Should Economic Developers Use Facebook?
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Over the past few years there has been a significant evolution of social media as it has become more and more a routine part of our everyday lives. That has also been the case for social media in economic development. It is safe to say that the economic development industry does not change nearly as quickly as the social media technology, but it is valuable to take advantage of the opportunities presented, especially when many groups are not.
So what about Facebook? We are all quite familiar with the benefits of staying in touch with family, friends and that one guy from high school, but does it have an application for economic development? First, let’s look at the facts.
The Pew Research Center (http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/social-media-update-2014/) updated a report in 2015 of the social media usage across the country. Facebook Users represented 71% of all online adults. It showed pretty balanced usage across ages, genders, education and incomes. This comes in contrast to other social sites like twitter, which has a smaller, younger and urban demographic. LinkedIn commanded the older, higher educated and wealthier audience, but had a smaller user base overall with a very low showing in rural areas. No matter how you angle it, Facebook has the most active users in every demographic. My perspective on this topic is YES. Economic Developers should use Facebook, the audiences are there. But that does not mean that they should use it the same way they approach the other social media tools.
People use Facebook much more socially than the other tools and although may be less likely to ‘professionally connect’ like on LinkedIN, there is still great opportunity. Audiences we see interacting with our partner communities include stakeholders like board members and council members, business owners in the community and potential workforce. Board members and council members will engage on Facebook supporting their communities. Local businesses executives use Facebook to engage their community, employees and organizations. Another audience is talent that grew up in the community and may have left for college or another city that want to return to raise a family as they knew it. This audience is more likely to connect through Facebook than other social sites and can be an excellent target of a ‘legacy recruitment’ campaign.
Knowing these audiences gives us direction on the best content to share. It is nice to share information on the assets and profile data of the community keeping stakeholders and businesses educated. But the most engagement comes from posts that carry a social or emotional tie to the community. These include community and business events, any manner of success story, new business relocations and expansions, ground breaking ceremonies, etc. These types of posts generate support, likes and comments from the community and increase the likeliness of them sharing it with others. This gives the economic development organization the dual benefit of creating awareness and being a good source of information for these important audiences.
The quality of the content matters in engaging the audiences and it helps a lot to support the posts with an image, or even better, a video. When users do comment and engage the posts, it is important to interact in a timely manner and address all comments in a professional way.
When starting out a new Facebook page, it can be daunting to build up a following. There are good practices to apply including link reciprocity with the businesses and organizations in your community, pushing it on your economic development websites and others. One strategy we have found can quickly build an audience is through an ad campaign. Facebook has many criteria that can be set to place ads by location, demographics and profile data to get in front of the right audiences. One feature of their ad system is running a ‘friends of friends’ campaign, where your ad is shown to friends of people that are already ‘likes’ on your page. This is presented to their network as an organization their ‘friend’ already likes. Even short campaigns of 3-4 months can produce a healthy following.
Facebook is here to stay and will continue evolving as the majority of online adults keep it active. Outside of just business attraction, economic development has a lot to gain engaging their communities through Facebook. My recommendation is to stay on Facebook and the other tools too, but keep your message focused for the most impact. Till the next big change…
Golden Shovel Agency
Category: Blog, Economic Development