The Case for Small City Social

San Francisco. New York. Seattle. Boston. Chicago. These cities are not only known for their landmarks, their innovative styles, trend setting scenes, and overwhelming energy. These cities are increasingly known for their revolutionary tech and social avenues.

They often have the best wireless networks, many of the most influential voices, and a social pulse that breeds (usually friendly) rivalries between them. When you hear their names — you know their personalities instinctively and completely. There is simply no stopping them.

Talking to friends and influencers living within these cities from an office in Orlando, Florida — it’s often times difficult not to be even slightly jealous of the resources that the big cities provide. I love my city. But, while I sometimes struggle to find tweet-ups, cultural events, and even those who understand the proper use of a hashtag, my big city counterparts inherently make jobs in tech and social media seem easier because of the roaring metropolises that embrace them. I want these things to happen here more often.

But, is the scale of these cities and the amount of people an insurmountable disadvantage to technologists, media folks and social media mavens outside these cities? Hell no. To complete and grow our own collective mindshare, smaller tech communities need to come together to overcome a set of collective challenges, both real, and theoretical.

Here’s a look at why, in this moment, technology and digital media focused careers in smaller cities are more difficult — and why we need to do everything in our power to build communities to changes that.

Our tech communities are still growing.

The New York’s and San Francisco’s of the world have been here since…well, right after the dinosaur’s party ended. Silicon Valley largely came to be when HP was formed. The empire of New York, of course one that is never to be left out, quickly attempted to live up to its name and adopt the one of being the “Next Silicon Valley.” Except, they dropped the “V” because…who really needs that anyway? And Silicon Alley was born circa 1995.

These are cities that are known for being on the forefronts of new technology, new advancements, and just throwing any ol’ idea out on to the wall and seeing if it’ll make money. We are…not.

We’re newer cities. Not large enough to be known as BIG cities, and not small enough to only have one traffic light. We have an Oreo cookie dilemma; we’re stuck in the middle like so much of that delicious creme filling. In many ways, we’re still light years behind our larger counterparts. We’re still afraid of taking the lead, or jumping into the air, screaming, “Hey! Look at us! Look what we can do!” But we offer different things. We need to embrace the growth and find pride in it and in who we are.

Innovation drives awareness, and for some tech-inspired cities, this drives an identity crisis.

There are just some cities who are too damn scared to move forward away from the small towns we began as. They don’t realize that for things to evolve, well — you must change. Standing still, paralyzed in fear of the what if’s, and proclaiming, “Well this is how it’s ALWAYS been done!” — is just terrifyingly stagnant.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small town or city that steers itself, with intent, away from all the big, scary things of the world today. I don’t know that we’d be America without those small towns! That being said, for the cities who are embracing technology as a growth industry, being trapped between General Store mentality and Big City dreams is not a great way to succeed.

These cities need to decide what they are — and stick to their guns. If we’re going to build skyscrapers, and tap into the tweets of tomorrow — then let’s proactively work on getting there. If not, then let’s be okay with the little city or town that we are.

Tech trailblazers need to build their own trails to blaze.

Yes, city officials and tech/social communities are backing them with fervor — but it is still mostly a word of mouth campaign that hosts the industry leaders and innovators of that area at the forefront. They are the ones who KNOW their city’s beautiful stories, they SHARE those stories, and they shout from the mountaintops, “Hey! We’ve GOT something going on over here!”

These technology leaders are the ones who blaze trails for everyone else. They are helpful, generous, and genuinely want everyone to share in their excitement for the languages of HTML and CSS or Twitter and Instagram. They’re seen around town. They’re known around town. And they’re constantly telling people to join them, follow them, we’ve got places to go — all of us, and these leaders are the ones who want the entire world to see their city for the potential they know is truly there.

In Orlando, we’re focusing on hashtags like #WhyOrlando and #OYes for movements focusing on the local scene, the growth of our Downtown Orlando city center, and just helping people to get beyond that “Mickey Mouse” label we’ve been known for. We’re a fantasy destination with a whole lot of reality to experience, and even as of last week the City Beautiful re-branded with a clever Orlando: You Don’t Know the Half of It tag. We’re challenging you to know us better!

Tech jobs in these cities are less plentiful, but shine brighter like diamonds in the rough.

The bigger cities are where people in social and tech flock because they KNOW the jobs are there, and that they can typically land them quickly. They’re the kids who grew up with the internet, starting from choosing their first AOL screen name they then likely found themselves dabbling with HTML and other foreign “techy” languages.

Fact: We all have to start somewhere. But these are the kids who’ve had lifelong dreams of landing careers with Google or Facebook or nearly any startup out there. So long as it’s in Silicon Valley…or, Alley. So they leave their hometowns, thinking they have no other choice. No other states or cities even seem to exist on that front. They grew up with the knowledge that THIS is where you go for these jobs — and that needs to change too.

Here, I am loving the movements of Orlando Tech Week and a documentary which I have still yet to see — Orlando Rising — about the emergence of our tech scene. We have NASA in our backyard, places like Siemens, Lockheed Martin, Oceaneering and the freakin’ Imagineers — who BUILT DISNEY WORLD.

Okay, okay. To be fair, a gentleman named Walter Elias Disney holds claim to that whole “Built Disney World” title, and the Imagineers headquarters is actually in Glendale, California. But the Imagineers are responsible for the design and development of Walt Disney World resorts, we’ve got two offices here in Orlando filled with those creative, magical minds — and, to my point, Disney himself was smart enough to bring his innovative, super tech savvy talents here.

And the osmosis of good ideas can help communities to grow. Much of Orlando, in fact, didn’t start truly developing until the 60’s and 70’s when Walt Disney came here with nothing but a dream and a mouse and now we’re ready to take that dream to the next level.

Most small cities aren’t “Iconic” for their technology, yet.

When you think of Orlando, you think of Mickey Mouse. It’s okay, we know it. The Central Florida area (and, generally, the entire state of Florida) totally embraces our theme park empire roots. And that’s one of the BIGGEST icons out there, so I think we’re proud to be one of the top destinations annually. We’re proud of our hospitality industry.

We’re the place you come on vacation, to get away from the 9–5 and that notoriously big city that’ll never let you sleep. We’re all palm trees and sunshine and pixie dust. We’re the place you dream of moving to. And, you know what? You actually CAN move here! It doesn’t just have to be a dream to hit up Universal Studios after work for a couple hours on a Tuesday afternoon.

But, here’s my point. That is typically the ONLY thing you know about Orlando. So, don’t stop there. Get to know us even further. With the likes of the University of Central Florida and Full Sail University, Apple (who apparently is in progress of building a hardware engineering location near UCF), the Creative Village, the companies mentioned above, and our inaugural Orlando Tech Week being a rather big success — for starters — I think Orlando is about to stun the world with an ace up the sleeve.

Our tech and social scenes are about to showcase that our biggest secret, is no longer a secret at all. This’ll be the place you want to be — that you NEED to be, year round, without question. And you’ll probably tweet about it too.

The cities need to help this growth.

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and our current resources just don’t match the passion of the people. We have to actively searching for and create our own resources, and sometimes even fight those who shiver in fear at the thought of change and progress. “But, but…this is how we’ve ALWAYS done it,” they say.

We just NEED more tech culture in general, more traditions, more community events that people will refuse to miss year in and year out. We need to give our community a chance. New York and San Francisco not only accept their business people, and their tourists, and their artists — they accept the weirdos too. The people that become the tribe, the culture, and the voice of new ideas. The ones who WILL.NOT.STOP. talking about their innovations, dreams, and things of tomorrow…because that’s where we all want to be.

Social media in small cities works because social media works everywhere. Social media has made the world smaller. It’s still big and beautiful and dramatic, but it’s smaller too. It has opened more doors and more friendships to me than any class or bar or grocery store could have.

But, the glistening reality of social media is that it has instilled in me a passion for my community too. It has given me a reason to love my backyard even more, to explore the reasons why Orlando (or any small city!) is great. It allows me to tweet and actually GET responses from people who are listening, understanding, and helping to move that culture forward.

You know what makes Orlando great for social media and tech? Orlando is, by and large, based on our homegrown hospitality industry. Hospitality is a business of first names, kind souls, and making people’s day with simple, yet brilliantly effective surprises. We are a CITY of hospitality. We are a CITY of first names, kind souls, and MAGIC. We’re made for tech and social, because our very core is a social network of great theme parks, restaurants, hotels, attractions, and hidden treasures that extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coast.

What social media and tech do for communities is this — it gives us a level playing field. Who cares if New York and San Fran have been doing it longer? Who cares if we’re the new kids on the block? These days, all you have to do is open your laptop or pick up your smartphone and you can access the world. We are now all potentially large cities.

We just need to infuse our culture with the passionate people who will blaze that trail. And, I think you’re about to see Orlando lead the way into a very new way of tech and social.

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