Using Social Media to Attract People To Your Rural Community

By Mike Knutson | Reimagine Rural

Last summer, I met an individual who had moved from California to rural South Dakota. She was charged with setting up an office in the region for her employer, but the field of potential communities to locate was pretty open.

So, how did she choose? Part of the answer rested with a blog she discovered; she felt the blog helped her connect with people of similar interests and values in one community without having to move there first. But it also provided a more authentic view of the community than possible through a traditional community-based website. This isn’t a knock on traditional community-based websites. It simply acknowledges that even at their best, websites only tell part of the story. And they don’t usually help you meet people.

Is this an isolated incident or does it happens more often than we think? I don’t have research to validate an answer, but I believe the latter is more accurate. So until I find that research, I’d offer the following abbreviated list of reasons why I believe communities should include social media in their people attraction strategies.

1) Markets are conversations. I like to think of people attraction strategies as a new form of community marketing. But it’s marketing none-the-less. To be successful, we need to pay attention to marketing principles. For several years now, I’ve been a huge fan of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which advocates that “markets are conversations.” In a nutshell this concept rests on history: markets developed as places where people came together to exchange products and ideas. Conversations (not advertising) preceded every market transaction.

For a brief time in human history, markets moved away from conversations towards one-way communications highlighted by advertising. The authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, however, argue that the Internet facilitates virtual markets where open conversations about products emerge.

If this is true, as I believe it is, then we need to base our people attraction efforts on building open conversations about our communities. The use of Social Media is a perfect way to make this happen.

2) People look to the Internet when considering community, but they generally don’t trust traditional community based websites as much as their information from their peers.

First, we know from research conducted by the Center for Applied Rural Innovation at the University of Nebraska that people are using the Internet as a key source of information before moving to a community. (source: Rebecca Vogt, “Engaging your Community to Attract and Retain New Residents, #18 ) This research echoes research conducted by the Segmentation Company on how college-educated young adults find information about cities. (source: Segmentation Company, “Attracting College-Educated, Young Adults to Cities,” slide # 9)

Second, we know that people increasingly distrust advertisers and are turning to peer reviews. (One source suggests only 14% of people trust advertisements, while 78% trust peer recommendations - source: Socialnomics, “Social Media Revolution).

Maybe it’s a leap to say that people don’t trust information on traditional community based websites. But I think it’s fair to say that community websites would be more effective if people perceived them less as an advertisement and more as a conversation. Social media is a step in that direction.

3) Online Social Networks help build face-to-face community. Until a couple years ago, I thought of Facebook and MySpace users as geeks who wasted time on the computer. In my mind, spending time on a social network came at the expense of face-to-face interaction.

As I migrated into the world of social media, I began to rethink this assumption. But it wasn’t until I read Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives that my attitude completely flipped.

In the book, the authors cite research conducted in a Toronto suburb in which some residents were given access to high speed internet and early social networking tools while other residents were not. Among its findings, the study concluded that people with access and tools were more likely to: (1) know fellow residents by name and talk to them more; (2) visit their neighbor’s homes more often; and (3) stay connected to individuals who had moved away from the community.

There’s a lot to think about in the study’s findings, but one of my take-aways is that people attraction isn’t just about getting people to move to your community. It’s also about helping them stay connected while they are a part of the community. And should someone move away, the opportunity for them to stay connected and to be an advocate for the community is strengthened through social networking tools. 

Photo Credit: lumierefl - Flickr



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Issues: 

By Mike Knutson | Reimagine Rural

Last summer, I met an individual who had moved from California to rural South Dakota. She was charged with setting up an office in the region for her employer, but the field of potential communities to locate was pretty open.

So, how did she choose? Part of the answer rested with a blog she discovered; she felt the blog helped her connect with people of similar interests and values in one community without having to move there first. But it also provided a more authentic view of the community than possible through a traditional community-based website. This isn’t a knock on traditional community-based websites. It simply acknowledges that even at their best, websites only tell part of the story. And they don’t usually help you meet people.

Is this an isolated incident or does it happens more often than we think? I don’t have research to validate an answer, but I believe the latter is more accurate. So until I find that research, I’d offer the following abbreviated list of reasons why I believe communities should include social media in their people attraction strategies.

1) Markets are conversations. I like to think of people attraction strategies as a new form of community marketing. But it’s marketing none-the-less. To be successful, we need to pay attention to marketing principles. For several years now, I’ve been a huge fan of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which advocates that “markets are conversations.” In a nutshell this concept rests on history: markets developed as places where people came together to exchange products and ideas. Conversations (not advertising) preceded every market transaction.

For a brief time in human history, markets moved away from conversations towards one-way communications highlighted by advertising. The authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, however, argue that the Internet facilitates virtual markets where open conversations about products emerge.

If this is true, as I believe it is, then we need to base our people attraction efforts on building open conversations about our communities. The use of Social Media is a perfect way to make this happen.

2) People look to the Internet when considering community, but they generally don’t trust traditional community based websites as much as their information from their peers.

First, we know from research conducted by the Center for Applied Rural Innovation at the University of Nebraska that people are using the Internet as a key source of information before moving to a community. (source: Rebecca Vogt, “Engaging your Community to Attract and Retain New Residents, #18 ) This research echoes research conducted by the Segmentation Company on how college-educated young adults find information about cities. (source: Segmentation Company, “Attracting College-Educated, Young Adults to Cities,” slide # 9)

Second, we know that people increasingly distrust advertisers and are turning to peer reviews. (One source suggests only 14% of people trust advertisements, while 78% trust peer recommendations - source: Socialnomics, “Social Media Revolution).

Maybe it’s a leap to say that people don’t trust information on traditional community based websites. But I think it’s fair to say that community websites would be more effective if people perceived them less as an advertisement and more as a conversation. Social media is a step in that direction.

3) Online Social Networks help build face-to-face community. Until a couple years ago, I thought of Facebook and MySpace users as geeks who wasted time on the computer. In my mind, spending time on a social network came at the expense of face-to-face interaction.

As I migrated into the world of social media, I began to rethink this assumption. But it wasn’t until I read Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives that my attitude completely flipped.

In the book, the authors cite research conducted in a Toronto suburb in which some residents were given access to high speed internet and early social networking tools while other residents were not. Among its findings, the study concluded that people with access and tools were more likely to: (1) know fellow residents by name and talk to them more; (2) visit their neighbor’s homes more often; and (3) stay connected to individuals who had moved away from the community.

There’s a lot to think about in the study’s findings, but one of my take-aways is that people attraction isn’t just about getting people to move to your community. It’s also about helping them stay connected while they are a part of the community. And should someone move away, the opportunity for them to stay connected and to be an advocate for the community is strengthened through social networking tools. 

Photo Credit: lumierefl - Flickr



http://reimaginerural.com/3-reasons-to-include-social-media-in-your-peop...

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