Could social media be an answer for advancing downtown St. Louis?

Larry Chapman | Dec 01, 2022

Seneca Commercial Real Estate

article originally appeared

I am 65 years old and not an active social media user.

Although I understand traditional marketing and communications, I admit that I don’t really know how social media works, or exactly why it works to drive awareness and build brands, but it obviously does.

In recent years, I have been involved in a number of new commercial developments that have opened my eyes to the importance and impact of social media. I was also amazed to find out, when applying for a loan recently, that the lender had access to a company that literally scored our social media surrounding a new project rollout and used that to get comfortable with making the loan. Clearly, the financial sector recognizes the power of social media in separating successful projects from flops.

I am quite convinced that the early success at our Food TruckGardens (9 Mile and Frankie Martin) was due to the robust social media campaigns that we implemented. The high degree of interest in our urban agricultural efforts while investing in FreshHarvest 365, and even the success leasing our next generation office building in the face of Covid-19 were also driven by a vigorous, engaging social media presence.

All this has fired my curiosity about social media. It is pretty easy to see the power that these platforms have and their ability to create perceptions, which can quickly become reality. When searching for information, the quicker it’s found, the better. It is amazing how easy it is to believe that even small companies are now large and important based on social media. With the right hashtag on peak trends and the right influencer mentions, it seems anything is possible — for good or ill. Results on social media can be both rapid and ruthless. And a bad impression can be very difficult to overcome.

This leads me to thinking about downtown St. Louis and St. Louisas a region. In particular, I thought about current, difficult issues such as crime, lack of growth and negative perceptions of our region generally. Simply typing in the words “St. Louis” into a search engine often yields negative content among top results, while finding good news and positive things about St. Louis takes time and effort.

It seems to me that efforts to promote St. Louis, whether it’sGreater St. Louis Inc. or the city itself, should go out of its way to hire a large team of the best and most talented social media marketers and content creators (local or not), to develop the most robust social media campaigns possible. Every effort should be made to engage online influencers and advocates to advance and promote the good stories about St. Louis — not so that we don’t have to face our problems, but so that the narrative isn’t unfairly dominated by them. I honestly think most of these promotion budgets should be focused on social media, along with other digital tools such as search engine optimization. As important, entities like GSL, Explore St. Louis, the city, county and others need to work in concert with each other and pool their efforts. St. Louis has a long history of business and booster groups running their own shows, which wastes limited resources and can blunt the positive impact we all want to achieve. The creation of GSL is to some extent a recognition of this fact, but there are still lots of other players. To succeed in a social campaign, as in so many other things, we need to set aside our parochial interests and collaborate and, perhaps most important, do things differently.

This is something every business and person that cares about St.Louis can and should help with.

If we can promote enough “good news” stories, it would result in outsiders and even ourselves becoming more upbeat and supportive of the St. Louis community and more confident in its future. This won’t happen overnight, but it can happen. By changing not just the perspective of others, but our own perspective about St. Louis, we can help shape our future for the better. We can be among the top of more fun “cool places to live”national lists, instead of all the lists we don’t want to be on.

It also seems like the best and brightest among us in this arena tend to be younger and ready to change, which is exactly what we need to revitalize and improve every aspect of St. Louis.

I have been a brick-and-mortar real estate developer for more than43 years, and personally believe I’ve done a lot of good for the community. But what’s next? How do we better leverage evolving technologies born from the internet to improve and benefit St.Louis?

Is social media a big part of that answer? I think so.