The question may already be irrelevant. Lancaster is using social media. Even on Twitter, which is still just catching on, there are around 200 Lancastrians, the majority of them active. (EthanD does a good job keeping tabs on in-county Twitterfolk, and there is also the Lancaster Twitter Users List on this Lancaster PA blog.) There are easily twice as many on LinkedIn—all of them professionals. Facebook and MySpace? We’re talking thousands—and not just high-schoolers posting pictures of their friends holding Bud Lights.
Established organizations are preparing to follow the lead of these individuals. The United Way, the Lancaster County Community Foundation, and a number of churches are testing the waters and preparing social media strategies. Even county commissioner Craig Lehman is on LinkedIn. Businesses are diving in, too—NxtBook Media is a powerhouse in this area. Most downtown cafes have Facebook pages, and this trend is spreading outward across the county (see the blog of Becky Garvey, whose Pushing the Envelope stationery boutique is in Neffsville). Kae Wagner (at NorthStar Marketing) and myself (at The Chamber) have had no shortage of business people asking us for specific advice, in addition to “what’s this all about?” questions.
OK, so it’s being used. But is it being used in ways that matter?
Yes, it is. Established leaders (individuals and organizations) in Lancaster continue to be slow to catch on, but social networking is becoming a power onto itself that will soon be impossible to ignore. Plus, its popularity is making it a great tool for learning and for keeping an ear to the ground. As I write this, Dave Conklin (ProspectMX) is live-tweeting highlights of a Jim Collins speech from the Inc 500 Conference in D.C. Just now Samphis asked, “Why is .pdf the standard for documents? The files are huge, clunky and difficult to use for things like books.” Within seconds, fellow twitterers pointed out that if the files are huge, there is a problem (such as OCR—optical character recognition—being turned on), and also explained the value of the pdf standard.
And that’s just Twitter. MySpace continues to be a major force in the local music scene. I estimate that an average of ten local events each week are promoted and organized on Facebook. (An accurate estimation?)
What’s next, then?
What’s next is for social networking to move beyond its current local core constituencies. We will see the average age of local Facebook users continue to climb. The number of professionals on LinkedIn will continue to grow exponentially, since its value increases with every additional local user. The microblogging of Twitter will attract more people who want to maintain contact with a broad network but do not have the time to write full blog entries. We we also see the rise of the social networking professional as a consulting gig to serve local businesses.
As the demographics of social network participants shifts to resemble the real world more closely, more real decisions and consensus-building will happen via social media. I believe that is inevitable. Do you agree? Or do you think the future importance (and current relevance) of social media in Lancaster is much more precarious (or far less serious) than I make it out to be?