March 8, 2010

Derry on Facebook: For fans and Derry-curious alike

Union Leader Correspondent 
DERRY – Image is everything, which is why Stu Arnett,the town's marketing consultant, is taking baby steps into the 21st century of social networking.
     He wants to tread carefully, and get it right.
     While “The Town Of Derry” now has an official Facebook page seeking fans and, as TownofDerryNH,” has sent nearly two dozen informational tweets into the Twitterverse, this foray into virtual community is still very much a work in progress, admits Arnett.
     Best case scenario would be that Facebook reinvigorates the town's sense of community, becoming an online meeting place that provides an interactive forum for residents, business owners, prospective residents and the Derry-curious.
     Currently in “test” mode, Arnett said the new media outlets are still being tweaked as his team from Arnett Development Group considers content intake and linking capabilities prior to making a formal presentation to the council at the March 16 meeting. In the meantime, he is inviting the public to “friend” the town and let the social networking begin.
     Feedback is welcome.
     While many cities and towns around the state can be found on Facebook, not all are “official” sites. The City of Portsmouth, NH, is an unofficial page with nearly 4,000 fans – and a backstory.  
     Three years ago, tech-savvy Carl Levine of Stratham set out to change the structure of Facebook for Seacoast locals who had to choose a network that didn't represent them.
     “You had to choose from Manchester, Boston or Portland, Maine. So the page started as a way of asking the guys who run Facebook to establish a regional Facebook network in Portsmouth,” said Levine, of Stratham.
     Although the regional network system is now defunct, the page remains a thriving hub of all things Portsmouth, said Levine, who has moved on. Personally, he is still a fan, but rarely uses the site he launched. Professionally, he oversees the social media aspect of a small Stratham-based adult incontinence business, Disposables Delivered.
     “I'm still a fan of Portsmouth, and spend a lot of time there. I think it gives the town some great visibility, and the built-in advertising feature would be a plus for any town,” said Levine, referring to the targeted ads that appear through Facebook's built-in data collection system.
     He said a town looking for an official Facebook presence would do best with a “page” rather than a “group” because it would retain that interactive presence with its fans.
     It also adds a layer of communication within the town structure, which is high on Derry's list of priorities. In the short time since Levine launched the Portsmouth page, Facebook has evolved quickly. Now business and town-run entity pages abound with personalities defined by those who update them. The Derry Library, for example, is updated several times daily by various librarians on duty, and is pushing to reach 200 fans this month, providing a direct connection to the library faithful.
     Facebook can also aid the efforts of public safety officials in times of crisis, said Levine.
     “In situations, like the storm we just had, fans would automatically get your updates, providing they can get on the Internet, that is,” Levine said.
     The City of Manchester is one of the few official pages found on Facebook launched by a New Hampshire municipality. Six months since it began, it has accumulated only 22 fans and generated no interaction – likely more for lack of exposure than a statement on the city's popularity.
     Arnett is intent on finding the happy medium – an official town page that informs and enlightens – and puts a virtual face on the town of Derry.
     “We are interested to see what happens next, and looking forward to hearing from people,” Arnett said.

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