their peers are managing the rapidly changing tool.
IEDC and Development Counsellors International (DCI) partnered earlier this month to survey economic development organizations on their use of social media. A total of 307 IEDC members answered the survey, with 57 percent responding that they currently use social media in their communication efforts. Of this group, the majority are new to the game, with 63 percent reporting that they have been using social media for less than a year.
We have detailed four key findings from the survey below. For the purpose of this study, social media is defined as “online tools that allow groups of people to interact with one another by exchanging content, opinions and insight.”
1. Economic developers favor using social media internally – communicating within their own region or within their own organization – rather than externally with a national/international audience.
While social media breaks geographic barriers of communication, most organizations choose to target key regional allies such as local businesses, public leaders, colleges/universities and local media.
The most common information shared when communicating regionally includes:
1. organizational news (28 percent),
2. business development projects (21 percent), and
3. information on programs that support local businesses (19 percent).
When done well, a strong online community is built, and the organization is in continuing dialogue with its regional allies.
2. LinkedIn is considered the most valuable tool in economic development marketing.
LinkedIn—a professional networking site with 45 million users from over 150 different industries—rated the highest in value when communicating with individuals both within an organization’s region (33 percent) and outside of the region (40 percent). (IEDC has an active LinkedIn group, if you haven’t joined yet.)
The site allows users to communicate directly with their target markets with the understanding that the interaction is for professional reasons. Heavy involvement in group chat threads, industry-specific Q&A forums and profile applications help raise a region’s profile.
Facebook came in second in value, with 30 percent of the respondents seeing it as valuable for communicating on the regional level, and 23 percent seeing the site as valuable to communicate on a national/international level.
3. Social media is expected to become a major component in future marketing plans.
When asked to rate the importance of social media within their current marketing plan on a 1-to-5 scale (1 = “least important”; 5 = “most important”), less than 20 percent of those surveyed rated social media as a “4” or “5.” But when asked, “How important will it become in the next three years?,” over 50 percent of those surveyed selected “4” or “5.”
4. Role models are emerging.
While social media is a relatively new marketing tactic, there are organizations that are embracing it and using the online tools at an advanced level.
When asked, “Which economic development organizations do you find use social media most effectively?,” multiple respondents cited the following four examples:
• Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce (www.gwinnettchamber.org)
• Indy Partnership (www.indypartnership.com)
• Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (www.metrodenver.org)
• Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission (www.orlandoedc.com)
Interested in learning more? Visit www.aboutdci.com and click on the “IEDC-DCI Release Social Media Survey” banner at the top of the homepage to download a copy of “A Snapshot of the ED Profession’s Growing Embrace of Social Media.”
Jessica Tuquero is Account Supervisor of Development Counsellors International (DCI), a firm that specializes in economic development and tourism marketing.