What’s next for Edmonton Stories?

The last time I wrote about Edmonton Stories, I questioned the value of the initiative. Here’s what I wrote back in September:

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.

I didn’t see any connection between the fantastic collection of stories that Edmontonians had contributed to the site and the marketing of Edmonton to others. Based on the reaction to that post, I don’t think I was alone in wondering what the next step was for Edmonton Stories.

Last week I sat down with Mary Pat Barry, Communications Branch Manager at the City of Edmonton, to try to get an answer to that question. We talked for about an hour in her office at City Hall, looking at the website itself, statistics, a case study, and marketing materials. The fact that I had been critical of the project in the past didn’t seem to bother Mary Pat. Not because she didn’t care, but because she was so excited to convince me of the value of Edmonton Stories. She could see the bigger picture, and she wanted me to see it too.

First, here are the latest statistics (May 14, 2009 to January 31, 2010):

  • 272 stories posted
    • 176 user generated
    • 55 containing video
    • 5 containing audio
    • 6 non-English language stories
  • 515 comments posted (100 stories have comments)
  • Users in 3,929 cities from 162 countries have visited the site
  • Total Visits: 203,685
  • Total Unique Visitors: 162,313
  • Total Page Views: 542,488
  • Time on Site: 00:01:42
  • 59.3% of visitors came from outside Edmonton

The statistics have also been broken down into two phases: the contesting phase (May 14 to September 15) and the post-contesting phase (September 16 to January 31). The number of visits and page views have both declined from the first phase to the second, but after talking to Mary Pat, I’m not sure that matters much.

At its core, Edmonton Stories is all about labor and visitor attraction. It exists because the old or standard ways of attracting skilled labor or visitors to Edmonton either are not very effective, or are very expensive. It exists because the best people to share why Edmonton is a great city are Edmontonians themselves. With that in mind, I think it’s useful to think of Edmonton Stories as a two-stage project:

  1. Gather stories from Edmontonians
  2. Attract labor and visitors using those stories

Mary Pat said she was “awed” with regards to the first stage. That so many Edmontonians took the time to write and share their stories is not something to take lightly. The collection of stories is a great asset.

The second stage is the answer to what’s next. Instead of just explaining it to me, Mary Pat showed me a recruitment partnership case study with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

In the fall of 2009 EPS was set to launch a recruiting initiative in select locations in the United States (Seattle, Cleveland and New York City). Confident that the EPS Recruiting Unit could effectively extol the attractiveness of the police service and the work it demands, EPS turned to the City of Edmonton for advice on how they might promote Edmonton as a potential home for recruits and their families.

The City of Edmonton’s solution? Edmonton Stories. The idea was to use the content on EdmontonStories.ca, the personal, tangible experiences of real people, in a targeted way to help EPS recruit new members. I remember reading about the recruitment efforts, but the news articles never mentioned that Edmonton Stories was involved. Here’s what Edmonton Stories did to help:

  • Built a dedicated page featuring stories written by Edmonton police officers: http://www.edmontonstories.ca/eps
  • Created a guide for on-site recruits describing how best to use the dedicated page
  • Produced branded “conversation cards” to hand out at hiring fairs
  • Promoted the dedicated EPS page on Twitter, Facebook, and Google AdWords.

The experiment was a great success. Edmonton Stories had 6.7 times more visitors from Cleveland after the recruitment fair, and 8.1 times more visitors from New York City (the first city, Seattle, was sort of used to figure things out). According to candidate surveys, 74% had not considered Edmonton as a place to live before the recruitment fair, while after, 76% reported they would likely or very likely relocate to Edmonton, and 84% planned on submitting an application to EPS within the next six months. Most importantly, EPS received an “unprecedented” number of detailed applications from potential recruits met at the recruitment fairs. The total number is 6, but for an application process that can take 18 months, that’s seen as very successful.

It’s difficult, of course, to separate the effect Edmonton Stories had on the campaign from the rest of the EPS recruitment efforts, but those involved feel Edmonton Stories had a significant impact.

The City of Edmonton can now take what was developed for the EPS and apply it to other industries. They can provide specific industry stories, the recruiters guide, conversation cards, and much more to recruiters to help attract talent to Edmonton. The stories that Edmontonians have shared are finally being put to use.

I asked Mary Pat if the focus on helping recruiters would take away from maintaining the website itself. While she conceded that less effort has been put into attracting new stories, she said that the website certainly remains a focus. She highlighted two things – translations and a redesign. The team is working on 19 languages for 36 stories, with 10 languages available at launch. The translations take time, because Edmonton Stories works to get approval from each of the authors before posting. The redesign, live as of today, brings a fresh look, a news section, new ways of discovering stories, and tighter integration with social media services.

I think that asking whether or not Edmonton Stories is delivering a return on investment is still a fair question. However, it’s clear to me now that there’s direction and a way for the site to deliver on its core objective of attracting labor and visitors to Edmonton. I think the EPS case study is exciting, and demonstrates that Edmonton Stories can provide value.

3 thoughts on “What’s next for Edmonton Stories?

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