Edmonton Stories

The City of Edmonton just launched a new campaign called Edmonton Stories. The goal of the campaign is to offer citizens an opportunity to share their stories about Edmonton with one another, and with people around the world. These stories will then be used in targeted marketing to attract labour and visitors to the city. There are two aspects to the campaign – the Edmonton 2030 video/vision that was unveiled at last week’s State of the City address, and the EdmontonStories.ca website.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Edmonton Stories preview earlier this week with a dozen or so other community members. Project lead Mary Pat Barry took us through some background information and a walk-through of the website. She explained that the City has done a lot of research into how Edmonton is perceived both internally and externally, and they found a big discrepancy. It turns out (according to their survey data at least) that Edmontonians view their city far differently than people who live elsewhere do. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. And across almost all measures, Edmontonians view their city positively. Hence the push to get Edmontonians to share their stories.

Here’s how it works. They’ve seeded the website with roughly 60 stories covering a variety of topics. Anyone can go on the site and submit a story of their own. All entries are moderated, but the goal is a turnaround time of less than 72 hours for each one to be posted. In addition to text, you can attach images or video. Currently the site is focused on the city itself, but the entire capital region is a goal and input is not currently limited to any geographic area (in fact, “Calgary” was the default in the demo…minor glitch I’m sure). I haven’t been able to try it it yet, but posting a story looked simple enough in the demo.

Roughly $1 million was approved last year for the 2009 campaign. Most of that money is being spent on the website and the team of people who will manage and curate it. The website was built by Parcom Marketing Inc. and Yellow Pencil, and will be managed by the City of Edmonton and Parcom. I think it’s very attractive and well designed, but it’s not without flaws. For instance, there is now an RSS feed, but you really have to look for it. Also, there should be one for each category. I’m sure everything will be sorted out shortly, however.

I think the City is on the right track with Edmonton Stories. Despite being yet another place to create content, I can see how it serves a specific purpose. There are probably a significant number of people who have a story or two about the city to share, but not enough to warrant creating a blog. Edmonton Stories gives them a place to share a few things.

That said, I think Edmonton Stories faces some challenges:

  • Getting people to post stories is the key challenge. Will enough Edmontonians head over to the site to share something?
  • Ensuring stories are shared over time is another issue. To continue to have an impact, the site can’t go stale.
  • Maintaining a certain quality will be a challenge. What if many of the submissions are just a few sentences long? On the flip side, what if a story is clearly a marketing piece for a business or other organization? The moderators have their work cut out for them!

Not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless.

Edmonton Stories is a more creative approach to the problem of how to market our city than the typical branding/marketing campaign, so kudos to the City for the concept. Now we’ll see how successful it is, and if it resonates with Edmontonians or not.

Take a look at the site and read the about page. What do you think? Also, you can follow @edmontonstories on Twitter.

UPDATE: There are more details on the campaign at the City of Edmonton website.

Notes on Why Stories are Essential

Post ImageJulie Leung is up on stage now to present her keynote Starting with Fire: Why Stories are Essential and How to Blog Effective Tales. Julie always has an interesting presentation so this should be good.

  • Just as she did at Gnomedex, Julie has started by sharing a story from her past, using pictures to illustrate her words. I’ll pick out some of the key quotes from her story.
  • “We are surrounded by stories. Nature reveals why stories are important.”
  • “It is in our nature to seek stories. We are our stories.”
  • “Stories can be indirect, yet powerful. Stories are perfect for complexity.”
  • “Stories are tools of change.”
  • “Stories heal us emotionally.”
  • “We come together around stories. They continue culture, and they change culture.”
  • “Stories are essential because stories are essentially human.”

Julie is now sharing some of her principles for blogging stories:

  • What is a story? They usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end. However “one way”, is for traffic signs! She highlight’s Robert McKee’s book “Story”.
  • Change the familiar! Avoid cliches, but also try to take the ordinary and give it new color and new meaning.
  • How to begin? When beginning a story, listen and link to others.
  • Take notes. Include sensory details.
  • Use the power of pause, blank space, etc.
  • Blogging has a freedom you can’t find in other places – a story can be any shape or size. You can break a story into many pieces, and each can become a blog post.
  • Hiding! Make it suspenseful, as in life, we don’t know all of the story until the end.
  • Experiment to continue growing as a blogger.
  • Voice comes naturally, and you’ll find it as you experiment and share your stores.
  • Have fun, be creative, and play.
  • It’s the raw and sometimes the imperfect that speaks to us the most.
  • Linking and commenting make stories real. The story is corrected, confirmed and can lead to collaboration. It takes two to make a story, the teller and the listener.
  • Blogging is transforming story telling.
  • Be generous and creative with links; they can add another dimension to stories.

Now Julie is sharing some examples of blogging stories:

Julie says: start with fire, start with the hearth.