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What are they saying about us? Social Sphere on Boston's global reputation

Posted by Devin Cole  December 19, 2011 04:42 PM

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Last week, Boston World Partnerships invited John Della Volpe, Co-founder and Managing Director of SocialSphere, an insight-based strategy company, to present to a group of Greater Boston’s civic and business leaders about how the world perceives Boston.

This project was a direct result of feeling frustrated in countless conversations with other business and civic leaders about how we can promote Boston’s assets better to the world and generate economic growth. In order to better promote the city, we needed hard data on the global perception of Boston’s talent and resources.

SocialSphere uses its patented algorithm ORBIT™ platform to conduct an analysis of the way that Internet-based foreign media sources, both mainstream and social, covers its clients and subjects that are important to the client’s image. This time the client was Greater Boston, and the analysis focused on comparing Boston’s image to that of another high tech business hub – the San Francisco Bay area. ORBIT took a “conversation pulse” in traditional media, social media, blogs, and industry journals over the course of several weeks in the summer to track where the conversations are happening, what they’re saying about us, and how we can engage people and media to influence Boston’s image.

In analyzing the discussions about the two communities, distinct differences emerged, with Boston and Cambridge’s image being tied to innovative and unparalleled academic resources in the city, and San Francisco’s being tied to the Silicon Valley companies that have come to define it. Taken from John’s blog, which also has a copy of his presentation:

  • Boston’s conversations were dominated by discussions of Harvard – the college being mentioned in almost 50% of the cases during the examined time period. Harvard mentions outlined research coming out of the university and commented on the general prestige of the school, as well as the expected success of its graduates. MIT, Boston’s other premier institution, was mentioned only 9% of the time.
  • In content that mentioned neither college, technology and finance were the most discussed topics. The three biggest subtopics within technology included scientific advancements, biotech, and software development. The finance topic was more general but included Harvard Business School in many of the posts (40%).
  • Boston’s image is defined as an international city full of intellectual capital. However, few posts out of the 2,182 source conversation talked about Boston startups (7%) and and even fewer posts described Boston as a good place for entrepreneurs (< 2%).

Regarding the Bay Area, we found that:

  • Over half of the entire San Francisco conversation included technology keywords. Large companies like Google and Apple were mentioned often, but other, unique companies were noted as well. The second largest topic, which included startup keywords, took up 24% of the San Francisco conversation.
  • San Francisco and Silicon Valley were essentially synonymous in the conversation. Stanford hardly impacted the conversation – it only took up 1% of the total mentions.
  • Conversations about San Francisco often mentioned that the city is a prime startup location, and that entrepreneurs flock to the area to start their careers. San Francisco is known mostly for innovative software and technology.

Simply put, Boston is not on the world’s radar when it comes to startups and entrepreneurship. The world does not think of Boston an active startup city or as a place to start a business. As a city-region, it was strikingly clear that we need to work together to coordinate our message, actively write and talk about the benefits of starting a business in Boston, and face more outward to propagate our message. Together, we need to become the biggest champions for our city, celebrate our successes, and as John best put it: IDENTIFY our most passionate advocates, ENGAGE them with respect and technology, and ASK FOR MORE.

Special thanks to John and his team for their generous pro bono work. And a big thank you to our attendees – many of whom are BWP Connectors: Phil Budden (British Consulate), Matt Campion (British Consulate), Michael Lake (World Class Cities Partnership), Dan Spiess (World Class Cities Partnership), David Boucard-Planel (French Consulate), Valerie Denomy (Babson College), Chuck Anderson (Mass Tech Collaborative), Debi Kleiman (MITX), Frank Britt (Bain Capital Ventures), Dave McLaughlin (Vsnap), Christopher Mirabile (LaunchPad Ventures), Alvaro Lima (Boston Redevelopment Authority), Aubre Carreon Aguilar (Boston Redevelopment Authority), Jeff Moriarty (, Danielle Duplin (Fidelity), and Tom Palmer.

Here’s a video recording of the full presentation:

Watch live streaming video from bostonglobe at

Yoon Lee is Executive Director of Boston World Partnerships, a non-profit that focuses on raising Boston's global profile and connections

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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