What makes me passionate about my job is my belief that social media can help bring back the small town feel we lost along the way. I grew up near a small town in Florida named Clermont. Our claim to fame was our hills of citrus groves, and our community was largely made up of small and family run businesses. But, over the years the citrus groves were hit hard by freezes, and as Orlando started to creep closer they were replaced by subdivisions, and large corporations started pushing out the little guys. Corporations whose branding we are bombarded with wherever we go, but who are not deeply rooted in our community, and who don’t really know us or have a personal connection with us.
Maybe it’s because I’m a small town country girl at heart, but I really want to see the family business succeed and become the lifeblood of my community again. I believe it can happen, but what it will take is educating small business owners about this shift in business and how to use their social capital as their competitive edge.
About a year ago, I started a Twitter account for my town – @ClermontFlorida. My goal was, and is, to use Twitter to unite the community to show off how great it is to live there, and to promote the small businesses in our community to give them a leg up. I think towns and communities that aren’t representing their area on Twitter and trying to bond their community are just plain crazy. They are missing out on an extremely simple and effective way to bring money into their local economy, keep businesses open, develop a sense of community pride among residents, and bring back that small town feel.
The typical @ClermontFlorida tweets consist of some news items, but mostly it is retweets of what people are talking about and out doing in our community. Anyone that follows the Twitter account would immediately understand why we are so proud of our community. We have a National Training Center where Olympians like Tyson Gay are currently training for this years Olympics, one of our residents was just inducted into the pro bowling Hall of Fame, we are the hub of the wakeboard and wakeskate industry with many pro athletes training daily on our lakes, and we always have triathlons and cycling competitions hosted at our Waterfront Park. We are so much more than a small dot on the map to the left of Orlando, and I think the Twitter account has helped people see that.
The other great opportunity that is open to a “tweeting town” is the ability to guide a visitors experience. If someone tweets that they are visiting town, I’ll send them a friendly “welcome to the area” tweet and suggest a restaurant to try. You’ll also often find updates from local businesses and what specials and events they have going on, and there’s always tweets from happy customers of local businesses to share. Even if that business doesn’t even have a Twitter presence, those positive reviews are still reaching their target audience.
So how can you make your town a “Tweeting Town”? Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Don’t tweet headlines, tweet first hand stories
I could tweet news articles about Clermont, and I did that for a while, but honestly, it was boring content. Stories like if a school uniform policy was passed or what the rotary club was up to is not exactly relevant to most people and is too long and formal for most people’s attention span. If they want that news, the best place for that is the newspaper and they know that.
But, what has really been successful is retweeting messages from people who are out in the community right when news is happening, and news that would probably never make it into the newspaper but is still interesting. For example, there is a guy in Clermont that actually bought one of those jet pack machine things that goes over water. Someone tweeted a YouTube video about it and it’s the coolest thing! You probably wouldn’t see that in the paper. Unless maybe it was the president of the rotary club.
2. Set up Twitter Searches
This is where most of the content I post comes from. I set up and saved searches for Clermont, for certain popular businesses, and for the names of lakes in the area. It’s also gotten to the point where when people mention Clermont, they use the Twitter handle, so I can immediately retweet their message. If your town has a common name, you will have to be a little more advanced in your search, and you will need to work harder to train the community to use your handle or a hashtag when they mention the town.
3. Have high content standards.
Definitely don’t tweet any and every mention of your town. If I did that, the tweet stream would be filled with a bunch of whiny teenagers talking about “getting out” or spam tweets from companies who really don’t get Twitter. Make sure you set your goals going into it, and the type of content you will and will not tweet. I will retweet some negative comments from time to time if I feel like it will foster a sense of community and build a stronger bond, but mostly I retweet those who are positive and love our town.
4. Help People
There are times when someone is looking for a referral for something like a good dentist or a house to rent. Usually I will connect them with a business that I know is on Twitter so that they can start a conversation with them. There’s also been times where people will tweet the account asking about a plume of smoke they see and if it’s a brush fire, or an unusual amount of traffic and if there is an accident nearby. I’m able to research it for them ASAP and get the info out to the rest of the community. Also a lot of the times I’ll retweet a question and someone else who follows the account will answer (perfect opportunity for a business).
5. Promote local businesses
This is my main goal with the account, but it’s a lot trickier than it sounds. I want all the posts to be engaging and not read like an advertisement. A lot of the times that is the only way businesses know how to use Twitter. I only retweet messages that are relevant and relational, because I know that if people only see ads, they won’t come back.
6. Photos, photos, photos.
Post as many photos as you can. 1) Because people can identify the areas in the photos and feel a stronger bond with the account, and 2) because it’s one of the most engaging pieces of content you can post. I am SO proud of the collection of photos that have been posted over the past year on the @ClermontFlorida twitter account. It’s a perfect display of life in our community, and you can see why we love it here. Aren’t our sunsets incredible?!
Do you live in a “tweeting town”? I would love to hear your stories of how Twitter and social media has helped to build a stronger sense of local community. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.