Saturday, November 19, 2011

Northeast Minnesota Fiber Project Focuses on Social Media at the 2011 Broadband Conference in Duluth

Students from the College of St. Scholastica present their take on Social Media during general
session at the this year's Broadband Conference   (Photo: Melissa Cox)

We enjoyed leading one of the "Learning Stations" during the annual Blandin Broadband Conference held recently in Duluth, Minnesota.  We want to thank the Blandin Foundation, Connect Minnesota and all of those who stopped by to join in the conversation.

As we discussed at the conference, although the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project is a truly landmark initiative, we see it as an emerging regional asset that has the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts.  By the middle of next year, we will begin deploying about 400 miles of the 915 mile optical fiber backbone, which will serve as a regional platform for innovation and growth in education, technology, health care and economic development.  This promise, however, is dependent upon engagement among all parties and at all levels: the Northeast Service Cooperative, our anchor tentants, telecommunications carriers, and others such as USDA, the State of Minnesota, Lake County, Arrowhead Electric and Blandin.

Yes, engagement is the key.  At minimum, engagement requires people and dialaog.  But our "exchange map" has grown.  Engagement also requires channels, media...and new environments.  Although personal contact still matters and legacy media may have a place, social media fits the bill as the new, critical engagement platform.  Social media is at the nexus of ideas, technology, innovation and dialog.  It is a fundamental part of the New Normal, including emerging business models and government 2.0.

Although we've anchored this discussion to our work in Minnesota, we'll admit to casting a rather wide net.  That's precisely why we used our conference Learning Station to share our view that Social Media is a rich engagement platform for all matters of interest including broadband investment, economic development and related initiatives.  It's not so much that Social Media is singularly important.  Rather, it's that we appreciate its characteristics: ubiquitous, regenerative...and expanding.  If not the Next Big Thing, Social Media will be part of the road map.

We enjoyed the dialog with those who joined us at the conference.  Jean from Kandiyohi County talked about how they're using social media to drive traffic to their web site.  Cassie from Connect Minnesota observed that for rural Minnesota, the online communities still lack healthy participation rates.  And Connie from the State of Minnesota shared the challenges of connecting well with diverse populations and unaligned interests.  It was fascinating to watch a traditional conversation unfold against the backdrop of emerging media.

I want to thank my colleagues Tiffany Anderson, Melissa Cox and Lyle MacVey for helping NESC engage at this year's conference.  Despite the fundamental importance of people and place in the traditional view, we see social media as a critical, complementary exchange for ideas, relationships and enterprise.  Getting started is simple with an endless stream of resources and an ocean of content literally at your fingertips.  Focus and discernment may be your biggest challenges.  Remember, the process may be more curative than exploratory. 

Thank you for joining us here on this forum.  Please feel free to share your experiences, insights or cautionary tales with regards to Social Media.  Create your world!

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