In an effort to promote Wilton businesses and create a business-friendly image for the town, Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) is stepping up its social media presence and hoping Wilton residents, business owners and workers get behind what they’re calling a “grass-roots” initiative.
The EDC’s new focus on social media is happening at a time when the commission is also grappling with strategic questions about Wilton’s “brand” and how to most effectively promote it.
The EDC’s mission is “to enhance Wilton’s reputation as a community where the quality of life for residents, professionals, and workers makes Wilton the ‘first choice’ to start a new business, to relocate an existing business, or for current businesses to remain and flourish,” according to the Town of Wilton website.
One key question is how to reach those constituencies.
At the Aug. 11 EDC meeting, the commission discussed its “digital presence” and the various digital media tools it currently utilizes — the Town of Wilton website, the standalone EDC website and a Facebook page — and concluded that mix needed adjustment.
After weighing cost (both time and money) and benefits, social media marketing emerged as the top priority, to include more than just Facebook.
A newcomer to the EDC is leading the charge. Alison Smith was appointed to the EDC on July 20, with her first EDC meeting on Aug. 11.
GMW reached out to Smith after seeing a social media post about the EDC’s new efforts.
“The EDC committed to create and grow a social media following that originally will be ‘grass roots’ efforts to gain followers through current town residents,” she told GMW, “and then expand to the friend and family network of our town and ultimately create some more formal marketing to create followers and awareness.”
In an email to GMW, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said, “The Board of Selectmen members very much support the decision the commission made to focus their efforts on marketing the town through social media.”
Wilton EDC on Instagram and… TikTok?
To keep the commission on track, Smith suggested using the town’s 40 Things We Love About Wilton as inspiration for a calendar of content that will showcase Wilton and its businesses at their best.
Smith told GMW the goal is to engage the Wilton community first, but eventually to expand what is currently a fairly small following, consisting mainly of Wilton residents and some professionals and business owners already in Wilton.
While the degree to which they will influence prospective residents and businesses remains to be seen, the social media posts will take the opportunity to highlight Wilton’s desirable features, with references such as “an hour outside of NYC,” “over 1,100 businesses” and “quality of living” as in the Instagram post above.
Today, prospective businesses are most likely to utilize the Business Action Center on the town website, which includes a five-page Guide to Opening/Expanding a Business in Wilton that offers a “checklist” of important steps and contacts for various town departments.
However, by the EDC’s own admission, the website and video are long outdated, and would need significant investment to revamp. Unpromoted, the site gets virtually no traffic.
As commissioner Marty Avallone said during the Aug. 11 meeting, “The challenge with digital assets — websites, social media accounts and the like — is eventually they age out. Content becomes stale” without regular updates.
Referring specifically to the EDC website, Avallone said, “I think what we’re running into is just that.”
Since the site was launched nearly 10 years ago, support for it has waned significantly, due to a number of factors ranging from the turnover, capacity and skill sets of the volunteer commissioners to limited town budgets for outside resources.
Rather than re-investing in an overhaul of the obsolete website, commissioners and town officials agree with the new emphasis on social media marketing, which can be more efficiently managed by the commission.
Strategic Questions Remain — What’s the Wilton Brand?
With the economic disruption wrought by COVID-19, the EDC’s focus in late 2020 was primarily on outreach to Wilton’s existing businesses, namely the merchants, shops and restaurants that were most acutely impacted by the pandemic. That outreach led to efforts such as advocating for changes to town regulations on signage (which the Planning and Zoning Commission members said they would not address before the town’s Master Planning process) and creating a “business spotlight” program to promote local businesses (which is still in development). The commission also hosted a webinar on co-working for the new legion of remote workers.
Apart from the tactical activities that garnered the commission’s attention during COVID, the commission has grappled with strategic questions about Wilton’s “brand,” how to most effectively promote it, and how to capitalize on the pandemic-fueled wave of potential new residents and businesses.
In mid-2020, AdvanceCT, a non-profit organization that works in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to advance economic competitiveness in the state, made recommendations to Wilton’s EDC to help it respond to the changing business climate. The recommendations included preparing “a data package to promote business recruitment” (and updating the EDC website and video with that data), with emphasis on “information relevant to business decision-makers, developers, and commercial realtors” such as transit/transportation information, workforce statistics, socioeconomic factors and school profiles, among others.
The EDC is in the process of updating such a fact sheet, but has not undertaken updates to the EDC website or video.
At its June 14 meeting, the EDC spent significant time reviewing what two nearby towns — Westport and Fairfield — have been doing to promote their respective towns to prospective businesses.
The “Choose Westport” and “Choose Fairfield” websites were developed for the economic development organizations of those towns by a private branding, website design and digital marketing company. They were also part of a more coordinated marketing campaign by the “Fairfield 5,” an economic development coalition that also includes Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk.
The EDC saw those websites as a good model, in many ways, for how its own website might be updated and improved. While similar to the EDC site in terms of content, the Westport/Fairfield sites are up to date, with strong brand identity and fresh visual imagery.
In terms of Wilton’s brand identity, AdvanceCT also recommended taking a strategic look at creating a “brand” for Wilton that would best position it for success in attracting businesses.
Vanderslice sees that type of undertaking as something the town could consider. She told GMW, “That is big effort, which requires engaging a [marketing] firm that will do focus groups, etc. The concept is certainly something to be discussed.”