Edmonton Stories WebsiteEdmontonians are asking a lot of questions about the viability of Edmontonstories.ca, a joint venture between the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC). The site built by Edmonton-based Parcom Marketing cost $1.3 million to launch in 2009, $778,000 to run in 20120 and $600,000 in 2011. Edmonton Economic Development pitched in $500,000 for the startup. In 2010, the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation nominated the site for a Teddy Award for wasteful spending citing the millions poured into the website is too much to spend on a website. “The cost of this thing is extraordinary,” says the federation spokesperson Scott Hennig. Many others, including myself, agree.

Here’s some comments I found posted online about this initiative:

Edmonton Stories website under fire: City administration reviewing site that has cost $2.7 million
By Kevin Maimann, Examiner Staff, February 12, 2012

According to city numbers, the site has attracted more than one million hits from 187 countries. The cost of this thing is extraordinary. Hennig says that is not nearly enough to justify the cost. “If it’s a million hits, and they’ve spent $2.7 million, that’s a $2.70 cost per click. That is a high cost per click,” he says.

The site contains written and video stories submitted by users about their positive Edmonton experiences, as well as a Q&A section to entice tourists and people considering moving here. City spokesperson Robert Moyles says the site offers good value.

“This is basically the only thing the city does to market itself,” he says. “From that perspective, it’s a relatively small cost overall.”

The city is currently partnering with Alberta Health Services and Local 488 Plumbers and Pipefitters to draw new workers through the site. The city partnered with the Edmonton Police Service in the past on a pilot project to test the potential effectiveness of the website, and found positive results.

“We asked people, ‘Have you ever heard of Edmonton, would you consider moving there?’ And 74 per cent of them said, ‘No way,’ ” Moyles says. “After we showed them the Edmonton Stories site, 80 per cent said, ‘Yes, absolutely, I would consider moving there.’ ”

The site was created because city research found that while Edmontonians overwhelmingly think our city has all the characteristics of a place they want to live, people from outside the city held drastically different opinions.

Moyles says conveying positive Edmonton experiences is important to help the city compete globally.

“A job is only one small part of how people make a decision to move. The really big part is, what am I going to do after work? What’s my family going to do? What are the schools like? What’s the health care like? What’s the entertainment scene like?” he says. “So you show people stories about people in similar life situations and job situations who live here, and who can express the quality of life in their own words, and it has a huge influence on their decision.”

Moyles says the site itself costs $55,000 per year to run, while the rest of the costs go into online marketing and advertising. Hennig says the city should release hard numbers and success stories to show the benefits of the website.

“There had better be a few (success stories) to justify an almost $3-million cost. Because if you convince one person to move here, that’s going to bring an extra $2,000 a year in property tax. For $2.7 million, you’re going to need to get 1,300 or 1,400 people to move to Edmonton to cover the costs.”

The city expects to spend $600,000 to run and maintain edmontonstories.ca this year.

City administration is reviewing the website and will bring a report to council on March 7.

Councillor wants to close book on Edmonton Stories website
By Gordon Kent, Edmonton Journal, March 3, 2012

A website designed to help attract workers to Edmonton with anecdotes about local life is being called a success despite one councillor’s call to shut it down.

Edmontonstories.ca has attracted 558,376 visits from 187 countries since it was launched in 2009, providing 339 tales about living, working and visiting in Alberta’s capital, a city report says. The stories discuss what Edmonton is like from the perspective of people living in the city, covering such topics as shopping, entertainment, schools and health care.

The idea is that this in-formation will be spread to friends and associates through social media, city strategic communications director Robert Moyles said Friday.

“The success in this project is about the targeted outreach we’re able to achieve, and the way we see people share this information with their peers and networks,” he said. “Four hundred people (daily) from outside Edmonton spend a minute and half reading about life here.”

The site, which cost $2.8 million in the first three years and has a $600,000 budget in 2012, appears to be helping organizations bring in new workers, Moyles said.

In late 2009, three-quarters of potential police recruits in Seattle, Cleveland and New York City hadn’t considered Edmonton as a place to live, the report said.

After police gave them recruiting information that included stories from the site by officers who had moved to here, three-quarters of the respondents indicated they would likely relocate to the city.

But Coun. Kerry Diotte, who tried unsuccessfully last fall to reduce this year’s budget by 10 per cent, said the cost of the scheme is far too high.

“There’s just no good reason to spend millions of dollars on another website – I don’t see any justification or performance measures on it,” he said. “A kid who posted a video of his cat could probably get that many views.”

The $180,000 being paid to advertise the site shouldn’t be necessary, he said.

“If you have to spend money on traditional media or online to get (people) to go there, that defeats the whole purpose. We should kill it and tell Edmonton stories on the city website.”

Coun. Bryan Anderson, who will look at the issue Wednesday as part of council’s executive committee, said the city needs to publicize its attractive qualities and many people rely on the web for this type of information.

However, he wants to be sure this is the best approach.

“A wide range of hits from a variety of countries can be misleading – Maybe it’s time for the discussion to focus on whether we might have a better way to spend that kind of money that might give us a little more exposure,” he said. “(But) when they try something that’s uniquely different, I think you have to let it run its course rather than pulling the plug. Maybe it takes five years – I’m quite willing to let it move forward.”

It’s time to stop investing in Edmonton Stories
By Mack D. Male,  March 6, 2012

Nearly three years ago the City of Edmonton launched Edmonton Stories, a new approach to marketing Edmonton. The project will be discussed by Executive Committee tomorrow, and at least one Councillor has been quite vocal about his desire to shut it down. Councillor Diotte wrote about the issue yesterday on his blog:

I argue we have no performance measures for the website. Social media gurus tell me the costs surrounding Edmontonstories are astronomically high and we can’t even gauge if it alone has drawn a single person to come live in this city.

I don’t always agree with Councillor Diotte, but in this case I think he’s right – it is time to very seriously ask if continuing to put resources into Edmonton Stories is the right thing to do. I first raised questions about the value we’re getting back in September 2009, and followed up with then Communications Branch Manager Mary Pat Barry in February 2010. My conclusion at the time was that while the cost was high, the site was starting to deliver results. The case study that was created in conjunction with the Edmonton Police Service was a really positive step.

Now, two years later, where are we? Not much further ahead. Here’s the sad reality:

In its first four months, EdmontonStories.ca attracted 113,979 total visits. Five months later, that number had grown to 203,685. And in the two years since, it has attracted just 358,691 more visits, bringing the total to 558,376. Most of the growth took place in the first year! Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a graph to show you what the growth curve looks like (linear and logarithmic):

And remember that those numbers are total visits. There’s no word on how many are uniques. The number of people visiting from outside Edmonton is even less, especially when you consider that when an Edmontonian’s story goes up they likely share it with friends and family in the city.

The number of stories on the site likewise has grown very slowly. The total now sits at 339 compared to 272 in February 2010.

The same case study that was held up in defense of the site two years ago is the one Administration is using now (the EPS one). The report mentions just six organizations that have joined the Recruitment Campaign Partnership. Six! Out of all the organizations in Edmonton!

And yes, the budget is a concern. Incredibly, the report does not make it clear how much has been spent on the project. It does state that $1.5 million was allocated in the first year and that a consultant’s estimate of the “right” investment amount was about $5 million. Councillor Diotte says that with this year’s $600,000 budget factored in, a total of $3.5 million will have been spent on the site since it launched.

Worse than the overall budget however is the breakdown.

So, let me get this straight:

  • $180,000 is being spent to advertise the website to extend its reach, yet we know that the growth rate has declined significantly over time.
  • $144,000 is being spent on the recruitment program, which has attracted just seven partner organizations in the last two years.
  • $126,000 is being spent on “managing, maintaining, monitoring and engaging target audiences of various social media platforms.” You know, the stuff you and I do every day for free.
  • $54,000 is being spent on “research, planning & development.” I’m not exactly sure what this would refer to in the third year of a program like this.
  • $54,000 is being spent on “website development & maintenance.” I pay $90 per month total to host this site and at least half a dozen others on Amazon EC2. And I can confirm that it more than handles the kind of traffic EdmontonStories.ca has.
  • $30,000 is being spent to extend the brand into trade shows and other events.
  • $12,000 is being spent to help people write new stories, yet just 67 new stories have been posted in the last two years.

Clearly the cost is a concern. But perhaps the biggest problem is that the site’s champion is no longer driving the site forward. I don’t think it is a coincidence that after Mary Pat left the City the site received less attention. Reading the report from Administration, it certainly feels like there’s a gap from 2010 until now. It’s hard to look after someone else’s baby.

I recognize that you don’t get results over night and that developing a successful program can often take time. But three years should be enough time to decide whether or not to pull the plug. That’s an eternity in the online world! Incredibly, Administration thinks we should do the opposite by reaching out to more organizations, recruiting student partners, and enhancing the site with things like Google Maps.

I think there’s value in what has been created at EdmontonStories.ca and I believe there are ways to continue to leverage that (perhaps via EEDC, which always did seem like a more suitable home for it), but I don’t think the City should be investing any more into the project.

Council keeps Edmonton Stories website alive
by Scott Johnston, iNews880, March 7, 2012.

Councillor Kerry Diotte seems to be alone in his thoughts on killing a city run website. Edmonton Stories is an attempt to lure professional workers to our city and council is giving the website the thumbs up despite Diotte’s opinion on the site.

Mayor Stephen Mandel is one of many on council that supports the attempt put Edmonton above everyone else.

“This is something in place and it seems to be working, and I honestly believe there is no better way to market the city that to hear from someone who lives there why they’re there and I think that’s what this does,” explains Mandel.

“We seem to be always afraid of spending money on promoting the city and yet people saying, we need people, we need people, there is headlines constantly saying we need people,” explains Mandel. “So you know, you can’t sit back and watch the world go by, you have to be competitive and I think our city is great, but I think we need to make sure people know about it.”

It’s the budget that gets to Diotte. Including money that buys ads on Google, Facebook and Twitter, that drives job seekers to the site.

“If we are spending a lot for advertising, why are we not getting more than say 600 hits a day, by anybody’s measure that is not a high count,” explains Diotte.

He believes the money is better spent in other sectors, and the city could do the same advertising with social media sites

“I argue that it should be attached to the real brand which is Edmonton.ca,” explains Diotte. “We could put the stories on a website that gets thousands and thousands of hits per day.”

Edmonton Stories is about to go into phase two of its operation, getting input from recruiters who can demonstrate the website was a turning point in decision making.

Edmonton stories falling short at $5 per site visit
by Terence Harding, Metro Edmonton, March 12, 2012

The city’s Edmonton Stories website is supposed to tell the world why Edmonton is a great place to work, live, play and do business.

This site has cost about $3 million during the past three years and it’s going to cost more. “But it’s working,” say our civic captains of communication. They point out that it has received almost 559,000 visits. That is an impressive number until you realize it amounts to paying $5 for every hit.

It’s even less impressive when you realize that a talking kitten on YouTube got more than 14-million hits in two years. And that’s without the aid of the hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars the city spends to promote the site.

There’s no counter on the Edmonton Stories site. So you and I will just have to accept that the site visit numbers are accurate. However, it’s important to note that there’s a big difference between 559,000 visits and 559,000 unique visits. If I look at a story five times, that counts as five visits.

In any kind of business or organization, ROI is an important acronym. It stands for “return on investment.” Anyone who puts money into any venture expects a return. The desired return is usually set out before hand. This gives you the ability to measure how well your investment is actually doing.

Is it meeting or exceeding the desired ROI?

So what did we get from the site that we would not have gotten otherwise?

“We increased awareness about Edmonton,” might be the answer. To which I would say, “So what?” Awareness and action aren’t the same thing.

If you’ve ever received a speeding ticket, the police officer probably asked you if you were aware of the speed limit. The answer would probably be yes, but clearly, being aware of the speed limit and going at the speed limit are two different things. Do you think people continue to smoke because they are unaware it’s unhealthy?

How many investment dollars flowed into Edmonton because of the site? How many people moved here because of the site? How many tourists came here because of the site? It’s only the answers to those kinds of questions that would tell us if we are getting a decent ROI on our $2.8 million. If there are no answers to those questions, then Edmonton Stories is yet another example of communications flimflam.

 What do you think should be the future of the Edmontonstories.ca website?


The results of the poll will be published here at the end of March and included in our April issue of mediamag ezine.