I recently wrote about the vibrant Twitter community organized around the hashtagging of the airport code for Edmonton, AB (#yeg). The use of the regional tag to organize Edmonton community tweets began in summer of 2008, and has become so popular it now grows organically without much thought to its backstory.
I’ve long argued that Twitter is very powerful for community building, with special value for generating civic engagement and pride and boosting local businesses. Knowing the benefits, and realizing them, though, is very different. Edmonton’s Twitter community has really blazed a trail, and it’s worth examining its success and drawing out a few lessons for would-be imitators.
According to #yeg enthusiasts who responded to my inquires on Twitter and my blogs, local software developer Mack Male and other influential social media enthusiasts deserve much of the credit for the tags’s success (the YEG airport code, now in common vernacular in Edmonton, was not used to describe the region before achieving Twitter popularity). Male regularly updates stats on Edmonton’s Twitter community, and in October cataloged more than 5,600 locals at least semi-active on Twitter and more than 18,000 tweets using the #yeg tag. There appear to be hundreds of Twitter users using the #yeg tag as part of their daily lives, and in-person meeutps get dozens of attendees (no small feat for Twitter communities, at least today).
Male, in a year-in-review blog post this past June, describes advocating the #yeg tag after learning at a conference that Twitter users in Calgary, AB, were organizing around their airport code, #yyc. (Twitter users in Victoria, BC, are also successfully using their airport code, #yyj).
This brings us to one of the first points that makes #yeg successful, and perhaps explains #yyc and #yyj as well: in a harsh climate isolated geographically, airport codes take on greater significance because residents are used to flying whenever they need to get somewhere else.
The #yeg buzzcronym also works because it’s easy to pronounce (rhymes with “egg”) and good for new self-referential words, says Edmonton journalist Karen Unland. Edmonton’s Twitter folk lovingly refer to one another and themselves as “yegsters” and “yeggers” (or “yeg’ers,” a construction that better utilizes Twitters search grouping function). They’ve built out the tag’s utility with features such as Edmonton traffic updates.
Edmonton’s yegsters have also built their community by taking the interaction offline, with tweetups organized around charities, political reform, open data, and other civic concerns. (Here’s a short video from a December tweetup benefiting the local food bank, courtesy of #yeg documentarian Jerry Aulenbach.) The hashtag unites Edmonton’s Twitter users around civic pride and involvement – even if they don’t follow each other in the traditional Twitter stream, many check up on the tag for its local flavor, discovering new connections and community in the process.
So, what is unique to Edmonton’s hashtagging that cannot be repeated elsewhere? Unique geography and a single regional airport seem important. Tourist hubs like Los Angeles, Vancouver, Los Angeles or San Francisco might simply suffer from random clutter (the SF Bay Area, where I live, is so large and full of urban and suburban density points, #sfo will likely never be much more than an airport). Jas Darrah, an Edmonton civil servant, emphasizes that adoption of #yeg was no accident and required key influencers actively promoting and training on its use. That included local press, institutions and government.
So, where might #yeg’s success be replicated? In the U.S., I’d suggest cities with significant populations and semi-isolated geography: Spokane, WA (GEG); Portland, OR (PDX); Bakersfield, CA (BFL); Tucson, AZ (TUS); Albequerque, NM (ABQ); Colorado Springs, CO (COS); Wichita, KS (ICT); Tulsa, OK (TUL); Pittsburgh, PA (PIT). Due to the aforementioned pronounceability factor, GEG, COS, TUL, and PIT gain an edge.
Let’s get this party started!
~ Adriel Hampton is a San Francisco public servant and host of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast. Follow him on Twitter @adrielhampton.