We’ve all had it happen before.  Some poor, well-meaning soul learns you’ve just gone through a break up, and with a genuine “bless your heart” expression, pats you on the head and says, “Cheer up honey.  There’s plenty of fish in the sea!”  My muscles tense, my plastic smile immediately appears, and I calmly reply in my sweetest voice, “Thanks, darling.  I’m sure I’ll find someone soon!” When instead, what I really want to do is pull this woman’s hair and shout, “I don’t want another fish!  I want MY FISH!”

Breaking up with a city can be a lot like breaking up with a boyfriend.  It stinks.  Yes, I know there’s lots of other awesome cities [men]; and yes, I know I’ll eventually find what I’m looking for [a soul mate]; and yes, even at my age there’s still hope [as long as I’m good with someone else’s kids].

Since there’s apparently a plethora of fish in the sea, maybe I’d best take a look?   Or at least see how they compare to my fish before I flush him down the toilet?

Checking Out The Fish

Cities – listen up!  Just like finding a man, first impressions go a long way, and our decisions are often based on word of mouth and internet searches.  In cities, as with dating, perception is everything.  As Match.com is to modern dating, so Google is to modern living.

Although I’ve lost most of my friends to Austin, Nashville, and Atlanta, I decided to look first at New Orleans.  Why? Because I’ve heard a lot of great things, and because it’s ranked as Forbes’ #1 Biggest Brain Magnet, #2 Best Big City for a Job, and the Top City in the US for Young Entrepreneurs.  Logging on to my trusty laptop, I enter “move to New Orleans” in the Google bar.  Aside from the paid ad listings, the first two sites I see are the Times-Picayune and www.makeneworleanshome.com.   Make New Orleans home is awesome, dynamic, and gives me immediate access to everything I need to move to the Big Easy – neighborhood info, pretty pictures, voter registration, health services, shopping, transportation, and too much more to list.  It’s very clear that New Orleans’ recruitment is geared toward people more than companies.  And just from reading the little teasers, they seem to be drawing folks from across the US.

First impression – New Orleans is a definite two-thumbs-up-possibility.

Next up, “move to Nashville.”  Not as impressive as NOLA, but most of the site teasers are from people who are moving to Nashville and what to know where to live, what to expect, etc.  The Nashville Chamber pops up around the middle of the list to ask if I’m “Considering moving your company to Nashville?”  A fair number of sites are music industry resources, reinforcing the perception that folks are moving to Nashville for the music.  It was interesting to note that none of the sites seem to be solely committed to recruiting people (a.k.a. makeneworleanshome).

First impression – I’m not chasing country music dreams, but Nashville could still be cool.

Third stop, “move to Austin.”  Holy guacamole!  Other than the moving companies, just about every site listed is a positive statement about people going to Austin!  Like New Orleans, they have a www.move-to-austin.com, only this one is not run by any government, tourist board, or chamber of commerce.  It’s just a cool lady with two kids who wants to share her love of Austin and practice her coding skills.  Amazing!  Skimming the teasers, it’s clear that folks are moving to Austin in droves, and it seems to actually be as cool and hip as everyone says it is.

First impression – Ahead of Nashville, but still behind New Orleans.  I already know lots of Memphis transplants in Austin, but it’s also farther away than NOLA and Nash.

Not the Best First Impression…

Just for giggles, I decided to search, “move to Memphis.”  Honestly, not as bad as I had feared.  The first entry is Chris Peck talking about Herenton’s “hissy fit while he was Mayor.”  (Kind of like the guy who begins the date by talking nonstop about his ex.  I’ll give the gentleman the benefit of the doubt, but this doesn’t bode well for a second date.)  The Chamber is on the first page of results, and its teaser is about people moving to Memphis (not companies like Nashville – thumbs up!).  A few spots down, however is “Don’t Move to Memphis.”  Yikes!  It’s the WomanSavers of city shopping!!

We’re the only city I’ve searched whose first page of results tells me NOT to move there.  Not good.

Equally as shocking, however, is that after clicking through TEN pages of results, I still hadn’t come across any links to MemphisConnect, Choose901, or any of other groups working tirelessly to build our talent base.  It took NINE pages to get to Kerry Crawford’s ilovememphis blog post about recruiting YPs via mix tape.  (Awesome post Kerry!)  Page TEN finally revealed a really great article on the Livable Memphis site about why Memphis is better than Portland.

I know that not everyone nails every first date.  Trying to salvage Memphis’ first impression, I quickly entered “live in Memphis.”  I was given most of an entire page of results dedicated to Live From Memphis, a pioneering organization touted as one of Memphis’ most authentic assets… that closed last month for lack of local support.  I keep clicking through pages of results, coming across some really weird listings, teasers, and a fair number of warnings to stay away, until finally on page four – a MemphisConnect article!  Lamenting the loss of Live From Memphis…  Well, at least I’ve finally found MemphisConnect … after an hour of searching.

Improving Our Image

Just like dating, perception is everything.  Memphis – we really, really, really need to work on our first impression.  As a city, we are everything I want in my fish / community.  We’re sexy, quirky, fun-loving, and full of adventure.  We can cook better than anyone I know, and we will celebrate anything for any reason.  We have a soul that runs deep, hearts that give, and a smile that welcomes all.

But we are hiding our best qualities so deeply, it would take a dozen dates to see how amazing the city really is (or at least an hour of Google searching, assuming I’m not scared off by “Don’t Move to Memphis”).

I asked around, and in order to show up on the first page of a Google search result, we must improve our Search Engine Optimization, which involves metadata encoded on each individual page of a site.  I don’t really understand what this means or how to do it, so I’ll move on to other ways to improve our online image.

SHARE.  We’re really good at sharing with our fellow brethren in need, and now it’s time to share our story, told our way.

Let’s talk about Memphis on Twitter.

Let’s make sure we send good news to all our friends who have left.

Let’s use words like gritty, sexy, community, families, grow, and beautiful.  Use them in the same sentence as “Memphis.”

Let’s write stories about our Memphis and post them on blogs, Facebook, and anywhere else we can find.  Then share them.  Then ask others to share them some more.

Let’s stop creating bumper stickers and just use the words we already know are true.

Let’s take pictures of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful; then post them on Instagram.  Then share them.  Then ask others to share them some more.

Let’s support the vision of organizations who are telling our story the way we want it told.

Let’s tell our story our way, or Google and others will tell it for us.

In the giant fish tank, Memphis isn’t the 99¢ guppy missing a fin, but we sure aren’t showcasing all our sparkling beauty and grace.  There might be lots of fish in the sea, but at the end of the day, I still want MY FISH.