Social media is a new stage Prince George is performing on.
Tourism Prince George is about to launch an entire promotional campaign based on person-to-person online linkages, and they aren't taking this step without some prior evidence to go on. The cost of these campaigns is relatively low, compared to buying traditional promotional campaigns, and the results can be staggering if the message catches the interest of enough people. Web-based services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube can take a small, local comment or photo and make it an international sensation.
Getting embraced by the social media audience is unpredictable and often accidental, but it is possible to take aim with certain material. When Prince George was bad-mouthed by a Vancouver radio station over musician Elton John's appearance here, there was a clear backlash from local residents.
When a local fan of the rock band Kiss took up their Facebook challenge to raise the most "likes" for a chance at the group performing in the winning cities, the fan scrounged up such a mass of supporters that the band agreed to a CN Centre gig over most other major markets in North America.
And how about the blast of online retorts to the Maclean's Magazine crime rankings?
"I noticed pretty much immediately that a lot of PGers seem to have a tendency to focus on the perceived flaws of this wonderful place, while so much positive stuff seems to slip by unnoticed, or under-communicated," said Ron Johnston, who moved to Prince George about five years ago. He started up the Facebook page "Believe In PG" which celebrates its first birthday next week. It is stocked with local history factoids, current events, photographs and events listings all showing the lighter side of the city.
The page features a quote that caught Johnston's eye while reading old newspapers in the library's online archives. It was published 99 years ago almost to the day.
"We believe in this place, or we wouldn't be here. We believe it will grow into the most important inland city in B.C." - C.W. Moore, Jan. 27, 1914. Moore was a representative of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad and he said this on the day the tracks made it over the Fraser River to link the communities here with the world to the east.
At about the same time he discovered Moore's quote, Johnston also heard another quip for the ages, an observation spoken by mayor Shari Green.
"[She said] words to the effect that 'Prince George is a community that really likes to be hard on itself'," said Johnston. "Between the [Moore] speech, which echoed my own reasons for coming here, and mayor Green's comment at a council meeting I kind of just decided well, something has to change and figured social media might be a way to get more of the good news of P.G. out there."
It started with a single Facebook friend 'liking' the Believe In PG page. A year later it is at only 115 "likes" but they have been jumping up by handfuls per day instead of one or two per week in the beginning. One of those "likes" is Tourism Prince George itself.
"There are a number of those kinds of Facebook pages," said Aidan Kelly, CEO of Tourism Prince George. "We do have a good level of local engagement, and Believe In PG is one of the better ones. We share some information there, and they share some of our content. And he [Johnston] stays with it, there is some dedication there, which is why it is now starting to take off for him.
"There is a real estate group in town as well, they have a page like that [RealtyPG Positive Living PG] and that's a little more related to their business but the same premise of putting local good news out front," Kelly added.