Ah the Falls, no matter how many times I see them, they’re always just amazing. The Niagara Falls that Canadians have grown to know, love and be proud of is full of glassy-eyed tourists, glitz and glamour. But there’s a forgotten side to what many Canadians deem the 8th unofficial world wonder; the Falls aren’t just Canadian, they have dual citizenship—they’re American too.
Crossing the border at Rainbow Bridge brings you right to the doorstep of the American Falls, located in Niagara Falls, NY. Stopping at the border, handing the U.S. customs officer my passport he asked “Citizenship?”
him: “Purpose for travelling?”
me: “I’m going to the Niagara Rises community meeting.”
him: “And what would that be exactly ma’am?”
me: “Well, let me tell you…”
Niagara Rises is a grassroots organization that is focused on getting the Niagara Falls, New York community back on its feet. Over the past five decades Niagara Falls (NF) NY has lost over half their population, about a quarter million residents, resulting in a regional economic, local and social downslide. The current state of the U.S. side is the reverse of what it used to be, as it’s currently plagued by rundown neighborhoods and boarded-up local businesses.
Niagara Rises, also known as Niagara Homecoming, came from one single tweet. It all started when a tweet-up for a similar initiative called Buffalo Homecoming was announced— and from there, founding members Frank Croisdale and Colleen Kulikowski joined forces to restructure and revalue their city; and so Niagara Homecoming was born. Their idea is simple: host a community rebranding initiative designed to be the biggest homecoming event ever to hit Western NY.
I joined the Niagara Rises group to support my mentor, one of the group’s founders and help out with some of the logistics behind their public relations strategy. But what I soon found out was that the group had already covered all of their social media bases because they weren’t only joining the larger conversation, they were off starting their own too.
So what exactly is their challenge? – To reach out to those who once were members of the NF, NY community. As Croisdale explained, “To make this event successful, we need to reach out to people who don’t necessarily read or have access to local newspapers and community literature, the residents that moved away from Niagara Falls, we want to get Niagara Rises on their radar, and one of the best ways to reach them is through social media.”
Engaging the community.
A plethora of outreach strategies and communities were born to engage the former, present, and future NF residents. Social media enables the group to connect and reconnect with the coveted members of their community who have left; those who Niagara Rises is determined to get back. So in a skip, a hop, a blog, and a twitter account later, it’s hard to ignore the buzz of around the event.
• Niagara Rises Blog – Almost daily blog posts with local business updates, the sharing of members’ personal NF stories, and homecoming event updates are written and featured here. In just a few short months the Niagara Rises group has grown from its core founders to membership in the hundreds.
• Twitter – At monthly meetings ‘Twitter tutorials’ are run, in which members learn about tweeting, and are encouraged to open their own accounts and tweet about their personal memories of Niagara Falls; while minutes and event updates are tweeted during the actual meetings themselves. Similarly, in just a few short months their Twitter following has grown to be in the thousands.
• Squidoo – This lense combines all of their topics of interest. All of the online communities they are engaged in are featured and compiled into one place for people to check out.
• YouTube – YouTube videos are composed to document fundraising events, monthly meetings, and press conferences.
Each month they’ve seen an increase in both local and national participation, with more active commenting on blog posts, more people coming forward to share their memories and desire to return, and even support from the mayor and local government. Although the event isn’t for another few months (June 25th-28th), the way Niagara Rises has used social media from the get-go, to not only promote the event but to also build the community is showing some truly positive results. The wide range of social media used has given access, and most importantly a voice to NF residents, past and present, local and national. The personalized feedback and input only social media could offer has enabled Niagara Rises to get what they so wanted most—access to a broader audience, the opportunity to join a larger conversation and (re)build their community.
Photo of American and Bridal Veil Falls (via nxaw91)