When social media can enhance the economic potential of a city: The case of Genoa

Many cities today are aiming at positioning themselves in the global tourism market, tapping into niches of visitors that can support the local economy in a sustainable and inclusive way. The City of Genoa is investing in tourism to support the creation of jobs in a number of sectors, but in order for its tourism strategy to be effective, the shared narrative of the city amongst all key stakeholders is essential. Social media and digital communication platforms offer a great opportunity to use a widely used technology and engage with local businesses, cultural institutions, restaurants, hotels and many others. Such an approach opens up to new challenges, such as the capacity building of both civil servants and private businesses as well as the development of new digital participation strategies to involve citizens.

The old pharmacy of a Carmelite Friars convent might seem an unusual place to show the positive effects of the use of social media in a city. But the flow of visitors attracted to this hidden treasure of the Castelletto neighborhood, located on a hill standing up just behind the City Hall, is proof of how the  use of innovative digital tools can improve the attractiveness of a place. Frate Enzo, the friar responsible for keeping alive the tradition of the herbalist store operating in Genoa since 1695, posts interesting contents on the official Facebook page of the Antica Farmacia Erboristeria Sant’Anna every day. Over the years this has become a key reference point on medicinal herbal remedies for the local public.

Social media is very important to arouse people’s curiosity and give visibility to a shop located in a convent. Thanks to social media I’m also in contact with people from other Italian regions, who came to visit us and established a friendship that is going beyond the simple exchange of information about our products

Frate Enzo
Antica Farmacia Erboristeria Sant’Anna

The positive impact of the use of social media is not only visible by the increase of pharmacy sales (both online as offline), but also by the take up of  guided tours advertised on Facebook in January 2018: launched with few expectations in terms of the consumer reaction or demand, the visits are now fully booked for months.

Being the oldest shop in the city and still with its original owner, the pharmacy is part of the network of historical shops established by the City and actively supported by the local Chamber of Commerce. Along with other owners or employees of the so-called botteghe storiche, Friar Enzo participated in training (organised by the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Genoa) which aimed to foster the use of social media in promoting examples of the city’s commercial heritage

Even though I have always been curious of ICT and new technologies, testing actions such as the pharmacy’s website indexing on Google or the launch of a coordinated storytelling strategy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram contributed to create a turnaround, a positive aspect in times of economic crisis

Frate Enzo

Social media for tourism

In a city like Genoa, where the number of tourists is growing rapidly (+6% in 2017 compared to 2016), social media is playing a decisive role in presenting the city as an attractive destination for different types of tourism. The investment of resources in social media advertising within the annual Communication and Marketing Plan, designed by the city in collaboration with all the stakeholders of tourism sector and implemented through the incomes of the city tax, is now important. It’s also taken for granted, while just a couple of years ago its importance was still considered a controversial topic among all stakeholders.

We saw a growing sensitivity towards the use of social media for tourism promotion. We are going to invest not only in social media advertising campaigns but also in human resources, in people who are able to create editorial content to feed a new type of digital storytelling on regular basis

Cesare Torre
Head of Culture and Tourism department, City of Genoa

It was this focus on city branding and city marketing that led to Genoa getting involved in the URBACT II Network CityLogo. This led to the creation of a new visual identity and logo and, more importantly, had a profound and ongoing impact on the city.  It led to great focus on ICT and social media tools within city promotion and provided a framework in which the city could bring together a permanent working group made up of communicators and social media managers of public and private stakeholders involved in tourism and cultural promotion. It allowed them to come together to coordinate strategies, define communication messages and exchange good practices.

Subsequently, this group has evolved into the URBACT Local Group of an Action Planning Network – Interactive Cities.  The network is further contributing to the creation of a community spirit among all the professionals involved in making Genoa more attractive to tourists and locals.

We started a mechanism to attract more tourism and more interest towards Genoa, a strategy that will be enhanced with some elements of regional marketing to attract more enterprises and investors. On the one hand we are driving the city’s economic development while on the other we are encouraging entrepreneurs in the tourism sector to invest more in innovative communication services.

Cesare Torre

New economic opportunities for the city

This growing attention on the use of social media has meant that public institutions, professional associations, hotels, restaurants and shops across the city have hired social media managers and communication professionals. This has generated vital new employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the media and communications sector during a period of economic crisis. It has in fact contributed to the creation of a digital economy.

Many private and public actors decided to rely on professionals to develop innovative communication strategies. Everybody started to invest on web and social media marketing because it gives more results in terms of visibility compared to traditional media advertisement and helps in better calculating the return of investment

Rossana Borroni
Senior social media specialist of Webvisibility
Consultancy company collaborating with the City of Genoa

The impact of adopting of these tools and approaches was not limited to an increase in tourism in terms of e.g. numbers of tickets sold. According to Ms Borroni, it also  fostered the creation of creative content and these were often generated through collaboration among different types of professionals of the creative and digital sectors.

Today 74% of tourists choose a destination using digital tools. That is why interesting content and interaction with users are needed so as to differentiate the various tourism offers and targets

Rossana Borroni

The collaborative creation of a digital culture at local level provided the ideal background for the creation of new digital companies and consultancies and some of these are also active at national level. Thanks to Interactive Cities and the initiatives related to the use of social media for tourism, the City created the framework for new investments of the private sector in a digital ecosystem which is contributing to reinvigorate different sectors of local economy.

Making the residents social media ambassadors of the city

The active involvement of all the social media users in a collaborative strategy of urban storytelling is the next big step planned by the city of Genoa. This aims to reinforce local digital culture and the attractiveness and competitiveness of the city in terms of the tourism market. With its Integrated Action Plan of Interactive Cities,  Genoa is going to create a network of ambassadors who will amplify communication messages and strategies connected to city branding at national and international level.

This includes the launch of a contest to encourage the production of visual contents to be shared on social media on ‘Rolli Days’, the annual event dedicated to the promotion of the historical buildings declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2006. This provided a testing ground for a structured collaboration with the local Instagram community. This collaboration continued with a campaign named “Make Genoa part of you”, which reinforces the connection between local institutions and amateur photographers, who promote the beauty of the city with pictures and viral videos.

While a social media analysis reports an increase of 104% in the use of the official hashtag #genovamorethanthis in 2017, there is still a way to go for Genoa that is proving to be one of the most successful Italian cities in connecting digital action and concrete results on the ground. Investing in chat bots and in rapid mechanisms of adaptation to the changes of algorithm decided by the social media platforms will have another positive impact also on the creation of new professional opportunities.

Social media will be still relevant even if it is in a fast process of change. The exchange of comments, reviews and interactions will become more and more important. It will change the attitude of posting uni-directional content: public and private institutions need to understand the importance of monitoring and listening to the users, before creating content

Rossana Borroni


  1. Develop a common strategy: all economic and cultural players in the city should identify common priorities and resources for a unitary strategy of the city.
  2. Involve all communicators in the city: all people responsible for communication in the relevant organisations should jointly create the narrative of the city.
  3. Invest on capacity building: improve the competences of communicators in the city administration to make the best use of social media and digital platforms.
  4. Make citizens ambassadors: create pride in local inhabitants by making them ambassadors of the city in its communication campaign.
  5. Experiment: be open to use new technologies and services.