Can social media help drive local community development toward sustainability?

These are the notes from the SACRED VALLEY DIALOGUE held on Mallorca 23-26 November, 2014 in the open space group that discussed social media (SM) and how it might be possible to use SM to drive local development.

A sense of place

When creating an on-line presence for a group or an intended community it is important to decide on the geographic area that the group will cover from the beginning. It makes it easier to identify with the place and gain a sense of its extent. Of course you can always change it but the sooner you can get a good geographical fit, the better.
There are many things that can contribute to a sense of place: stories, history, photos, maps etc. All can be posted on the website and shared via facebook, twitter, instagram etc. It’s good to decide on a hashtag (Not too many letters) from early on.

A sense of belonging to a place

Many more connect with a place than actually live there: people who grew up there, people who visit regularly, people who have connections with businesses there, etc ,etc. And social media with posts from outsiders can create a buzz about a place that engages residents.
The sense of belonging can be built on to create events that tourists, visitors, friends, family can attend. How about an ex-resident’s return day?

A sense of community

Even if there is a lot of buzz and sharing online, there is a need to meet in person. The aim of activity is to create a space where people can come together, get to know each other, discuss shared vision and concerns and form working groups to create more events, more projects and build momentum.

The attraction sequence: social media >website> email list> events

Twitter especially is good at catching the odd person by chance. They can be directed to the web page and facebook page to get signed up, preferably to a mailing list.
The thing is to have a wide net of attraction, a wide range of subjects and offerings from photography, local history, local varieties of plants, animals, classified, job ads, etc
The other good thing to have on the community website is a forum for discussion. You will find discussion also ensues on facebook and in other media. The webmaster can control the level of politeness on the community’s website.

The engagement sequence website > email list > working group>events >projects

Volunteering is essential to community development. Social media connected to the community web can help find volunteers and help publicize events.
Working groups can drive a wide range of projects: sense of place, sense of community, local vision, local strategy, outreach, local business development and new start-ups to name but a few. Keeping volunteers informed and engaged is not easy, but social media can help to promote a sense of achievement if each working group can post updates.

The creating jobs sequence working group> project > enterprise start-up

Even if people do bump into each other regularly, the web can provide an extra contact point. Project tools like trello and basecamp mean that groups can keep their working documents updated and online, always accessible in their phones and computers, even if they are prevented from meeting in real life.
The aim is for projects to grow eventually into right livelihood-providing enterprises. Here the social media and web can help by providing an advertising platform for these enterprises, and a classified platform for second hand goods, free stuff, etc.
In this way, the web replaces or augments the small adverts you see in shops and the public square notice boards.

Final conclusions

Social media is not a network in itself but one tool of many. Together with a membership website, with project management tools, working group tools, forums and connections to social media it can help drive local development towards building the sustainable society.

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