Since the office of economic development took over the city’s digital marketing in 2014, Buena Vista’s web traffic has increased and so has the number of visitors to the city.
Brian Brown, director of economic development, began focusing efforts on digital advertising in August, filling a void. Previously, Buena Vista had almost no online footprint. But in the last three months, activity on the city’s official website as well as the Glen Maury Park web page has increased dramatically.
“We looked at [Buena Vista’s social media imprint] from a very detailed social marketing platform in terms of where we were going for the future, what our objectives were, and started with a systematic approach to how we are going to [increase social media activity]” Brown said.
The main focus of the revamped digital marketing campaign has been Glen Maury Park. Initially, digital, print and radio advertising was increased to highlight events going on at the park such as the Nothin’ Fancy Bluegrass Festival or Mountain Days.
In August, 100,000 digital impressions, a term meaning online ads, were ordered for the Roanoke and Blacksburg markets while 50,000 were ordered for Staunton and Charlottesville to promote Labor Day festivities. Additionally, Brown said that other target markets have been Washington D.C., Waynesboro, Lynchburg and Salem.
“Typically we’re trying to reach outside of Rockbridge County to bring more people in,” Brown said. “The average person in Rockbridge County is not going to pitch a tent or bring their camper in for an event, whereas someone from Staunton, Augusta [County], someone from D.C. may come down for the weekend… that’s your market piece.”
While Brown has been focused on bringing people from the outside in, others are trying to change the dialogue within Buena Vista itself. Tyson Cooper is a member of the economic development board, which convenes monthly so that local business owners can converse with each other as well as the Rockbridge Area Chamber of Commerce, a member of the city council and Brown. Cooper believes that to effectively market to outsiders, the internal perception of Buena Vista has to change.
“Changing the internal dialogue is really important,” he said. To illustrate his point, Cooper gave an example: say someone from outside Buena Vista decides, based on the influence of a marketing campaign by the city, to move his or her business or family to the city. Ebullient and optimistic about a new life, the newcomer meets a long-time resident and asks his or her opinion of the place. To the newcomer’s dismay, the long-time resident decries the city, rifling off negative story after negative story about Buena Vista.
“Everything that we’ve done [in terms of marketing to outsiders] is completely undone in that one phrase,” Cooper explained.
Cooper believes that someone within the community needs to be “telling the story.” Otherwise, outsiders with less knowledge of the city will give a less accurate account. Brown echoed that sentiment, saying that “the message has to come from a grassroots level,” meaning that business and civic leaders need to change the internal dialogue. If the city tried to, its efforts would go unnoticed.
“The city is not going to be able to tell that story itself because it’s not as believable as someone else telling it for you,” he said. “You can tell good stories, you can put good press releases out there, but at the same time, they still need the people and the businesses to tell their story.”
In terms of social media, Yelp and TripAdvisor are the media of choice for Brown. In the last two years, the Glen Maury Park Yelp activity was essentially non-existent. However, after he took over the site’s management in September, the site’s monthly activity has nearly tripled the previous highest monthly activity each month.
In a presentation to the city council about a month ago, as well as in economic development board meetings, Brown has asked that people go on Yelp and TripAdvisor and rate businesses within the city that they visit.
Facebook is the other main social media player. While the city’s Facebook page lacks substance, the Glen Maury Park page looks clean and updated. In the aforementioned presentation to city council, Brown noted that “consistency in posting is key. [It] must be frequent AND informative.”
Brown said that he will play with Twitter, but as of now, the city does not have an official Twitter handle.
As for the future, Brown said that he’ll continue to carefully monitor digital traffic. If digital media marketing continues to show positive results, collegiate internships and possibly even a full-time administrative position could open up.