Thursday, June 09, 2016

Program helps rural communities band together to better market towns on their official websites

A lack of information on a rural communities' websites could be keeping people from moving to those areas, Ariana Brocious reports for NET News, a service of Nebraska's PBS and NPR stations. Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension specialist, studied 11 rural Nebraska Panhandle communities to see what draws people to—and keeps them in—rural communities. She told Brocious, "When they would go to actually use the website as sort of a filter of where they might relocate, a lot of new residents couldn't find the information they needed."

The study led to the formation of an extension program called "Marketing Hometown America," tested in 2014 by seven communities in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, Brocious writes. "The extension program trains local residents to lead small discussions among community members, talking about what strengths their community has and how they could better highlight those. After several discussions, the various small groups share their findings with one another and decide on ways they can act."

The pilot community, Neligh, population 1,500, created a series of videos for the town's website showcasing what it has to offer, Brocious writes. Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek told Brocious, "It wasn't just the same 10 people that show up to every town hall meeting. It was 60 people who might not have normally given their input in a town hall meeting that actually allowed us to change some of the perceptions around Neligh. Our brand had been previously just the drive-in and just the Neligh Mill. And what came out of this Marketing Hometown America, and what we found incredibly valuable, is that Neligh is a lot more."

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