Cities & Local Communities: Start Investing in Social Sharing

I grew up in the cutest, most perfect town in the world: Pella, Iowa.

Google it. You’ll want to visit too, I promise.

The annual Tulip Time festival brings in 150,000+ people and generates $5 million for local businesses in town. You’ve got your Dutch pastry shops, local meat markets, and the most darling boutiques.

Growing up there, our family went uptown to get our hair done, buy gifts, shop for furniture, consume donut holes and grab lunch with friends. Almost every dollar went into the local economy over and over again.

The only time I remember going to the big city, Des Moines, is when we needed back to school clothes or to get a new TV. Or to go to a fun concert or bigger event. We did almost everything else in Pella.

Infusing dollars into the local economy supported individual families, many of my own friends. It allowed these businesses to hire local people. It ensured extra dollars went into advertising in the local newspaper or hiring a local printing company for fliers to be made or to the local tax accountant and bookkeeper. The money floated around Pella consistently and everyone felt it.

Fundera shares that $68 for every $100 stays in the community when spent at a local business. When spending the same at a non-local business like a national chain, only $43 stays in your community.

I remember when Amazon was expanding and looking at options across the country. It felt as though EVERYONE wanted Amazon. More jobs! A cool building! More taxes to collect! Economic development departments were pulling together pretty impressive packages for Amazon to choose their city. It was a huge deal.

Let’s flip the perspective a bit…

Imagine someone who has spent an entire decade saving, mapping out, and curating her brick & mortar retail shop. There probably isn’t an economic development department that would be like “YOU MUST CHOOSE US!” Not because it’s not a good idea, but it’s not as significant as Amazon coming to our own city… right?

I’m not so sure. It’s something I’m curious about.

The woman that started the retail shop created a new heartbeat in a district that was in disrepair. Her shop brings current residents to that part of town they’ve never visited, drives e-commerce purchases from all over the country (cause she’s CRUSHING on the Gram), and gets written about in Vogue. Her business supports lots of other smaller makers, encourages others to open their brick & mortar shop next door, and invests in local vendors for business needs.

She has created one part-time job for someone, a job for herself, and both stability and awareness for many other makers. Those makers now have the confidence to take their product to other retailers or even online. There are events being planned for the district, new collaborations happening, public art going up, and LIFE happening in a place that was only recently struggling.

The revenue she generates may not be even a fraction of what Amazon’s is, but collectively the impact she has created is profound. And debatably better.

When I ask her how she’s grown so quickly, she gives credit to Instagram and all the people who are buying her items, sharing them on the Gram, and tagging her. She credits the makers in her store and how they all share one another’s items on social media.

These social sharers are talking about new coffee shops, they’re taking selfies with new products they bought from a clothing boutique, they are tagging events they attend. And the reality is, many of us are making everyday decisions because of these humans who choose to create content about local brands and push publish.

We say to our partner, “What do you want to do this weekend?” “Oh did you see Joey just posted about the new brewery opening in Waukee?” “No! I didn’t (opens Instagram to assess further)… yeah! We should pick up a crowler on Friday after work.”

Or perhaps I just saw a friend from college posting about her weekend excursion to Austin. The Instagram Stories of the trip put a note in my mind to look further and ask her questions. “Zach, maybe we should take do a road trip to Austin with Penelope!”

Social sharing is driving local economic impact significantly. Why?

We trust our neighbors, our coworkers, our kids’ friends’ parents. So when they post and share a 5-star review of the new movie theater that was recently restored, we make a mental note to try it or immediately show up that night for whatever movie came out.

Local people create the culture that exists inside our cities.

Local business owners cultivate the foot traffic in specific neighborhoods that make cities feel alive. And this alive-ness is what is drawing visitors, new residents, and people saying “I’m a lifer,” with roots so deep in their community they will likely never leave.

From time to time, I see bigger cities and even smaller towns investing in influencer marketing… they invite these macro influencers to their city to create content. And it’s cool right? The photos are usually great and your city gets a boost in visibility. But they’ll move on and talk about something else soon. Their TikTok video is good, but I think we can do better.

My question is and will be…

What does it look like to support, fund, and leverage the local voices that are committed to your city?

We’ve created the hummingbirds in Des Moines to explore this concept of city-specific influencers, bloggers and content creators gathering to elevate brands they love and experience new brands we bring to them.

Almost 3 years later, we see a city full of people sharing local experiences regularly giving all of us new ideas on how to keep that money inside our own city, supporting the humans who call it home.

After you read this, tell your online audience what local purchase you made or what local experience you’re planning to have this week. You never know who you’ll inspire to do the same. And those people taking inspired action will inspire others to create an ecosystem of social sharing that elevates local everything.

Entrepreneur, CEO, local business enthusiast. I write about topics that impact local businesses, leaders, and communities.

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