Men’s Health Magazine has put up a ranking of the 100 top cities for social networking and Boise ranks 20th, beating out San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Chicago and New York. Also remarkable: Salt Lake City was 10th. Washington, DC was first. Boise is the smallest city in the top 20.
Interesting figures, but what’s behind the ranking? Here’s my take as someone who has lived in Boise more than 20 years as a newpaper reporter, public relations professional and social media consultant:
1. Ingrained tech savviness. Micron Technology, the second-largest computer chip manufacturer in the world, started here. In the early 1970s, Hewlett Packard began a major campus in Boise which developed the laser printer.
2. Suburbanization. Boise and the surrounding areas are built to automotive standards, leaving few public gathering areas; those that exist are usually in the traditional downtown areas. Yet people still crave connection, even if their environment promotes separation, and social media provide that connection.
3. Political activism. Yes, there’s a lot of that in Idaho, both from the left and the right. The Idaho Legislature is a non-stop source of, ahem, ideas that are far ahead of the times, or far beyond them, and people are bound to object to them or promote them.
4. Racial diversity. Another suprise. Idaho is still pretty white, but quickly becoming less so, and minorities tend to use social media at higher rates than whites. According to the Pew Internet & American Life project, “Among internet users, seven in ten blacks and English-speaking Latinos use social networking sites—significantly higher than the six in ten whites who do so.” According to the US Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in Idaho increased by more than 43 percent from 2000 to 2007.
Of course, there are cities that are more political active, more racially diverse, more suburbanized and that have a more influential tradition of technology. However, the Boise area ranks relatively high in all of these and taken as a whole, I think that’s what explains Boise’s surprisingly high ranking among socially networked cities.