Did you know Alpena had a visitor last summer that came to our town after seeing a picture of the community posted on Instagram?
We live in a very different world today than we did 10 or even five years ago. The most notable instigator of change in our lifestyle climate has been the Internet. It has changed everything. It has changed the economy, changed the way we communicate with each other, and changed the amount of information available to each of us. I grew up without the Internet so I can understand both the ways in which it has enhanced our lives and the ways in which it has made life more complicated.
Perhaps the most significant Internet advancement to pay attention to is social media. Social media can be described as digital applications that allow people to communicate directly with others to share content such as words, pictures and video. There are thousands of social media platforms in existence and the number grows daily.
A few of the most familiar applications are household names for many. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are no longer considered jargon but now have a place in daily language. The beauty of these programs is that participation is absolutely free and you don't have to understand all the intricacies or be a computer whiz to create impact. While most users enjoy the opportunities these platforms offer to stay in touch with family and friends, businesses can reach out to customers and increase their market share, service professionals and network and connect with like-minded people for advice and support, and we as a community can use it to share all that is great about living here.
If you don't like the idea of sharing your activities online, or don't use social media, that is OK. If you are a user or have been wondering how to be more strategic, here is a bare-bones synopsis of how you can use it to your benefit as a business and to help spread the word about Alpena.
Facebook: If you are a business and can't afford a website then it is in your best interest to at least set up a Facebook page to share pictures of your business, hours of operation, contact information, and location. As a regular citizen, you can help spread the word about Alpena by posting pictures of your favorite activities, recommendations about your favorite places or businesses, and positive comments about what you like about living here.
Instagram: Instagram is purely photography based. Information is spread using hashtags in post descriptions. Hashtags, or a number sign "#" placed in front of a keyword, makes the keyword searchable on the platform. You can also "tag" the location of the photo so people can see where it was taken. As a business you can take photos of people using your products or post photos that demonstrate how your mission is being carried out in the community. To spread the word about Alpena post photos of your favorite local scenes such as live music at a local restaurant, pictures of the sunrise over the lake, or just your everyday life and hashtag appropriate keywords about the activity displayed in the photo (ex., #Alpena, #PureMichigan, #SanctuaryoftheGreatLakes #kayaking, #fishing #LakeHuron).
YouTube: Youtube is the second leading search engine behind Google. People like to see life in motion. YouTube is a great place to post how-to videos about enjoying the products or services your business offers. You can consider a YouTube video a chat with a friend. The closer the video is to real-life the better. To help Alpena you can film and post short clips about weekend adventures hiking the local trails, or sailing the bay, or even events. The video title and corresponding description are how people find your content so make sure these are keyword heavy.
Pinterest: Pinterest is the creative person's gold mine. Pinterest allows you to search for anything under the sun; everything from do-it-yourself bathroom makeovers to unique hats worn in the 1920s. Pinterest also is loaded with pictures of beautiful scenery from across the globe. To market your business with this platform you can upload pictures, videos or graphics that link to your website. To share Alpena you can post photos or video and in addition to a detailed description you can geotag the location of the photo on a map.
You don't have to overwhelm yourself with complex algorithm details to be an effective social media user. The most important things are to post meaningful content that is relevant and respectful to your desired audience, sincere and fresh; and offer others a chance to engage with you. Who knows, maybe this summer someone will decide to visit Alpena because of a picture you post!
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.