Lovers of Victoria take notice of social media page

Daniel Palmer

Passing Paul Seal on the street, you’d never guess the 40-something consultant has his finger on the pulse of Victoria.

But from inside his 78-sq. ft. office in the Maynard Court building on Johnson Street, Seal wields the sort of clout most of the 4,000 Greater Victoria businesses on Facebook can only dream of.

“People are 20 times more likely to like a page than unlike a page,” he says, displaying the latest data from his curated “I ♥ Downtown Victoria” Facebook page.

Seal’s page recently reached the 20,000 likes, becoming the first Victoria-centric page to do so. Almost 160,000 people saw posts from the page last week alone.

To put that number in perspective, the Downtown Victoria Business Association has about 4,000 likes, while the City of Victoria has 8,000. The second-largest local page is Tourism Victoria at 18,800 likes.

But what does Facebook influence really mean? And more importantly to Seal and those clients who pay him to post their business information, what is it worth?

“There’s no such thing as an all-commercial TV or radio station,” he says.

“If all you’re posting is advertising on your page, people tune out.”

I ♥ Downtown Victoria relies on aggregated and submitted content: breaking news stories, lost pet photos and multiple photographers who gladly offer their shots of the Inner Harbour and other Victoria landmarks at no charge.

Interspersed with these water-cooler posts is advertising – plenty of it – from real estate listings to restaurant and event promotions.

“People who work in social media and public relations will often do this,” says Gil Wilkes, a communication and culture professor at Royal Roads University.

“In order to get clients, you need proof of concept – a Facebook page or Twitter feed with plenty of followers. This demonstrates you are able to develop, to cultivate and to hold the attention of an audience.”

The business model is nothing new, but many social media users may not realize their “Likes” are driving the monetization of Facebook.

“Social media is actually in a period of decline,” Wilkes says. “Because it’s so crowded and noisy online, it’s getting harder and harder to compete. So you have to invest more to get less in terms of a market response.”

Advertising through social media is only going to get more intense and more severe, particularly because revenues are nowhere near traditional print media, he adds.

“It’s cheaper to advertise online, but there’s a reason it’s cheaper. You reach more people, but they don’t necessarily click through. Television advertising is still king.”

Trina Mousseau, Tourism Victoria’s director of destination marketing, says whatever the end goal of Seal’s page, anything that promotes Victoria is an asset.

“I appreciate very much they have a big following, and that they push out good content about what’s happening in the city,” she says. “We really need to work together with a common messaging and supporting each other.”

In a few weeks, Seal will begin promoting local B.C. Green Party candidate events on his Facebook page.

It’s not uncharted territory – during last October’s federal by-election he offered posts to each political party.

But he and his partners will likely keep a watchful eye over their subscriber numbers as those posts go live.

“I’m not here to promote the City of Victoria or any particular interest,” Seal says. “I do what I want to do.”