Is bigger really better?

Social community of birds

Every territorial marketing professional has been faced with the following dilemma at one point or another: “How can I get my social media community to grow?”

That inevitably leads to a slew of creative ideas from all sides. Marketing professionals advocate for social media advertising.

Creatives push great community building ideas into your hand, while graphic designers come up with cool new forms of photo tweaking to make the post more ‘shareable’ and ‘likeable’, along with so many other things to help us reach more and more people. This all happens in the name of growing our ‘digital communities’.

This is usually a laudable goal, but most people rarely stop to think about it and answer a simple question: Why?

Why do place brands need 1 million fans on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, or in Instagram or Pinterest, and so on and so forth?

Most government officials at all levels of government, be they at the city or nation level, answer with something along the lines of “bigger is better”, or “the more the merrier”, or even “because my neighbour has a bigger community”.

These answers lack focus, depth and direction, and as a result, the social media strategies of these place brands are just that, directionless.

But what happens when you keep these answers and paraphrase the question, turning it into, “What’s my place brand getting out of these efforts?” Then the answers provided by these government officials can no longer be justified.

Place brands have to rethink their strategy, and truly define what they want to accomplish from their digital activities. This gives way to the construction of real ‘place communities’.

There are some interesting examples out there, like Sweden’s Twitter profile, where each week a different Swede takes charge of the account. This has created a community of people who actually have a better understanding of Sweden, gathered on the official website.

While it’s true that all these people are Swedes, they are also a key audience of the brand, as they now have more reasons to love their country, and have become stronger advocates of the Swedish country brand.

Other place brands are more focused on churning out post after post of beautiful landscapes and incredible destinations. But sometimes the storytelling is too focused on the way they see the world, and not enough on how the rest of us see ‘them’. Once more that’s a difficulty.

To overcome this, it’s necessary to build a storytelling structure that’s universal enough yet authentic enough to engage the intended audience while retaining the local flavour. While this sounds difficult, there are many available tools at the disposal of us marketers.

Clichés are probably the most powerful of these. We may hate them, but trust me, nothing says Mexico louder than a ‘Mariachi sombrero’, or France than a ‘French beret’.

This may enrage the local population, who feel that the cliché misrepresents them. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for a skilled marketer can take that cliché and turn it into a matter of national pride, while at the same time using it to convey a message to a foreign audience. It all depends on whom you want to talk to.

It brings us back to the question: “Why is my place brand on social media?”

The answer should be simple. To build a community of likeminded people who truly like my place, and are genuinely interested in hearing about it.

A new way of approaching the problem is by turning it into an issue of quality over quantity. It’s not about how many fans/followers your brand has; it’s about how strong your online community is. That’s the only way you can get people to step away from their Facebook or Twitter page and actually go book a flight to see all the wonders you’re talking to them about.

In a sense, that’s the ultimate goal of place branding and territorial marketing, to bring people to see our homes, and if all goes well, for them to invest there.

By Daniel Reyes

Daniel Reyes is former Chief Communications Officer of the Colombia Country Brand Office. He now works as a private consultant in strategic communications, with an emphasis on place brands in the digital sphere. Follow Daniel on Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn.

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