Tech Watch: Erie Social Media

Category:  Tech Watch
Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 1:05 PM
Tech Watch: Erie Social Media by Michael Haas


By: Michael Haas

In the 2010 Primary, there were 169,815 registered voters in Erie County, and of those….only 42,845 actually voted. Now, contrast this to the fact that there are 92,120 people of voting age in Erie who are on Facebook right now, with several thousand coming of age within the next year. More than half of the United States is on Facebook, and now the local governments are joining this trend too, which leaves us to question: Should Erie be making a move to connect with voters via social media as well?

When you look at the benefits of Erie social media, I believe the answer is yes because keeping local people in the know about local events and happenings as well as helping tourism, fostering governmental transparency, and encouraging a community revival are all wise and inspiring goals for Erie, and fostering an effective digital campaign can accomplish all of these.

We live in a new age, and that requires change. I’m talking about real change, not just talk. With great opportunities and projects happening in our community already, such as the GAF Property, the new Erie Insurance Arena, the Perry 200 Commemoration, and Destination Erie: A Regional Vision Plan, now seems like just the time to use social media to continue our conversations.

Now, there are obvious costs that need to be discussed. social media is “free,” but when you consider the time and energy this will take, it starts to add up. Consider New York City: while obviously much larger than Erie, it’s quickly becoming a template for tech cities everywhere. Recently, NYC hired Rachel Sterne as the city’s Chief Digital Officer with a yearly salary of $110,000/year. Okay, we have no need for that kind of staff for a social media campaign in Erie, but the principle remains: Erie must innovate and expand its reach… or risk being left in the dust by other cities willing to innovate.

I’m no idealist. This sort of investment requires actionable results, and lots of them. With Erie facing a severe lack of funds because of the recession, a social media campaign will need to make money. Personally, I think this is where social media can really sing. Consider this: Unique monthly visitors to social travel sites jumped 34 percent between the first half of 2008 and the last half of 2009. Travellers referred to a hotel or tourism booking site by Facebook are also more likely to book travel than those who are referred via search engines like Google, according to 2010 PhocusWright travel research. In 2011, Iceland experienced a nearly 20 percent increase in tourism as a result of its social media efforts over the past year, according to Kristján M. Hauksson, the founder of Nordic eMarketing, which is working with the country’s tourism campaign: “Inspired by Iceland.” social media isn’t just for College kids anymore.

But beyond those dollar signs is a deeper message that needs to be portrayed. Erie is experiencing somewhat of a cultural and economic renaissance over these next few years. With Destination Erie, we’ll be developing the plan for Erie in the next 50 years. By tethering a social media campaign with real change in Erie, we can establish a sense of community in the area both digitally and organically. 

Consider this specific example: City Council. While it may seem obvious that this legislative organization meets every week, few people actually attend the deliberations. Integrating social media into City Council’s infrastructure will not only let their community know what’s going on, but also encourage more people to get involved and ultimately vote. Why not Livestream City Council meetings live on Facebook and LiveTweet their meetings? Simply by updating followers on what’s happening in the City Council meetings on Twitter (LiveTweeting), more citizens will have the opportunity to be informed and encouraged to participate with the government. Small steps like this can go a long way towards establishing deeper connection between elected officials and their constituents. 

The biggest mistake we can make right now is to sit around and do nothing. Sure, we can wait for other cities of a similar size to adopt these strategies…but why? Erie should become a leader in the United States again. Let’s move up the proverbial food chain of cities and make some noise about our great community. Erie’s future is one tweet away.

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