Growing a local social media presence

1 07 2012

Ideas about how to best engage with communities have been central to a number of my ongoing projects over the years. For example, the geokult collaboration focuses on notion of social and cultural mapping, another project Remote connections which explores technology uptake in remote Indigenous communities, and of course in my work with livinggreener.gov.au.

Recently, I have been considering how social media impacts on the concept of local, specially within the context of a postcode for example. Linda Carroli’s Placing project resonates for me – particularly as Aspley is a place I know intimately. I spent a number of formative years living in the Brisbane suburb and a range of creative work has been based on my experiences and perceptions of this suburban space – see Scalpland.

So what is happening in my local community? There are community noticeboards at the library and child care and family centre, but there appears to be little social media presence that has currency on the ground. We have the tools but not the engagement it would seem. Gumtree classifieds has reasonable listings for my suburb, and local Canberra online news website The RiotACT did have some recent stories. Some of these were a bit disturbing with a number of recent reports about shops and people being threatened with knifes. It wasn’t all bad news, there were also stories of developments that benefits families with a new childcare centre and new playgrounds being built.

The online factiods about my suburb do little to really give a sense of a place, excepting the obvious need to provide safe and creative places for children and young people. Over the time we have lived here we have seen many signs of growth in the west Belconnen area. New suburbs, much more traffic (though less public transport), and the local shopping centre is becoming busier and busier. Last week Coffee Club opened at Kippax and signs a McDonalds will be opening on the now vacant block indicate that there is much more  development to come. More people are moving to the area, but I still don’t know my neighbours that well after four years. Is it Canberra, or suburbia or just modern life?

Many ‘community’ building websites offer empty promises of being connected at the local level. For example, urban farming and sustainability facebook group LocalBlu https://www.facebook.com/localblu sounds like an amazing initiative, although when I go to the website there is nothing for my community or any of the other 6 Australian postcodes I submitted (including city centre of Sydney and Melbourne).

Facebook has three pages that could be starting point for local conversations – Kippax Fair, Woolworths Kippax and a page for suburb of Holt.

Community Engine is another community building website that uses Facebook to promote its message about growing your local community. When I went to the Community Engine website and plugged in my postcode, there were a lot of returns in the search, so it would be worth learning more about this tool.

At geokult we are developing a series of workshops and a ‘toolbox’ of tools for exploring and mapping communities. The aim is to promote and facilitate a more connected community. What we realise is that social media will not promote the project alone, it is important to remember the old school ways of raising community awareness – leafleting, letterbox drops and local stalls are highly effective ways to get to know people F2F. Over the coming months, I will be monitoring how my local community is engaging online, and experimenting with a range of techniques, with a purpose of developing a strategy for other community engagement projects.

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