A new initiative by the city will use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help combat negative perceptions about Port Alberni, city economic development manager Pat Deakin said.
Deakin made the pitch to councillors at their Monday meeting.
The $50,000 contract is being underwritten with funds allocated earlier this year for the city’s ‘Face of Alberni’ campaign.
The six-month contract will be put out within the next two weeks and local firms will have a chance to bid on the work, Deakin said.
The initiative is being undertaken to help address the Valley’s image issues, as well as to provide a way for people to have input into the city’s economic development strategy, Deakin said.
The negative image of Port Alberni that Deakin hears constantly is that the city lacks sophistication, has an economy that is too resource dependent and that its population growth has stagnated.
Banking and investment institutions are aware of the images and that in turn limits investment interest, Deakin added.
A request for proposals for the project was issued last summer. Deakin received replies from three television stations and three social media outlets.
The networks proposed using television commercials shown during times when a particular demographic was watching them. The commercials had a limited shelf life and didn’t leave a lasting impression, Deakin said.
The social media firms suggested that an investment would forensically target an audience, reach a wider demographic than television and would be more versatile. The downside is that using social media requires a person dedicated to managing it.
Deakin showcased the proposals internally with city staff but never came to a conclusion about what direction to take.
But discussions with counterparts from other cities and opening his own Facebook page – which quickly filled with contacts and discussion – prompted him to pursue the social media option.
“I realized that we’re behind other municipalities in adopting social media,” Deakin said.
City manager of information services Jeff Pelech addressed council after Coun. Cindy Solda questioned the project, saying that it would attract naysayers.
The city needs to have some presence on social media because that’s where droves of people are communicating, Pelech said. The largest growing demographic joining social media is senior citizens, he added.
“It’s there whether or not we’re involved in it; the rest of the world is there,” he said. “People are talking about us whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.”
As for naysayers participating, Pellech said that other municipalities dedicate staff that monitor social networking sites and steer the flow of conversation about them.
Councillors agreed that the conversation generated in this initiative has to be controlled and a positive spin put on it, but only to a point.
“We like to debate,” Mayor Ken McRae said.
Read about the City of Nanaimo’s use of social media here.