We recently Tweeted (what, you aren't on Twitter yet?) about how small towns are missing out on a great opportunity to promote themselves with free or inexpensive social media and "Web 2.0" tools. A reader asked us to elaborate, so here are some thoughts on the topic.
First, we were noting that many small towns, such as Buckhannon where we just held some great creative community discussions, have more positive assets and cool places and people than many people realize. In Buckhannon, their downtown is just downright quaint. They have the Daily Grind coffee shop, CJ Maggie's restaurant, two "micro" theaters that show artistic films, and much more. Did you know that? Heck, I'll be a lot of folks in the town itself don't even know about the micro theaters.
The challenge is that few small towns have someone on point for promoting themselves. Sure, there are the Convention & Visitors Bureaus, and many do a nice job. But even they struggle sometimes to leverage today's Web 2.0 marketing and communication tools. Some are creating Facebook fan pages, some have a Youtube video up here and there. But by and large, they aren't getting all they could out of these great tools.
Here are some areas where small towns and counties could really get some promotional value:
• Web Sites – Most smaller towns are not taking full advantage of the web technology that exists today. They tend to have very boring, very static sites…In other words, sites that not many people would care to visit because there isn’t much useful or exciting information on them. Also, the sites are rarely if ever updated. Today’s web is very “conversational” – two way vs. one way. The good news is that most web site and content tools, such as blog and video platforms, are available free or very low cost. Folks just need to either a) learn about them or b) get an intern or someone in to help them build it.
Not to pick on any particular town, but everyone knows how cool Shepherdstown is, right? But take a look at their web site: http://www.shepherdstown.us. Doesn't exactly reflect the creative vibe of the town, does it? However, the 4C Ecnonomic Development Authority has reallyinvested in their web presence. In some ways a city web site vs. an econ dev web site is comparing apples and oranges, but communities have to realize how much their web site sends a message about who they are.
• Search Engines – It is quite easy to optimize your web site so that people can actually find you. If a community would choose to attach itself to some key concepts in tourism, economic development and other categories, it would be quite easy for them to set up their site so that they showed up in Google and other search engines. It is also easy and inexpensive to manage a paid search campaign around specific topics, such as tourism, recruiting new citizens, promoting their economic development opportunities. etc.
A good example is Chico, CA. They are a top 10 arts town, and they have built a web site that comes up in the top of the Google rankings for "best small arts town."
• Blogs & Social Media – A lot of public officials are worried about actually listening and talking back to their public, but the ones who do are connecting much deeper with their voters and also establishing their leadership. Some politicians are discovering Facebook and Twitter as ways to get key messages out to the public, and that is only going to continue to grow. Small towns could very effectively use these free tools to announce events, gather public feedback and generally create a more positive, open government process.
Here's a blog from the mayor of San Clemente, CA.
• Video – So much potential for Chambers of Commerce and Econ Dev Authorities to capture and share positive developments or opportunities via Youtube and other tools. Show a potential company the available space to build something, or show them available buildings that could be used for new business ventures. Interview local business people and let them give testimonials about what it’s like to do business there, both the positives and negatives.
• Survey Tools – Small towns could use free online survey tools to capture feedback from youth, businesses, families, etc. and use that to make good decisions. They could survey potential new entrepreneurs or business owners to learn about what they need to do in their community to attract/retain them.
• PR/Media Opportunities – It’s actually quite easy to get some coverage from a local TV station or newspaper. They are eager to cover interesting things that go on in a community in their area. It just takes a little creativity to come up with a news hook and a few minutes to write it up into a press release and blog post. What’s interesting about the history of the place? About the people? About an event?
What is your community doing to market yourself? Share some examples with us, we'd love to highlight them!