Taking Your Community Online

Based on the observations and experiences I have had in South Madison, a prominent example of a “social dilemma” was the Celebrate South Madison festival. From my understanding, the festival has been quite a large event in past years. However, this year the number of restaurant participants and community attendance significantly decreased. One couldn’t help but wonder, why did this happen?

In her book Here Comes Everybody, Shirky cites an observation of Robert Putnam that is quite startling: participation in group activities, the vehicle for creating and sustaining social capital, is on the decline in the United States. What causes this decline varies by region, but it hinders our whole nation and hinders the social capital of places like South Madison.

Perhaps one of the main reasons participation in group activities has declined is because communication became too difficult. The cost of picking up the phone, walking downtown or driving to a gathering outweighed the social capital benefits. Fortunately, new technology is working to lessen the social dilemmas present in South Madison and other communities around the country.

The rise of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, gave people a way to engage with their communities without any physical contact. The information available online is unlimited, and people have the ability to filter what they participate in. This forms “groups” of people with similar interests coming together for a similar cause. Taking it one step further, you can find people with similar interests coming together for a similar cause in your immediate surrounding area. There is no need to call anyone or drive anywhere; you can join the conversation right from your couch.

Although people in South Madison may have access to new technology, I believe the society within and surrounding South Madison has hindered the new technology from being truly effective in lessening the social dilemma problems. South Madison is very diverse, which is and advantage and a disadvantage. It is a disadvantage in that the different ethnic groups rarely come together as one community. Organizations within the community do very little to encourage the groups to come together. But perhaps the new technology will be an outlet for people from all different backgrounds to come together without any judgments or pressures. They can break into a new group based on common interests instead of ethnicity. Savor South Madison can aid this grouping by providing the common ground of delish food that is present right in the South Madison community.

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#hashtag power and #checkingin

Though I’ll be the first to admit I spend way too much time on Twitter, I’ll never be embarrassed about it. So what I’m saying is, it’s not surprising that I think we can harass the little blue bird and use her for the good of South Madison. In particular, I think we can combine aspects of the Kanter & Fine and Mansfield pieces to connect effectively with the South Madison community. If we want to bridge and bond the community, we need to listen to what’s going on. At least to begin our social media our presence (or, in theory, continue it…), we have to find out what people are already tweeting in and about South Madison.

Enter: hashtags. Hashtags can help us discover the twitter community among South Madison residents and surrounding communities in the city. They are a way we can assess the level of South Madison engagement on Twitter and help us establish a jumping off point for our strategy. We want to see what people are already tweeting — these people are our primary target for twitter (existing users). Our strategy has to address the interests and topics already being discussed while also integrating our new content.

In brainstorming a less “traditional” social media approach, there was really no place I could go but to Mashable. I worship the social media ground Mashable tweets on and as I suspected, they had a case study for something that I was interested in: foursquare. If we want to increase the use of restaurants, grocery stores and community events, rewarding people for checking into foursquare is a great incentive. In particular, Mashable suggests giving away something small. When you offer an incentive, it rewards regular customers and attracts new ones. We can’t necessarily make this project a marketing campaign for eating at the different restaurants. However, we could use foursquare giveaways as a part of events we host. If we facilitate community meals or host the catered event on campus we discussed, a small giveaway could be the incentive we need to get people engaged.


Motivating to South Madison

One of the challenges human motivation presents us is the disinterest people have in actively seeking out unfamiliar information. If reading these articles made me realize anything, it’s that people are much more willing to seek out people, places and information to validate themselves and their opinions. In order to remedy this, I think we should try to foster a feeling that the South Madison area has traditions and cultures to make our target audience feel at home there. If we can, our audience might be more motivated to visit based on their perceived similarities. However, we could also choose to attract people to the South Madison area by labeling it as a new and exciting experience. Although changing people’s behavior is challenging, Pariser describes the sense of accomplishment we feel when trying new things stating “the experiences we have when we come across new ideas, people, and cultures are powerful. They make us feel human” (Pariser 224). We could try to capitalize on the invigoration that comes with trying new things!

Lack of knowledge goes hand in hand with lack of motivation. The message from the readings seemed to be that people would rather have their beliefs and opinions affirmed than seek out opposing ideals. However, when people refuse to hear or experience different viewpoints, they also miss out on the opportunity to evolve their opinions. Stroud describes this phenomenon saying “the logic is that if citizens are not exposed to information that conflicts with their beliefs, then they have no reason to change their beliefs” (Stroud 11). The lack of knowledge is only fueled by technology’s role in the problem. Personalization is making it increasingly harder for people to encounter information by chance. If users have not shared any information with these news aggregators which indicates a tie or interest to the culture of the South Madison area, then they most likely will not see our information come up in searches or on websites they use. As Pariser states “while the Internet has the potential to decentralize knowledge and control, in practice it’s concentrating control over what we see and what opportunities we’re offered in the hands of fewer people than ever before” (Pariser 218).

The best solution I can offer so far would be to use Twitter. Twitter appeared to be the social networking site that was the least centered around personalization. All of the tweets from everyone you subscribe to are displayed in a timeline with none left out. If we all had accounts that we actively used and started posting about restaurants in the South Madison area or the Farmer’s Market there, then it might catch our friends’ attention and motivate them to visit the area. When I use Twitter and see funny tweets about a place or occurrence it makes me much more interested. Also, I generally trust my friends’ taste in food and restaurants. So we could use our friends’ trust to spread the interest. It could also be fun to do a video series on our website where we eat at different restaurants each week and give our feedback about the experience. Kindof a “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain” type of deal where we give some background on the place and then actually eat the food. Having our genuine opinions and experiences could be a fun way for both us and our target audience to learn about the South Madison area.