2012 Alberta Election: Social Media Highlights

I don’t think there’s any doubt that social media played a significant role in this year’s provincial election. From witty tweets to conversation-shifting blog posts and everything in between, there’s no shortage of social media highlights to look back on. In an effort to capture how social media impacted the election, I have been tracking some of the most popular and memorable blog posts, photos, tweets, videos, and links.

Very early on, Danielle Smith’s campaign bus was the talk of Twitter for its unfortunate wheel placement. It attracted so much attention that even Jay Leno joked about it! The Wildrose quickly fixed the bus, sharing a new photo on Facebook that was liked nearly 800 times with more than 220 comments.


Social media proved to be an effective tool for the mainstream media to share their stuff throughout the election. For example, CBC’s Vote Compass was shared more than 5300 times on Facebook and more than 870 times on Twitter. Over 115,000 responses were completed.

On March 30, PC staffer Amanda Wilkie (@wikwikkie) posted a tweet questioning Danielle Smith’s lack of children. There was an immediate backlash which forced Wilkie to apologize and delete the tweet. Smith released a statement explaining that she and her husband had tried to have kids with the aid of fertility treatments, and Alison Redford released a statement announcing that Wilkie had resigned. The two leaders spoke on the phone and vowed to move on.

Smith’s tweet was retweeted more than 100 times.

On April Fools Day, the Wildrose issued a news release saying that if elected, the party would pursue a merger with Saskatchewan to form a new province known as Saskberta. It was shared on Facebook more than 2100 times and on Twitter more than 360 times. The Wildrose tweet itself was retweeted more than 140 times:

Candidates first felt the power of blogs on April 2, when Kathleen Smith (@KikkiPlanet) posted her widely-read piece entitled Pruned Bush: Confessions of a Wilted Rose. An impassioned and well-written post, it racked up more than 1400 likes on Facebook, more than 330 tweets, and 136 comments. More than that, it brought “Conscience Rights” into the spotlight.

Kathleen’s post even attracted an angry response from a Wildrose supporter. Paula Simons has a good recap of the whole story, so check it out.

Just two days later, Dave Cournoyer (@davecournoyer) posted an even more popular blog post. His entry titled thorny candidates could be the wildrose party’s biggest liability attracted more than 4700 likes on Facebook, more than 600 tweets, and 150 comments. Though we didn’t know it at the time, Dave’s post would be cited countless times over the next few weeks as Wildrose candidates made gaffe after gaffe. Even his follow-up post on April 16 attracted more than 600 likes, more than 70 tweets, and 75 comments.

The next day on April 5, Dave Cournoyer noticed that a Twitter account named @PremierDanielle had been created and was being followed by @ElectDanielle, Smith’s official account. While it only came to light during the election, it was actually created back on October 12, 2010.

I didn’t think there’d be many audio clips to note during the election, but on April 7 the Alberta Party launched its official campaign song, composed by JUNO winners Cindy Church and Sylvia Tyson. The page was shared on Facebook more than 100 times and on Twitter more than 40 times. The song itself, hosted on SoundCloud, has been played more than 3500 times.

It didn’t take long after Danielle Smith announced a $300 dividend for all Albertans for Sean Healy to launch Dani Dollars, a website that let users pledge their cash “to Wildrose Relief”. It was shared more than 280 times on Facebook, more than 130 times on Twitter, and attracted more than 170 pledges for a grand total of $51,600.

The leaders debate took place on April 12, and while it ended up being fairly boring (aside from Raj Sherman’s unintentionally comedic outbursts) there were a couple of highlights. One was Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor’s live blog, which was followed by more than 1700 people. It was shared more than 480 times on Facebook and more than 300 times on Twitter.

The debate also resulted in one of the most memorable tweets of the election, retweeted more than 340 times:

Edmonton Journal videographer Ryan Jackson posted a really unique video on April 13. By stitching together four different videos, Jackson made it appear as if you were sitting in a coffee shop with four of the party leaders. The video was shared more than 140 times on Facebook and more than 50 times on Twitter.

On April 14, a new Twitter account known as @Adamwyork posted a tweet about Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger. It linked to an old blog post that Hunsperger had written that contained the shocking statement that gays and lesbians would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell.” You can see a screen capture of the post here. It wasn’t until April 26 that the person behind the tweet was identified. Turns out it was Blake Robert, better known online as @BRinYEG. Paula Simons’ post about the outing has already been shared more than 275 times on Facebook and more than 144 times on Twitter.

Though the original tweet was only retweeted 13 times, the impact it had on the election cannot be overstated.

On April 16, the domain name INeverThoughtIdVotePC.com was registered. A couple of days later, the website launched featuring a short video that asked Albertans to vote strategically against the Wildrose. The website has been shared on Facebook more than 3700 times and the video itself has been seen more than 88,000 times.

On April 17, Vicky Frederick posted a Wildrose-edition of the “Downfall / Hitler Reacts” video meme. The video, titled Inside the Wildrose War Room, has been seen nearly 12,000 times.

It was a busy day on April 17. That was also the day that Wildrose candidate Ron Leech made controversial statements about having an advantage as a Caucasian. The Journal captured a copy of the radio interview here. The tweet from CTV Edmonton breaking the news was retweeted more than 250 times:

That same day, the Wildrose posted its “Momentum” ad on YouTube. With more than 112,000 views, it’s the most popular election-related video.

On April 20, Paula Simons wrote a blog post titled The Price of Free Speech. She discussed Danielle Smith’s stubborn refusal to reprimand candidates like Hunsperger and Leech. The post was shared on Facebook more than 1500 times and on Twitter more than 180 times.

In the final weekend of the campaign, photos of this graffiti wall here in Edmonton started circulating on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online:

I don’t know how many times it was shared, but I saw it all over the place.

After all of the negativity of the election, I was quite happy to see Ryan Jackson’s next election video on April 23. A “whimsical parody video”, it featured the “strange new species” popping up on lawns across Alberta known was the election sign.

He posted a behind-the-scenes on the video just yesterday.

As the polls opened on April 23, many people tweeted that they had voted while others encouraged Albertans to get out and vote. With more than 200 retweets, Kathleen Smith’s call-to-action was probably the most visible of the day:

On election night itself there were many memorable tweets, but Todd Babiak’s post about how the public opinion polls were so wrong was one of the most retweeted with 195 retweets:

As far as I can tell, the most retweeted tweet of the entire election came at 9:27pm on election night, after it became clear that the Wildrose would form the official opposition. Calgary’s Nick Heer posted this tweet:

It has been retweeted more than 650 times!

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to imagine what the election would have looked like without social media! Through tweets, photos, videos, blog posts, and more, Albertans had no shortage of ways to share their thoughts on the candidates and the campaigns. And because of the nature of social media, those thoughts often spread extremely quickly and were frequently picked up by the mainstream media. Whether you’re a Twitter or Facebook user yourself or not, there’s no question that social media helped make the 2012 provincial election one of the most exciting in Alberta’s history.

Did you have a social media highlight that I missed? Let me know in the comments! For more on the role that Twitter played during the election, be sure to check out AlbertaTweets. Looking for election results and statistics? Check out my #abvote Results Dashboard!

Media Monday Edmonton: Getting social on Facebook

For some reason I was curious about local media and Facebook recently, so that’s what I looked at this week. If you’re looking for a good rundown of recent news, check out Karen’s latest Edmonton New Media Roundup.

Here’s a quick comparison of Edmonton media organizations on Facebook (as of October 17, 2011):

102.3 Now! Radio Radio 55,454 3,186
91.7 The Bounce Radio 49,280 1,816
Global Edmonton TV 41,963 2,447
100.3 The Bear Radio 21,416 1,786
Hot 107 FM Radio 16,565 1,597
Sonic 102.9 Radio 14,244 1,605
CTV Edmonton TV 12,876 1,080
CISN Country 103.9 Radio 9,799 1,181
CKUA Radio Radio 9,045 198
104.9 Virgin Radio Radio 7,587 848
Edmonton Journal Print 5,695 269
K97 Radio 5,461 334
BT Edmonton TV 5,155 1,222
92.5 JOE FM Radio 3,488 175
up! 99.3 Radio 3,221 482
Edmonton Sun Print 3,134 616
630 CHED Radio 2,026 53
Lite95.7 Radio 1,727 180
Vue Weekly Print 980 14
CBC Edmonton Radio/TV 963 30
The Team 1260 Radio 945 7
96.3 Capital FM Radio 842 54
Metro Edmonton Print 803 14
the edmontonian (retired) Online 744 2
fusedlogic Online 693 12
daveberta.ca Online 581 20
iNews880 Radio/Online 354 6
The Gateway Print 336 3
The Unknown Studio Online 296 3
City and Dale Online 251 9
Avenue Edmonton Print 190 6
West Edmonton Local Online 176 11
mastermaq.ca Online 155 6
KikkiPlanet.com Online 54 14
Jay n’ J. Online 21 0

Some thoughts on this table:

  • Radio stations are clearly the heaviest users of Facebook among the local media, both in terms of likes but also activity.
  • Online properties generally don’t have many likes on Facebook. Is this because they’re already online, just elsewhere? Is it because they don’t have as large an audience to promote Facebook to?
  • I would have expected CBC and the Edmonton Sun to place higher in terms of likes. They both have a significant offline audience, but they evidently haven’t been as aggressive at converting that audience into Facebook likes as other media organizations.
  • I think it’s interesting that 102.3 Now! Radio almost never links to its website on Facebook. Instead they posts photos, videos, and general notes, and seem to generate quite a lot of discussion. Contrast that with iNews880, where pretty much every post on Facebook is a link back to the website.

There’s a ton of additional analysis that could be done (which organizations advertise their Facebook pages, which have it integrated into their websites, etc.), but I think this is a useful start.

What do you think about the results?

Edmonton SeniorNet

seniorsBack in April, the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (Sage) invited me to join the Seniors Social Media Advisory Committee. The committee exists to help plan and develop what we now call Edmonton SeniorNet. Here’s some background that explains how this came about:

The Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council (ESCC) was formed in 2004 as a mechanism of shared planning, coordination, and collaboration among Edmonton service providers for seniors. One of the ESCC’s objectives has been to develop and maintain a current strategic plan that addresses the needs of seniors and senior serving organizations in Edmonton. The Strategic Plan for Services to Edmonton’s Seniors: Towards 2015 is an initiative that aims to identify a shared strategic direction to meet the needs of seniors in Edmonton. One of the key areas that have been identified in this document is the need for meaningful and affordable social and recreational participation for seniors. A goal of this area, which Sage has taken the process lead on, is to develop and/or facilitate the use of current and emerging technologies to connect seniors.

This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. Obviously we know that the seniors population in Edmonton (and elsewhere) is growing rapidly. And we know that a large number of them are adopting tools like Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. But there are lots of seniors who are not, for a variety of reasons. For me personally, my grandparents are split when it comes to web usage. My Dad’s mum is an avid email user, she’s on Facebook, and she uses instant messaging and SMS to keep in touch. She’s pretty savvy, and she’ll probably read this right away! On the flip side, my Mom’s parents use the Internet for banking and some very limited email and that’s about it. I often wonder why there’s such a difference in usage between them, and while I have some guesses, I don’t know the answer.

Sage recently received funding from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program for this project, which was originally known as the “Emerging Social Media” project. Over the last few months we have been discussing how to take the program forward. The idea is to connect interested seniors with mentors to get an introduction to the world of social media, to see if it helps them stay connected.

We’re nearly into August now, and the Edmonton SeniorNet program is very close to launching!

Edmonton SeniorNet is a program that aims to introduce seniors to Internet websites that will help them easily connect and share ideas and stories with friends, family and the community. Edmonton SeniorNet seminars will take place at the Sage computer labs, and will run twice weekly from August to late October. Our hands-on seminars will teach seniors to use email and social-networking websites such as Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

Classes are currently scheduled to take place at Sage downtown (northwest corner of Churchill Square). One option is Monday & Wednesday afternoons from 1pm to 2:30pm (starts August 3), and the other is Tuesday & Thursday mornings from 10am to 11:30am (starts August 4).

We’re still looking for additional participants and mentors. Participants should have some basic computer skills and experience surfing the web is a desirable asset, though not required. Mentors should be enthusiastic but patient, should already use Facebook, Skype, and other tools regularly, and should be eager to share their knowledge with others! If you’re interested in participating either as a participant or a mentor, contact Karolina at Sage (contact info is on the right side).

Check out the Edmonton SeniorNet blog for updates as the project progresses. You can also like the project on Facebook!

Social Media Milestones

Over the last couple of months I have achieved a few nice-round-numbers with my online activities. I’m not sure why they all happened around the same time, but they have. Some recent milestones include:

  • 3000 blog posts
  • 9000 comments on my blog posts
  • 30,000 tweets
  • 10,000 followers on Twitter
  • 500 lists on Twitter
  • 1000 friends on Facebook
  • 13,000 photos on Flickr
  • 1,000,000 views on Flickr
  • 7500 posts on Tumblr (~2000 are as Edmonton Etc.)

What do these numbers mean? That I spend a lot of time online, I guess! I think they also reflect the length of time I have been blogging (2003), tweeting (2006), and posting photos (2005). A few of these numbers mean a lot to me, not because of the number itself but because of what it represents. I can’t even imagine how much time and energy those 3000 blog posts represent, but I’ve absolutely loved writing them! And I’m honored to be on more than 500 lists on Twitter.

Mostly though, when I think about these numbers, I think about the journey they represent and all of the amazing people I’ve met and things I’ve learned along the way. Roll your eyes if you must, but that’s the truth.

I wonder what this list will look like five years from now!

@AlbertaTheatre – Social Media and the Artist/Patron Relationship

Late last year, Wil Knoll and I were asked if we’d like to share some thoughts on the evolution of artist-audience interaction for All Stages, a magazine published three times a year by Theatre Alberta. We both agreed, and early this year set about writing it. We ended up having a conversation through email, which Wil turned into the final piece (I think he did a great job of editing it).

No texting during the show!

We discussed why and how we started using social media in connection with the arts, looked at the current situation in our respective cities, and touched on where things are going.

Here’s an excerpt from Wil:

Wil: The resistance seems to be fading away. In Calgary the major theatre companies and all of the top independent theatre companies have joined up on Twitter. How well they use that opportunity varies. Alberta Theatre Projects won a blogging award last year for their efforts to invite people into the process and behind the scenes. It’s hard to find a theatre company that is not taking a stab at social media in Calgary today.

And here’s my closing statement:

Mack: Gone are the days of the passive theatregoer, who takes in a show, perhaps reads a review in the local paper, and moves on. The tools we have now allow for the theatre patron to be engaged at all stages of a production. Gathering feedback, promoting upcoming events, reaching a demographic not normally tuned into theatre, all of this is possible with the tools. Today arts organizations still have the opportunity to lead the way with using these tools—they are relatively new and continually evolving. In the not too distant future however, patrons will demand it, and organizations will have no choice to but to engage.

That more or less sums up how I feel about the topic! What do you think?

You can read the article on page 4 of the Spring 2011 issue (PDF).

Looking back at the Transforming Edmonton blog’s first year

A little over a year ago, the City of Edmonton launched its official blog, called Transforming Edmonton. Though it launched as a pilot project, the blog was meant to be another vehicle for the City to “share stories about how the City is working on transforming itself.” It remains focused on the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan, with sections on Economic Diversity, Environment, Financial Sustainability, Livability, Transportation, and Urban Form. How successful has the City of Edmonton’s foray into the world of blogging been? Let’s look back at the blog’s first year.

Let me start by saying that any blog that has made it past three months and is still updated somewhat regularly can probably be described as a success! Blogging takes commitment, so I applaud the City for sticking with it. Jas Darrah, Communications Business Partner at the City of Edmonton, was nice enough to answer my questions about the blog’s first year.

Over the last year, a total of 87 entries were posted to the blog. That’s not far off from the original goal of two new posts per category per month (which would have resulted in 144 posts). Though there are approximately 40 registered authors in the system, Jas clarified that in reality up to 100 people have collaborated on the resulting posts, as Public Information Officers and subject matter experts have worked together to craft the content. Initially, a lot of effort went into recruiting City employees to contribute to the blog, but that has become less necessary according to Jas. “The desire to participate from business units across the organization grows weekly, while in the first months we were beating the bushes to get participation.”

The blog has averaged 2400 page views per month over the year, which is respectable but quite a bit less than I expected. Of course, page views are just one piece of the puzzle. There’s also RSS feed readers (that’s how I read the blog), people who read the entries on Facebook, or who see the entries on YouTube, etc. And keeping in mind the City’s goals for the blog, engagement is a better metric than traffic statistics anyway. Slowly but surely, they’re having some success in that area. The blog has received 157 comments over the year, primarily on the two most successful posts: Bob Boutilier’s Q&A post on The Way We Move, and Phil Sande’s Q&A post on the City Centre Redevelopment Project. Jas says we’ll see more of those kinds of posts in the future.

Jas told me the blog is still being classified as a pilot, because the City is still gathering information to help evaluate it. I don’t think the public perceives it as a pilot however, and it sounds like City employees are happy for the blog to continue as well. Jas said the City’s “communications teams now see this as another vehicle to offer the City business units to reach out to the community, while offering ways to experiment with multimedia.” Many posts recently have included video and photos, such as the series on the Heads Up! campaign. While it may be just another tool in the communications arsenal, Jas confirmed the blog is “one of the most cost-effective tools in our toolkit.”

I’m a big fan of the Transforming Edmonton blog, and I’ve mentioned it numerous times in social media presentations over the last year. The design is clean, and I particularly like the simple Comment & Trackback Policy, accessible on every page. Jas said he’d regard the project as a success, even though there is still a lot of work to be done.

Raffaella Loro (the blog’s primary instigator) told me before the launch last November that she saw the blog as “encouraging a cultural shift” in the way the City operates. A year later, I think that is happening. Jas noted that “our City leadership saw that any negative comments that this project may facilitate would be outweighed by the positive reputation for facilitating those comments.” City employees like the blog as a way to share information, and according to Jas, many thought the blog was only internal when it launched! He told me the City will be launching its first internal blog in January.

I’d say the Transforming Edmonton blog has had a successful first year. There’s lots of room to grow and improve, but there’s now a strong foundation in place. I look forward to seeing it evolve.

A follow-up thought: I think the blog can become an important archive of the City’s perspectives over time. In the spirit of digital archiving, here’s what the blog looked like as of December 6.

Edmonton & Social Media in Merge Magazine

When I ran into Merge Magazine Managing Editor Sherree Elm after Pecha Kucha Night 7, she asked if I would be interested in contributing to the July issue of the local magazine. She really liked my presentation (which you can watch here), and was looking for something similar. I agreed to adapt my talk into a short article, which you can read here.

If we can increase our density, improve our storytelling, and develop our creative economy, I believe Edmonton can be the city that every other city wants to be like. Every Edmontonian has a role to play – find something you’re passionate about, and do it here. Never be afraid to say that you’re from Edmonton! If we take local action, I believe we can achieve global recognition.

In addition to my article there’s a short profile as well, written by Sarah Kmiech. She wrote:

Remember back in the day when people interested in computers and technology were considered introverted and socially shy? My how times have changed! With all the new social media available today, people are getting on their computers, meeting new people, sharing thoughts and ideas, and taking networking to a whole new level.

One person who has totally taken advantage of these media tools is Mack D. Male.

Sarah goes on to share how I got started with blogging and Twitter, and best of all, included my tips for getting involved yourself:

  1. Write about something you’re passionate about.
  2. Write relatively frequently. It doesn’t have to be every day, but there should be a regular schedule.
  3. Meet people in real life. People are more likely to read your blog or follow you on Twitter after they have met you in person.

Merge Magazine is available in the Media Classified Stands around the city, or you can read the July issue online here. Check it out! And don’t forget to follow @mergemagca on Twitter!

Recap: IABC Edmonton’s Connecting the Dots Workshop

The Edmonton chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held a mini social media conference called Connecting the Dots yesterday the Art Gallery of Alberta. Hosted by Justin Archer and Jay Averill, the event featured three speakers and a panel. George Siemens opened the conference with a “30,000 foot view” of the social media landscape – you can take a look at his slides here. Next up was myself, talking about social media’s impact on public policy. I used the City Centre Airport debate as a case study. After me, Mary Pat Barry presented Edmonton Stories as a case study, outlining how the site came to be what the next steps are. Finally, four panelists closed out the event: Karen Unland, Norman Mendoza, Dave Cournoyer, and Chris LaBossiere.

The common thread for the day seemed to be that “the medium alters the message.” George talked about it in his keynote, and it popped up again and again throughout the day. Everyone seemed to agree that social media is still young, and there is much change and maturation on the horizon.

As for my own presentation, I think it went quite well. I tried to present the story of how social media played a role in the ECCA debate, and also attempted to pull out some lessons. The main ones were:

  • Blogs are the starts of social media! Something I’ve become fond of saying. I really think the fact that the pro-closure side used blogs so effectively had a huge impact. Blogs allow longer form content, they have great longevity (easy to find old posts, not so with tweets), and they index well in search engines.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. From the hashtag (#ecca) to the Facebook group, I looked for existing communities when I got involved with the debate. Too often, organizations try to start something new, when it’s often a better idea to link up with whatever already exists.
  • Translate online interest into offline action. All of the tweeting and blogging and other social media activity that happened around the airport debate wouldn’t have meant anything if it didn’t translate into people calling and emailing their councillors.

The panel was really interesting. It wasn’t very balanced, with all four panelists being pro-social media, and I think that made the tone of the discussion with the audience a little combative. There were still some really great questions asked and answers given, however. Some of my favorite quotes/highlights:

  • Organizations can’t have conversations, only people can. (Chris)
  • People who live-tweet events probably listen better. (Karen)
  • Transparency is the new objectivity. (Karen, citing Jay Rosen)
  • Recognize that people make mistakes. How you handle them is more important than the actual mistake (usually). (me, on Twitter)
  • Links are the currency of the web. Social media helps us share them faster and wider. (me, on Twitter)

Twitter played an interesting role in the panel – there was a giant screen behind the panelists showing #iabcyeg tweets on TwitterFall. It became a point of contention, actually, with some arguing that expanding the conversation beyond the room was invaluable, while others thought perhaps it was disrespectful to be tweeting while others are talking. There were also questions about credibility, about employee use of social media, about how to monitor for mentions of you or your organization, etc. Really great discussion that probably could have gone on much longer!

Thanks to IABC for allowing me to take part – it was lots of fun! If you’re looking for a social media event to attend in the future, check out the conference that George and his team are organizing in April (on ShareEdmonton). And stay tuned to IABC Edmonton on Twitter.

Social Media and the City

We’ve all heard the stat: more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and towns. Wellington E. Webb, former mayor of Denver, is credited as saying “The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.” Urban areas are extremely important, for the allocation of resources (such as education and health care) and the creation of social and economic opportunity, among other things. As the UNFPA says: “The challenge for the next few decades is learning how to exploit the possibilities urbanization offers. The future of humanity depends on it.”

I believe that technology is vital for this challenge. It was technology that made the city possible, after all, by enabling and encouraging increased population densities. Urban settlements expose incredible network efficiencies because of this density, whether for trade, communication, or service delivery. It is these network efficiencies that, as strategy consultant and fellow Canadian Jeb Brugmann said, “make cities the world’s strategic centres of social innovation.”

Technology will be used in an endless number of ways to exploit the possibilities and to address the challenges of urbanization, but I think creating a sense of place will be key. Resilient cities, those that are sustainable, eco-efficient, and place-based, are one of the four possible outcomes for cities in a world of significant challenges like climate change, according to Dr. Peter Newman (PDF). Telling the story of a place is necessary for a city to become resilient, because creating a stronger sense of place increases the viability of the local economy and facilitates innovation. Social media is driving transparency in cities and is enabling citizens to tell the story of their place like never before.

One definition for social media comes from JD Lasica and Chris Heuer, and it goes like this: “Any online technology or practice that lets us share (content, opinions, insights, experiences, media) and have a conversation about the ideas we care about.” Put another way, you could say that social media tools and technologies are strengthening democracy.

Social media is becoming the best amplifier of a city that we’ve ever seen. True, social media makes it easy to spread the word beyond a single city and there’s definitely value in that, but it’s at the local level where social media truly shines, by taking the network efficiencies created by cities to the next level. Social media is helping to facilitate a new relationship between government and citizens, is enabling creatives inside cities to better connect with one another, and is empowering citizens like never before. In short, it improves a city’s social capital.

Natural capital is made up of the natural environment, such as the river valley here in Edmonton. On top of that we build infrastructure capital – roads, houses, buildings, lights, etc. Human capital and organizational capital refer to the individuals and organizations that use the natural and infrastructure capital to start and grow families, to build companies, and to otherwise create economic value. Social capital represents trust, social engagement, civic participation, reciprocity, and networks.

Social capital is critical for enabling innovation, making it possible to tackle tough problems. Within a city, social capital is vitally important because as Cameron Sinclair pointed out in his TED Wish, “all problems are local and all solutions are local.” Or as you’ve probably heard in the past, “think global, act local.” I think that applies quite broadly; for instance, to climate change. It’s a global problem, but it’s one that we need to approach locally. If we don’t succeed at reducing our impact on the environment at the local level, there’s no hope for solving the problem globally.

For these reasons, I’m extremely passionate about social media and the city. I’ve written a lot in the past about the impact social media is having on Edmonton and other cities, and I’ll continue to do so. Cities are increasingly important, and social media is making them stronger. I think that’s very exciting!

Related links worth clicking:

Thanks to Ted Gartside for the Creative Commons-licensed globe photo of New York.

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.