Socially Savvy Northern Michigan

Travel 150 miles north from Grand Rapids or 250 miles northwest from Detroit and you’ll find the small resort town of Traverse City. While Traverse City is widely known for its famous lakes, beaches, wine trails, and ski hills, it is not often thought of as being progressive. We may be known for our National Cherry Festival, Michael Moore’s Film Festival, Interlochen Arts Academy and as a beautiful vacation spot for Detroit/Chicago urbanites; yet, what about being seen as a socially savvy community?

Northern Michiganders are often overlooked in that realm. Look past our vast miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and vacation-like atmosphere, and you’ll find that northern Michigan is actually an incredibly creative oasis. The people of northern Michigan are very socially threaded, especially when it comes to advocacy of community and our love for recreation.

When it comes to using social media for a variety of uses, Gary Howe is the “go-to guy” in Traverse City. As a geography teacher at the local community college, Northwestern Michigan College, he uses social media in the classroom to spark conversations with his students. He likes to post links on Twitter so his students can follow along with him, sharing their thoughts and ideas with each other.

Howe has made a name for himself as the “King of Advocacy” in the northern Michigan community for his widely followed blog, My Wheels Are Turning ( Launched a little over a year ago, Howe’s blog was created to share ideas and stories to advocate the northern Michigan communities, while exploring livable interconnected streets. As an avid bicyclist, Howe believes walking and cycling will be core to the transportation infrastructure in Traverse City’s future growth. He uses social media to provide what he describes as an initial energy that will ignite others to be engaged. Engaging the community offline and online is what My Wheels Are Turning is all about; using that engagement to educate others about transportation alternatives in a car-focused culture.

Jennifer Isbell is another local Northerner that knows her way around the social networks. As the founder of a monthly online magazine, Traverse City Pet Friends Magazine (, Isbell has a large readership in the pet loving community. Pet Friends Magazine began as a way to bring together a pet community in northern Michigan, to educate owners on responsible pet ownership, and to find homes for homeless pets. Isbell utilizes Facebook as a way to connect and network with not only fans of the magazine, but also northern Michigan animal rescue organizations. She describes Facebook as being an asset to her business. Isbell says, “Being connected is great if there is something that the local animal rescues need to take care of in a quick manner.” Through the use of Facebook, Isbell has assisted local animal rescues with fundraising, saving animals from high-kill shelters and finding lost pets.

Northern Michiganders are very active online and off. With many trails, hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and ski resorts within a short drive, we know how to get outside and enjoy what the mitten state has to offer. Patrick Newcomb found his calling promoting resorts and tourist-related businesses in northern Michigan via the Internet in 1994. As the promoter of several northern Michigan tourist-related websites, Newcomb has found blogs and social media useful in engaging with fans and lovers of the area over the past two years. His most successful social media efforts have been centered on Mackinac Island ( Newcomb says he uses Facebook to promote the Mackinac Island Experience and remind people of their experiences on the island.  This has helped to grow his Mackinac Island Facebook following to over 38,000 fans with a high level of interaction. Newcomb says Facebook helps to keep an ongoing relationship with people who have an interest in the Mackinac Island vacation experience.

Not unlike our neighbors in southern Michigan, there is also a very large growing community of local businesses and residents on Twitter in northern Michigan. This group has inspired the need for Traverse City’s very own TweetUp. The Traverse City TweetUp ( plans to hold its first TweetUp this spring and connect the northern Michigan Twitter community offline. It will be a chance to share, collaborate and hold conversations about our many common interests.

If you still don’t believe there is social media happening in northern Michigan, we also have our first TEDxTraverseCity ( coming May 17th to Northwestern Michigan College’s Dennos Museum Center. The sold-out event will feature 16 speakers on the themes of inspiration, innovation, creativity and adaptability.

Northern Michigan has always been a unique and growing area. Whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter or blogging, Northerners know how to rock the social networks and share their passions for the amazing area where we live, work and play.

Links to Follow:

Gary Howe Geography Class: Twitter
Gary Howe My Wheels Are Turning: FacebookTwitter
Jennifer Isbell Pet Friends Magazine: Facebook
Patrick Newcomb Mackinac Island: Facebook
Traverse City TweetUp: FacebookTwitter
TEDxTraverseCity: FacebookTwitter
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