Guest post by David James Nicol, Shetland Islands
Photo by David Gifford, used by permission.
My name is David James Nicol, and I make my living running a web design business, NB Communication Ltd (http://www.nbcommunication.
I live and work in the Shetland Islands, which lie about 100 miles (160km) north of the nearest point on mainland Scotland. It is a great place to live, but the population of approximately 22,000 is now beginning to decline, in part because the North Sea oil industry is slowing down. The Shetland Islands Council (the local authority) is very keen to maintain and ultimately increase the number of residents, and they commissioned my company to build a website – http://www.shetland.org – to help to spread the word about the fantastic things our islands have to offer, and to get more people to move here.
In this post I will highlight some of the lessons I learned from the www.shetland.org project, and I will cover some of the ways that this remote group of Scottish islands is trying to encourage inward migration. I hope that my experiences might be of some use to anyone involved in promoting a ‘rural place’, whether that is a town, a region, an island, or whatever.
1. Assume That No One Knows Anything About You
When planning and developing www.shetland.org we assumed that many (if not most) visitors to the site would know very little about Shetland. To address this we included a ‘Learn About Shetland’ section to give people a quick overview, and we offer plenty of links to other sites where people get further information about specific topics.
If you are promoting a rural location, it makes sense to assume that no one knows anything about you. Make sure you tell them who, what and where you are.
2. Focus On Strengths But Be Honest About Weaknesses
Shetland has a lot going for it:
- stunning scenery
- internationally important natural environments (Shetland is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and it was recently voted the third best island group by National Geographic Traveler – http://news.
nationalgeographic.com/news/ 2007/10/photogalleries/island- pictures/photo2.html)
- fascinating history, a unique cultural heritage, and a thriving arts scene
- a vibrant and world-renowned musical tradition
- state-of-the-art leisure and education facilities funded by ‘oil money’
- worldwide ‘brand recognition’ via Shetland ponies, Shetland sheepdogs and Shetland (and Fair Isle) knitting
In www.shetland.org, we try to get all these points across to make readers interested in finding our more about Shetland, encouraging them consider moving here to experience all this for themselves.
However, we made a conscious choice to be honest about Shetland’s shortcomings. For example, we are very open about Shetland being quite windy a lot of the time, and about our latitude of 60 degrees North leading to very short days in winter, something which many people might find hard to adjust to. Further to this, just as our location offers many advantages it can also cause problems, especially with regard to the cost of getting to and from the Scottish mainland.
So, we don’t pretend that we can offer everything that is available in big cities or elsewhere in the UK, and we don’t gloss over the inevitable downsides to our location, but we are bold and confident about making sure that we do tell people about the many things that we do have to offer.
A Picture Paints A Thousand Words
A picture paints a thousand words, and we think this is certainly true when trying to explain what Shetland is like. We spent a long time trying to find the right images for the site, and we think that the ones we chose (especially for the homepage) convey more information than we could ever hope to get across using words alone.
Again, we think that any place trying to promote itself should pay close attention to photography.
The Importance Of Ongoing Communication
The site is not a one-time, all-or-nothing sales pitch. We don’t expect anyone to visit www.shetland.org once and then immediately pack up everything to move here. It is simply not realistic to expect one visit to a single website to persuade someone to make such a significant decision.
Instead, we take a more long-term approach. We aim to get people sufficiently interested in Shetland to make them sign-up to our mailing list. We will be able to send them monthly updates about what is happening here. This should help to keep Shetland in forefront of their minds and, if and when the time is right for any of these people to make a big change in their lives, Shetland will hopefully be one of the places they give serious consideration to.
Again, this is something that any rural area can learn from: keep reminding people about all you have to offer, and they may well consider moving to be with you whenever the time is right.
Make It Easy
Our aim is to get people to move to Shetland, and we try to make this as easy as possible for them by providing all the information they might need, including details about housing, education, travel, and such like. This content is contained in the ‘Move To Shetland’ section of the site. We hope that this will remove many of the obstacles that might stand in the way of someone moving here.
If you want people to move to your town or region, give them as much help as you possibly can to make their journey easy and painless.
To conclude, I have to say that www.shetland.org has been live for only a month or so, and it is too early to tell how much impact it might make on the local economy. That said, the initial signs are all very encouraging, and I am confident that we’ll see some great results as the site grows and evolves. I hope that this post might provide a couple of ideas for anyone who is looking to promote their own town or region, and I welcome all your feedback.
Cheers for now
David James Nicol, Managing Director, www.nbcommunication.com
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.