Turning Towns Into Cities

my first real taste of small town Main Street
Image by incendiarymind via Flickr

My good friend Susan Murphy wrote an interesting post yesterday, about how small towns are social networks. She points out that small towns have led the way for years when it comes to networking and seeing social leaders rise to the top. It’s a really good read and I highly recommend it.

It reminded me of something I’ve been thinking of for a while – how to involve the offline community more with the online one. While the likes of Twitter, Friendfeed and other social media tools are in the ascendancy, they’re still only used by a relatively small number of users, personal and professional.

So how do we change this?

How about we offer real-world and relevant use to offline communities so the online ones would experience growth and understanding? If we gave examples – workable examples – and led the way in showing users how to benefit from these self-same examples?

A conversation I had with my friend and PR person extraordinaire Lizz Harmon led me to think that this can be easier than many might think.

Imagine for a minute that you’re looking to travel somewhere for your vacation. Generally, you go by what the travel agent tells you. Now, unless you’re one of the very few lucky ones who’ve had great travel agents, the information you receive often doesn’t tell the whole story. Unfinished hotels, work sites just off the beach, sewer problems – and that’s just the good stuff.

I don’t blame the travel agent completely – after all, their job is to sell you a vacation and that’s where they make their money. I just wish for a little more honesty.

Now, imagine if you’re the same person looking to go on vacation and you get your information from a town or city’s Tourist Information Bureau – but via Twitter. Customer service representatives cover the account 24/7 and are able to answer any questions you might have. They’re not on commission so there’s no need for any imaginative descriptions.

They give you up-to-date information on places to stay and visit, local events and much more. By interacting with the future visitor, the tourist information office is doing everything right when it comes to placing its town or city in a positive light. And for small towns, it lets them keep up with their city equivalents and encourages tourism into their little part of the world.

Why stop there? Why not have councillors or Chambers of Commerce online and answering concerned citizens or incoming businesses respectively? Restaurants or movie theaters could offer discounts and incentives to anyone that brings in a printed deal from Twitter, Facebook or similar.

There’s a multitude of ways that businesses in particular can encourage the online and offline communities to come together. Our job is to help them get there. Who would you want to see online and what services would you use?

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