How far beyond the city does Edmonton Stories reach?

The winners of the Edmonton Stories contest were announced by Mayor Stephen Mandel on Tuesday at City Hall during the lunch hour. About 50 people attended the public event, not including the large number of City employees who were present. Nearly all of the City Councillors were on hand as well, a strong show of support for the project. Congratulations to all of the contest winners and runners up!

Edmonton Stories Contest Announcement

Mayor Mandel’s speech started by highlighting some of the traffic statistics for EdmontonStories.ca. Here are some of the key numbers:

  • 242 stories have been posted, 44 of which include videos
  • 453 comments have been posted on 78 stories
  • Users in 2159 cities from 131 countries have visited the site
  • Total Visits: 113,979
  • Total Unique Visits: 87,049
  • Local Visits: 60,497
  • Total Page Views: 348,750

Those are pretty good numbers, though they are unverified. I think the “local visits” stat is interesting – over half of all visitors to the site have come from Edmonton. That makes sense at this stage, as Edmontonians are visiting to submit and vote on stories. Over time though, I would hope for that percentage to drop.

I’d love to see more stats on the non-local visits. For instance, I’d like to know the bounce rate for non-local visits. How many non-local visitors come to the website and then promptly leave? Referral statistics would be interesting to know as well – how did they get to the website?

As Edmonton Stories moves into its second phase, recruitment and visitor attraction, non-local visits will become increasingly important. There are a solid number of stories up on the site now, but if they aren’t shared with the rest of the world, how successful can the campaign be?

The City has repeatedly stressed that Edmonton Stories is unique because it focuses on social media and online marketing as opposed to traditional marketing. Most of the social media marketing I have seen thus far has been directed at Edmontonians though, not the rest of the world. I don’t think they’re doing enough to spread the word beyond Edmonton.

For a website marketed almost entirely online, I’d expect it to have a decent number of other web pages linking to it. I tallied the number of inbound links for some Edmonton websites, using Yahoo! Site Explorer:

Obviously the City of Edmonton site has the most inbound links, no surprise there. What jumped out at me about this graph is the number of inbound links for That’s Edmonton For You. Despite launching a month later than EdmontonStories.ca, and without a large budget to promote it, that site managed to accumulate over half the number of inbound links that EdmontonStories.ca has. I would anticipate that a majority of the inbound links for That’s Edmonton For You would be from other local sites, which doesn’t bode well for how far beyond the city EdmontonStories.ca is reaching.

The budget for promoting EdmontonStories.ca isn’t insignificant either, when you consider that it’s being spent on social media and online marketing, not traditional marketing:

The total budget for 2009 is $1.4 million dollars. City Council approved $1 million, and EEDC kicked in another $400,000. According to The Journal, project staff expect to ask for another $1 million in 2010. Should they get it? I’m leaning toward no.

I wonder how much of that $268,500 earmarked for social media marketing has been spent. Based on the number of inbound links above, I’d hope very little, but given that there are only three months left in 2009, I’m not so sure. If there’s a lot to spend still, I expect to see Edmonton Stories everywhere online for the next few months.

I think Edmonton Stories is a great concept, and I’m glad to see that Edmontonians are contributing stories. The project was created to help market the city elsewhere though, and I don’t think it is accomplishing that yet.

  • It would also be nice to see average time on site.

    I’m actually surprised at how few comments there are… I know it’s hard to convince people to sign in and post their thoughts, but it would have been nice to see more comments on stories at this stage… Then again, maybe some of this content doesn’t require additional comment/discussion/debate.

    Thanks for these numbers, Mack. Interesting metrics that can be used as a basis for comparison for similar social-media campaigns

  • Average time on site is listed in their numbers: Average Time on Site: 00:01:58

    I would want that broken down by local/non-local though.

  • Mack,

    Did they share the bounce rate? It’s not unusual to have a bounce rate north of 50%… I’d hope those numbers are after bounces have been filtered out.

    I think Edmonton Stories is great idea, but I wish they would’ve tapped existing social networks–YouTube for the videos, Flickr for the photos, etc. It’s an easy way to build non-local traffic, and it fits right into the concept of the site.

    Unless they refine their approach on the social media side I’d expect that the traffic numbers will continue to be disappointing. Still, I love the idea.

    (Full disclosure: my company did some work on the project on a subcontract.)

  • Gene – they didn’t share the bounce rate that I can see, so I have no idea if the numbers are after those are filtered out or not.

    I agree, it would have been great to see some content from other sites included!

  • Kiri

    My guess is that they’re only partway through a multi-year marketing plan, and they’ve just completed the hardest part (and done it with fairly good success). It’s tough to get people to contribute user generated content.

    I assume they will take this archive of materials and use it in some format to spread the word globally. I think it’s too soon to judge the value of the project. They’ve just completed the harvest and haven’t yet started to export/sell, so of course it looks like a money pit.

  • I disagree Kiri. They’ve spent $1.4 million this year, and want to spend another $1 million next year? I think those kind of numbers warrant a value judgment.

    It is tricky to get users to contribute content, but certainly it’s not $1.4 million tricky.

  • Kiri

    There are many bigger campaigns, costing way more money, trying to generate user content that have much much much less success than this one has had.

    I agree that a value judgement is warranted, but wait until the project has had a chance to create value.

    You can’t evaluate the cost of a piece of art based on the cost of canvas and paint before the painter has started.

  • I’d love to have a $250,000+ social media marketing budget…

  • Kiri – I’d love to see some examples of these more expensive, less successful campaigns if you could provide some links. Thanks.

  • Where the hell did $1.4 million go? Is there a public breakdown of the budget we can see?

  • I haven’t dug far enough into the documents to find anything more detailed than the graph I produced above. I’m not sure what else is available, but if anyone finds the details, let me know!

  • tricotmiss

    I visited the site a number of times to watch videos or read stories and to vote. I didn’t even notice the comments on the site!

    I think this is a really interesting program that has a lot of potential, but I agree with Mack that there should be more visible benefits from the $1.4 million already spent for another $1 million to be justified.

  • I mentioned this on twitter, but I think that an inward focused campaign is not actually a bad idea. A chronic problem in Edmonton is a lack of civic pride and a tendency for people to want to go elsewhere. Especially among educated/white collar people. I know very few people who have, as part of their plans for the future, a desire to still be here in 20 years.

    Before we can make other people believe in this city, we have to make the people who are already here believe in it. And what good is getting people to come here if as many people are just itching to leave?

  • I see your point Graham, but as Adam said to you on Twitter in response – is Edmonton really that different than any other city? Maybe we do have a larger inferiority complex than other cities. If that’s the case, then I hope Edmonton Stories helps us get over it.

    The fact remains however, this is $1.4 million being spent under the guise of marketing our city. If the City announced they were going to spend $1.4 million to make us all feel better about Edmonton, would taxpayers go for it?

  • Kiri

    Not surprisingly, most company’s organizations don’t outline their failed campaigns on-line for me to link to.

    A media guy from yvr mentioned a milk campaign that was promoted across western canada to youths, included prizes for video entries and received ONE entry.

    The hypercube story provides an example of a bigger, pricier national SM campaign that backfired and did damage to the brand http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Hypercube

    There’s more, but my point is that people dramatically underestimate how much marketing/advertising costs nor do they see or realize all the work that goes into research, strategy, etc. All they see is a website and some tweets and figure that’s what cost $1.4 million.

  • I know there was a lot of research done prior to the start of the project, and that costs money. And it will be used for other purposes too, so it’s probably well-spent. I would assume that falls under the $200,000 for campaign development.

    That still means they’ve spent $1.2 million to build a database driven site to display text and videos. Does the implementation, marketing, and “strategy” really cost that much? I think that’s ridiculously high.

    Especially if this is a user generated site, the $730,000 spent on a content team is shocking.

  • tricotmiss

    I think the hypercube example was an unsuccessful campaign less because it was difficult to get submissions and more because people who did submit felt the competition (especially the judging) was corrupt. The damage to the brand is legitimate if it is in response to mismanagement of the whole campaign.

  • Kiri

    I’m obviously debating this at a disadvantage because I don’t know how they spent their budget. Frankly, I’m not that shocked at the overall price tag for a six month campaign for a gov’t client including all the background work that I’m assuming went in to it.

    Yes, I’d like to see a breakdown for the “content team” but I also don’t think we’ll do any good for the city to stop funding the project now – it’s been successful at what it wanted to do this year, now let’s see where they’re going with it.

  • I was on the highway between Morinville and St. Albert When I heard that the kind of numbers being thrown around for a 2 or 3 year project. When I was sure that the number mentioned was in the millions, I was stunned for a moment and narrowly avoided hitting the ditch. I hadn’t visited the site for some time, but my early impressions when I visited were mixed. I just went back and spent a good hour going through as much could cover in that time. It isn’t that there is anything functionally, or visually/aesthetically wrong with the site, it works well, and is quite nice to look at, but…$1.4 million with another $1 million on the way…I don’t know. I am currently struggling to bootstrap together an Edtech startup in the 3D Virtual World Immersive Learning space. As a result I follow hundreds, no, more like thousands of Edtech individuals, Industry specific tech individuals and many business/enterprise individuals. Due to the nature of my particular field of interest, it is very much a DIY crowd using a lot of open source tools, open content and a generous amount of collaboration and sharing. I have seen what a $100.00 domain with a host like bluehost, with a full database backend Drupal,Joomla,Wordpress,etc platform can crank out in a very short period of time, and that’s being done by people who are for the most part doing it in the spare moments outside their actual responsibilities. I would almost chew off my left arm for 5% of their budget and would “single handedly” still stand a pretty good chance of producing something that may not be quite as pretty, but on the functional side, and community involvement side would be very close and have a more authentic feel. I can’t even begin to imagine what a dedicated crew of #yeg social media types like Mack would be able to produce with $1 million.

  • Those numbers are absurd. They could have done just as good a site for a fraction of the cost. Plus, a lower budget would have also necessitated more innovation, which is an Edmonton Story on its own.

    -Jerry

  • I love the concept, love the finished product and believe in the model.

    I however CAN’T believe that a user-generated content website that has only 242 stories and videos, require an 8 person content team.

    If even half of those stories were written by inside writers, you are talking about $5800 per story!

    Not to mention that we are not questioning the $730,000 number for 8 writers. All but 1 who should be paid sub $45k IMHO.

    Hopefully our council is looking closely at that.

  • To be fair, the content team includes videographers, so maybe they make more money!

    I too hope that Council is looking at the costs.

  • Oops, missed this post earlier. Interesting info. Mind boggling numbers. I have a couple cool but random points though.

    First of all, if you want to see a site that really does bring people to the city, see edmontonchina.cn. It’s a Chinese site with over 100,000 incoming links! It’s also a super-active community – I went to one of their events and they had over a thousand people there! Perhaps that would be worth a blog post of my own, eh?

    What could they spend $1 million on next year? If the site works as it should, it should be almost self-operating from now on, aside from a little moderation.

    As for the 137k for the website, I’m trying to find something in this site that I couldn’t emulate with Drupal given half a day, but I can’t see anything yet… The design would probably take about 3-7 days including revisions.

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