The world took notice earlier this year when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was forced from power through an uprising that was mobilized with the help of social media tools like Facebook and twitter. And while Delaware residents might not use the web to bring down the governor, more and more are using social media to build business and community.
From businesses and non-profits, arts groups and even politicians, a two-year-old effort to build social media interaction in the state is starting to pay off. And the movement’s “evangelist” : Ken Grant. “I’m grabbing people and shoving them against a wall and saying, you’ve got to try this thing, and then once they do they realize how powerful this tool is and good things come from that,” Grant says.
Earlier this month, Grant was preaching his message as a guest lecturer at Delaware State University, telling a communications class there, “Human beings are social creatures.” He says a small state like Delaware, where everybody is already fairly well connected, can thrive in an online environment through communication tools like Twitter and Facebook.
“Delaware’s always prided itself on being the state that can move a little bit faster, a little bit more nimbly, and come up with creative ideas and put them into practice faster. Social media is allowing Delaware to do just that in a way that gets noticed by the entire world.”
According to a study of published by Netprospex.com, Wilmington rounds out the top-ten cities with the most business people using Twitter. Men’s Health magazine ranked Wilmington (22) above Philadelphia (49) and Baltimore (58) on it’s list of most socially networked cities in the nation.
After talking about social media at DSU, Grant showed its power by inviting his Twitter followers to meet us in Wilmington an hour later. About a dozen showed up to talk about their belief in the benefits of social media, including Laurie Bick. She says, “The whole idea is to help each other, so if somebody knows of an opportunity, they use whatever means available to them- Twitter, Facebook, whatever- to get that opportunity to a person they know could make that connection. That’s awesome.”
Like Ken Grant, Rodney Jordan has been a major force behind the social media effort in the state. He says while business has commonly been done on the golf course or at other social gatherings, social media is a great alternative to that. “This has given us the opportunity to make our own little country club online. We’ve developed it into a bit of a water cooler for Delaware too with a hash-tag for use on Twitter.”
That hash-tag, #netDE, organizes tweets about the community into an easy to follow stream. It’s made it easier for business owners like Candace Roseo, who runs Bella Vista Trattoria and Pizzeria at the Riverfront Market in Wilmington, to target customers in Delaware. “I can 100% unequivocally say that the time that I put in to that has been rewarded with incremental business,” she says. “We are getting more customers. We are getting new customers. For example, we are now doing some catering for the Blue Rocks, and that was a direct result of Twitter.”
It’s also working for Mose Zook at the Dutch Country Farmer’s Marketin Middletown. “Some of our friends that come in here actually introduced it to us, and showed us how it works, and we just gradually started using it for advertising,” says Zook. He says it’s especially attractive because it’s free. “That’s what the trend is, that’s what everybody’s doing, that’s the way everybody’s interacting with each other, so that’s what you got to do to get people’s attention.”
On the other side of the cultural spectrum, social media’s playing a key role in the growth of Poppycock Tattoo Shoppein Wilmington. But tattoo artist Tina Marabito says just having a Facebook or Twitter account is not enough. To be successful, you must be engaged. “Especially if you personalize it, a lot of people will see you more as a person and less as a business, and people want to shop more with people they can relate to and not just a cold business.”
It’s not just businesses that are benefiting from social media, non-profits like the Food Bank are getting involved too. “We have probably close to 2000 people following us on Twitter, almost 1,000 on Facebook,” says the Food Bank of Delaware’s Kim Kostes. “We’ve been the recipient of funds or food through the tweet-ups that have been held throughout the state.” Kostes says she uses social media to show what hunger in the state really looks like. “Often time people will retweet it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didnt’ know there was that many people,’ and I’ll say we’re distributing this and that, and kind of just paint a picture for people through words as to what’s going on at the mobile pantry or any other event that we might be at.”
Politicians in Delaware are also slowly starting to get on board. One of the most enthusiastic social media users is New Castle County Council President Tom Kovach (R). “It is direct communication, because instead of relying on some other traditional form of media, to try to get in there or try to make some quotable quote, you can get out what exactly you want to say,” Kovach says.
Governor Markell is using social media to communicate with residents too, often through staff members like Felicia Pullam. “Sometimes we’ll tweet questions that we’ll put out and see what people respond back to, other times we have activities that the Governor is doing,” she says. “We’ve gotten questions and things like pot holes and stuff that will come up through Twitter, and we can get that to the right agency.”
Grant says the focus is on building community and not necessarily dependent on specific technological tools like Facebook or Twitter, but more focused on building a sense of community. “I don’t know what’s going to come of the Delaware social media initiative, of this community that’s growing. Five years from now, we could see Delaware become the place for people to come to, it could be the East Coast silicon valley…Delaware could become that for social media. We don’t know. It would be awesome if it did, we’re just trying to lay the ground work for that possibility.”