News Column

Social Media Expert Reworks City's Online Image

April 4, 2013

Nicholas C. Stern

social media

Social media can seem strange and scary.

But for Brian Cathcart, a 23-year-old resident of Burkittsville and the town's social media expert, navigating the sometimes murky waters of the field requires knowledge and perseverance -- keeping up on the latest trends in technology and being dedicated to sniffing out the latest and greatest.

Doing so can build brand recognition, foment a revolution or bring neighbors together.

When Mayor Debby Burgoyne discovered Facebook had created two pages for Burkittsville, she took ownership, she said. But Burgoyne quickly realized she had neither the time nor the know-how to handle the task.

In January, she asked Cathcart to manage social media for the town.

"I'm very happy with the results," Burgoyne said.

Cathcart grew up in Silver Spring and moved to Frederick to study sociology at Hood College, he said. The subject interested him because he likes understanding how people and trends work, as well as conducting research, he said.

Cathcart is interested in how national politicians, large companies or celebrities can interact with ordinary citizens, and then be brought down from their pedestals, he said.

He is fascinated by people such as musician Amanda Palmer, who maintains her career with the help of social media, getting gigs and allowing fans to finance the production of her music.

The fluidity of social media's effects and progress also amaze, he said. For example, during uprisings in Egypt, activists moved to online dating sites to communicate when Facebook and other sites were blocked.

"It's something you can't quite control," Cathcart said.

That aspect of social media can also backfire for politicians or marketing professionals who make typographical errors or sour statements, he said.

Social media can connect people over long distances and give instant feedback, he said. But the job doesn't end at 5 p.m. because world-changing news can pop up at any moment.

"It's all about timing, being the first to get a scoop," he said.

The similarity to journalism is clear, but social media offers some twists. Marketing and publicity, even artistic pursuits like his photography can also be thrown into the mix, Cathcart said.

Burgoyne said she likes to see residents' comments on Facebook, as well as those from people who have moved away. Some comments come from overseas, like those of an Israeli resident who contacted the page because of his interest in the film "The Blair Witch Project" and began communicating with Cathcart.

What gets people to the page?

Town-related news items are often popular, as are pictures with captions, Cathcart said. The latter often draw comments from neighbors.

What does the future hold?

Cathcart foresees more integration of traditionally low-tech objects, he said. Trash cans and other household appliances, for instance, will likely be outfitted with technology that will allow owners to keep track of their possessions without ever having to leave their seats.

Source: (c)2013 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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