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From Site Selection magazine, March 2014

Unconventional Wisdom


witter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram … the list goes on. Social media is everywhere, and it seems as if everyone is using it, including economic developers. But some folks are saying, “Enough already!”

Check out this comment site selection and economic development consultant Ross Spalding made in a LinkedIn conversation thread about the use and value of social media among a group of economic development professionals:

“It is a total waste of money and time as far as I am concerned. I cannot store all this information … My clients and others I talk to tell me that they are constantly being bombarded by social media and mail announcements. They do not read or store this information. I particularly agree with [another commenter’s] assessment that we don’t need to have so many ED groups announcing something like a new company coming to town or a new building on the ED professional’s discussion site. What reason for it other than bragging to your peers? I find it irritating!”

When used strategically, social media is a great tool, but even a guy from the marketing side says Spalding has a point.

“Social media is being used as a crutch for not developing relationships,” says Tim Mroz, vice president of communications and marketing at The Right Place in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Blasting announcements out to the world and hoping someone will create a conversation for you is not what it was meant to accomplish in this industry.”

Mroz stresses the importance of developing relationships the old-fashioned way, through face-to-face contact. “You still have to get out on the road, schedule meetings, meet with site selectors and build relationships with these firms,” he says. “In addition, as a smart marketer you have to know your audience.”

The results of a February survey of economic development professionals appear to bear out what Mroz is saying. In answer to the question, “Where did your biggest economic development success originate?” 35 percent of respondents answered “networking,” while only 1 percent said “social media.”

The Right Platform

Though The Right Place uses Twitter and Facebook, Mroz likes LinkedIn because, in his words, “you have to be you.”

“Not only are you ‘you,’ ” he continues, “but when you post to a conversation people can click on your name and look at your profile and job history. They see you’re not just an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and maybe they should consider the way [you’re] talking about the subject. It’s a whole different ball of wax from Facebook and Twitter; there’s no anonymity.”

The top five platforms according to the 102 economic developers who responded were:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Google+

88 percent
71 percent
68 percent
50 percent
12 percent

Mroz agrees with Spalding about those who stray off topic. “There’s a strong lashing back at anyone [who] tries to engage in conversation that doesn’t add value,” he says. “If all of a sudden you have a piece of greenfield property that comes up on the market, it is not appropriate to engage those LinkedIn groups around site selection or economic development with your news. You have to add value. It’s not a place to make announcements.”

Strategy = Success, Maybe

A successful social media strategy requires time, personnel and money. “Social media is of great advantage, but it requires time to manage it and effort to create the content,” says Katharina Arnold, who handles marketing and communications for Terrain, a Berlin, Germany–based site selection consulting firm focused on foreign direct investment (and a division of Conway Data, publisher of Site Selection). “If you want to use social media and position yourself online, you will need a social media strategy and employ a social media manager. It is a full-time position that can bring great results to your company, and which is to be taken seriously. Posting randomly and inconsistently will get you nowhere.”

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