Economic Developers Should Use An Internal Social Media Workforce

How To: Use your own workforce to engage your community

Tip: Have an in-house strategy and process for your social media efforts and use local or internal resources to maximize your ROI and avoid future saturation or conflict of interest.

I ran across an article the other day entitled “Jump on board social media.” The article, detailing the successes of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp., (HVEDC) is a great example of why Economic Development agencies need to participate in the world of online economic development.

It is extremely important for all industries, including economic development, to participate in the new world of media. After all, social media isn’t going anywhere; in fact, it is going to continue to explode and branch off into directions we haven’t even seen yet. (Think Google+ new interactive interface blowing Facebook out of the water.) In the ever-changing world of online economic development, if you’re not in the game, you’ve fallen behind.

HVEDC is ahead of the game and their ROI has been measured; their efforts have paid off. But what is at the root of their success. Is it the number of online tools they are using? Is it a combination of certain tools such as YouTube, Digg, Bit.ly, WordPress, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Or, is it the dedication of those closest to HVEDC?

Let’s look at what Mike Oates, president and CEO of the HVEDC has to say [via the article]:

“I’ve personally been involved in it [social media] for a few years, but in February 2010, we basically made a concerted effort to get involved,” Oates said. “Just like anything else, you have to be aggressive. If you look at other economic development agencies around the state, we have more ‘fans’ following HVEDC than all the agencies combined. And you can’t beat the price: free.

HVEDC has made a concerted effort to get involved. Why is this important? Because as social media changes and evolves, HVEDC will be able to keep up with and navigate through the changes, including new tools, as they are relevant to their own unique situation. Their internal dedication will allow them to autonomously continue to engage their unique audience and learn first-hand knowledge enabling them to do so. HVEDC will intimately know its own engagement strategy.

Unlike HVEDC, many economic developers do not have the time or resources to continue this engagement though, so they turn to outside agencies to manage their social media personas for them. This may sound like a good idea, but in reality, it is not. Social media is about building genuine relationships. These relationships take time and commitment and they require a “real” person with loyalty and ambition to create a real return on investment and effectively tell a story.

When economic developers outsource their relationship building, they are placing these important relationships in the hands of people who do not truly understand their unique challenges and goals and are possibly managing several other communities, even competitors, at the same time. The process then, becomes a cookie-cutter solution. An outside resource may be able to put your community through a “process” and series of branding questions, similar to a Web site review, but, unlike the branding of a Web site, social media engagement is an on-going and ever-changing process.

Economic Developers need to nurture their own internal or local resources that will establish and grow their online presence long-term. These loyal individuals have a genuine interest in building online relationships for the betterment of their community, and they are not likely to walk away with all that knowledge and expertise, or worse, relationships, if the paycheck stops coming in.

But many economic development agencies do not have the internal resources necessary to create these relationships, and the resources they do have likely do not have the engagement or marketing skills necessary to learn how to properly use the tools of online relationship-building. What about local resources? Where do you find them- who are they- and how do you train them? I suggest looking back to Mike Oates’ wisdom [via the article]:

“Social media has engaged a young, vibrant workforce”, Oates said.

I believe the success of HVEDC lies in their ability to use sustainable local resources. With the economy placing constraints on already tightened budgets, too many people losing their jobs, fewer and fewer jobs being created, community seniors needing extra income, and recent college graduates unable to even begin their careers, communities can look to those local resources to tell their story like no one else can.

College grads and high school students have so much enthusiasm and technology expertise; seniors and out-of-work citizens either have too much time on their hands or need real-world re-training; community agencies need to save all the money they can and show ROI immediately. Investing in your own workforce is the best way to show immediate return on investment, while building community growth, engagement and interaction.

Successful training should be done by marketing professionals who can show valid proof of their own ROI. Lots of outside agencies are jumping into social media, attempting to create tutorials or provide training on tools, using resources that don’t truly understand the logistics and psychology of why they’re doing what they’re doing. My advice for training your local and internal workforce? Find legitimate marketing agencies that aren’t just filled with salesmen who know how to craft a promising story. Find marketing professionals. If they happen to also have expertise in economic development, that’s a bonus.

I did a little research and came across an agency that appears to have their act together. In addition, it appears they are established and have combined seasoned economic development professionals with legitimate marketing professionals to help communities with their online engagement efforts. You can find a listing of their training Webinars here: http://bit.ly/j40jwo

The worst thing that economic developers can do is listen to the well-crafted song of sirens who sing that their solution will save time and money in the long run. These sirens know that economic developers are worried about their own jobs and are looking for quick fixes to their short-term problem. Unfortunately, if economic developers get into long-term contracts for services, they won’t be able to truly gauge real ROI until many months into the game. If it becomes apparent then that there is no real ROI, precious time and money will have been wasted; that’s when it’s time to worry.

If you’d like to read the article on HVEDC’s social media success, written by Kathy Kahn, you may find it here:  Jump on board social media.

Cheers!

InteractiveMary