I was recently asked to chime in on a discussion regarding the use of social media in economic development, so I thought I’d share some of those ideas and expand on them a bit.
First of all, social media, in its essence has been around for many, many years. From the very first tribes to the modern democracy, social media has let people gather around a common cause or interest. This particular term only came about in the recent years when “media” permeated with the advent of technology.
History tidbit aside, what’s really interesting is that people can now freely self-select into groups which are no longer bound by geographic or demographic boundaries. These groups are assembling around common interests, which range from muscle cars to political discussions and they grow organically. Another thing to consider is that we have access to these groups and that content anywhere, anytime due to technology immersion we are currently experiencing (cell phones with internet access, laptops, smart tech, etc).
From an Economic Development standpoint, your mandate should be to seek out those who are really passionate and enable them to connect and engage with one another. It’s easy to set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account or a forum. The real work comes in planting, feeding and caring for the budding community. Participants should feel like their voice REALLY matters. So many of us are jaded by the evident lack of listening or follow through at “leadership” level within most communities and companies.
The community also needs to CLEARLY know what the central idea behind the formation is and what the rules and limitations are. This is where a moderator or community manager takes that role to help foster communication and engagement. And this is where you find out that, while usage of social media channels IS FREE, running and growing a community has COSTS associated with it (time, salary, contract, etc).
If you want to truly engage and build a community, it’s time to let go of old paradigms that include the kung-fu-grip style of control, limited transparency and perceived elitism (because only a select few have the privilege of information and belonging). Seek out those who are already active in the community and enable them to become the evangelists they naturally are, by providing them with a platform to communicate with one another and ways to involve and induct those who are on the periphery of your own reach, but within the circles of influence of your evangelists.
One last thing… Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn may not be around forever, but strong communities will endure, evolve and stay connected by a common cause or idea. This is why there are still VERY active forums built around a specific topic (fountain pens for example), which have been around since the BBS days and will remain until three more Facebooks come and go.