In today’s interconnected and networked world, people look online first for everything, including communities. How does your community’s online presence measure up? Does it capture the vibrancy and activity your community has to offer, or does it look out-of-date and abandoned?
Since most people’s first impressions of your community are online these days, it’s more important than ever to make sure that impression is accurate and positive. Here are five ways to start taking control of your community’s online presence.
Understand Your Current Online Presence
The first thing to understand is that a community’s online presence is way more than just a single organization having a website and social media accounts. It includes the websites and social media presence of other businesses and organizations in your community, press coverage of your community, forum posts, national listing sites — basically anything that might come up when someone searches for your community online.
To get a sense of what your current online presence is like, do some searches and see what comes up. Are the results accurate, complete and interesting? What you want are relevant, engaging sites that will make people want more. What you don’t want are decade-old forum posts, generic listing sites with incorrect information and news articles about crime.
If you want to take it a level further, see what search terms are related to your community by using the free Keyword Analysis from Google AdWords. That’ll give you a sense of the types of searches your community is coming up in, and it’s a great way to figure out how you can attract more people.
Work with Local Businesses to Get Online
Local businesses are a huge part of what gives communities their character, but unfortunately many don’t have the time or expertise to develop a strong web and social media presence. If this is the case in your community, working with them to improve their online outreach will not only make them more successful, it’ll improve your community’s overall online presence as well.
Consider running a Web & Social Media 101 class for your businesses. Oftentimes demystifying digital is all that’s needed for businesses to take the plunge. Or, you can always make a few extra bucks by offering to manage their presence for them.
Keep Your Content Fresh
The best way to get old content out of your community’s search results is to keep creating fresh content to replace it. This is especially important if there are any negative articles out there that pop up in search results.. Take a look back at things you’ve written about in the past few years and see if there’s anything that deserves a follow-up. Even if it’s a short post or update in the original article itself, keeping it fresh shows that the community is active.
Promote Your Local Bloggers & Hyperlocal News Sites
When it comes to online presence, the more activity and fresh content, the better. Do you have any local bloggers or other news sites that cover your community? Actively promoting them will improve your community’s online footprint and make your community look more digitally savvy. Also, as someone who’s been doing local blogs for years, I can also say that giving local bloggers some encouragement and support can go a long way.
Use Google Calendar and Facebook for Events
Out of all the local information and data available on the web, event information is by far the messiest. There are a million different tools people use to promote events online and they all present the information in different levels of detail and in different formats. This makes it very difficult for people to find complete local event information, which is an issue because interesting events are one of the best ways to draw people to your community.
Regardless of any other event systems you may be using, make sure you also create your events in Facebook and provide a Google Calendar on your website. Why? They are free, nearly everyone is on Facebook and/or has a Google Account and they allow people to spread the word in the easiest possible way.
While there are certainly lots of other ways you can improve your community’s online presence, these five will go a long way in turning your community into a digital destination. What other things have you done to promote your community online? I’m convinced that in the next few years, community online presence will become a standard part of the community planning processes, and I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing.
Brett Wiewiora is the CEO of Scenable, a social enterprise startup working at the intersection of technology and community development. He is also the author of Digital Placemaking, a blog exploring strategies for turning communities into digital destinations.