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Digital is Not the Future. It’s Now.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let’s be clear. Digital branding and communications are no longer optional. They aren’t nice to have. They aren’t just for the youth. Millennials are buying houses, starting businesses, relocating, investing. Gen Z isn’t far off from that, either. It’s time to make sure that your region’s brand is meeting them where they are: online.

If you’re thinking, “Wait, I am a millennial,” then  hopefully you’re already on the right path! If not, go on a walk with us, will you?

Cities and regions across the United States are still dragging their feet designing attractive websites, creating engaging social media content, and understanding how to stay up to date in a digital environment. We’ve spotted a lot of clunky websites and misdirected social media and it’s time to affirm that yes, we can do better.

It can be a lot to juggle, especially in these uncertain times, and especially with the target moving at a dizzying pace. As the past few months have seen an epic shift to online working environments, meetings and commerce, it’s clear that digital is where it’s all happening, and placemaking efforts that are falling behind could use a boost.

We get it, there’s a lot to do, but meeting future citizens and investors where they are – online – means you need to treat your region’s online presence like a dating profile of sorts, and we’re seeing a lot of blank or sloppy profiles out there that we’re not swiping. If the very idea of swiping on a dating profile is lost on you, then trust us, you’re our target audience here.

Clean, clear website

Let’s start with the basics. Ask your interns and they could probably build an attractive website for you in a matter of hours, yet we rely on external developers to run the show. That’s fine. We can’t reinvent everything here, but just because someone else is behind the wheel doesn’t mean you can’t dictate directions.

Websites are often the hub of information for anyone interested in your region. It needs to provide clear direction, concise and coherent information accessible without having to click on thirty different hidden tabs or headings to find the right information. Keep text to a minimum. Keep distractions to a minimum. Keep jargon to a minimum. Each page should have a focus. It’s likely better to have many clear and concise pages than to drop everything onto one page.

It’s absolutely essential that your website be effective or else, the minute prospective businesses or new talent close the window, you’ve lost them. Twenty years ago, many of us working in economic development may have taken website creation for granted. It was something for the developers. We just waited for the final product. Today, it’s too easy to develop and use these tools ourselves, so there is no excuse for an outdated, unattractive website. 

Engaging, voice-driven socials

Fortunately with social media, there is less aesthetic to worry about, since Facebook and Twitter have standard formats. Instead, what’s important on social media is engaging content that captures the attention of those who you are looking to attract, whether its new talent or new investments.

In fact, many people will actually spot your destination mentioned on social media before they ever click to your homepage. This makes it all the more important to take a second look at what you’re doing.

So what’s the trick to a successful social media strategy? Simply having one is a good first step, if we’re being honest. Every place is different, and people respond differently on each platform, so experimentation will reveal what works and what doesn’t for your particular brand. Without any sort of methodology, however, feeding the social media beasts can become an unruly – and unwanted – task that ends up going ignored.

Set some parameters. Develop a voice. Establish goals. Get started. Overthinking social media is as dangerous as underthinking it, in our book. The fleeting nature of it all provides some cover and defense for content that may have missed the mark. Social media posts often seem simply like water under bridge, until they make a positive splash!

Consistency across multimedia

Most importantly for placemaking purposes, no matter what sort of media you use, be consistent. Your brand needs to come across in every Instagram post, every YouTube video, and every press release you send out.

Don’t have a logo? Make one.

Don’t have a set of keywords for your region? Make one.

Don’t have a tagline? Make one.

See where we’re going with this? You need to know what your region’s brand is before you can try to share it with others. Consistency, therefore, is key. The more those audiences see watermarks on videos or logos on documents, the more they’ll associate something with your region’s brand. Hopefully, if you play your cards right, that something will be the very thing that attracts them to move or invest in your region.

While we’re on the subject of multimedia, don’t let the word scare you. It might be time to assess your library of images and content, however, to update it a bit. Do you even have a YouTube channel? People want to see, not just read about your region and its experiences. If they are going to move there or invest there, video content is the best way to showcase what you’ve got. This is evident especially during a global pandemic! Accessible high-res photography and quality video content are digital assets that we’re also filing under “must-have.” Let’s move them from the “nice to have” file of yesteryear.

Parting thoughts?

All of this may seem a bit much. It’s not instinctual for all of us to know how to watermark a video or find the right hashtag for a social media post. Creating a great digital strategy means having the right digital team at your side. If you’re wondering what DCI could bring to your digital efforts, get in touch with Susan Brake at [email protected] to learn how our 60 years of placemaking experience can help scrub up your digital presence so that it’s nice and shiny for 2021.

Written By

Susan Brake

Susan Brake is Vice President at DCI overseeing the digital media strategy for all the firm's economic development clients. Since joining the company, she has effectively leveraged traditional and social media tactics to reach target audiences for her clients large and small.

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