With more than 25 million users on mainland France (figures for October 2012), Facebook’s success throughout the length and breadth of the land is incontestable. Companies and the media have gauged the potential and developed “fan” pages that allow them to chat with social network users. And when it comes to large provincial towns (more than 30,000 inhabitants)? A little tour of inspection full of surprises.
What do Valenciennes, Dunkerque, Lens, Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Cambrai, Villeneuve-d’Ascq and Maubeuge all have in common (*)? You were going to say: “they are all in the Nord – Pas-de-Calais.” Or “they are quite important towns” (Dunkerque has just overtaken Tourcoing after joining constituencies with its surrounding neighbours). But those aren’t the answer we’re looking for: these eight towns of more than 30,000 inhabitants have the particularity of not having a Facebook page administrated by the communication services of the town but rather interact directly with the population (other pages do exist sometimes, as is the case for Villeneuve-d’Ascq, but these are at the initiative of other individuals or associations). A surprising fact? “Yes” if you look at the number of social networks users (25 million in Oct. 2012). But “no” if you look at a number of studies that have been done on Facebook and local councils: in 2011, the blog communes.com pointed out that only 31% of local councils had a fan page on Facebook. This percentage has of course increased since then but France is still trailing behind. And our large provincial towns are no exception.
We can only hope that these towns will one day follow in the footsteps of the local pioneers on the subject. However, their absence should not be taken as a sign of disinterest. At Dunkerque, for example, they admit that they are keeping a close eye on the phenomenon, but they don’t want to do “just any old thing”. We are in the test phase for a DK’Youth page as a first step, explained the town hall. “The idea is to create a nucleus and then to see how we can apply this to a page for the town in general.” A well-thought out strategy. Dunkerque is not out of its league when it comes to social networks, continued our interlocutor: accounts with Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and a YouTube channel have been set up…and even a secret group (sic) on Facebook: “It allows charities and associations to dialogue directly with the local authorities.” In other towns, creating a Facebook account is not even on the agenda: Valenciennes confided that they have no Mark Zuckerberg pages to their name… certainly due to a lack of time. But the Valenciennes communication service did manage to find the time to try to contact an Internaut who had created a “Town of Valenciennes” page with photos taken by the town hall, thus infringing copyright law. Without success.
No need to panic: amongst the sixteen towns with more than 30,000 inhabitants, the remainder all have a Facebook page (Lille, Arras, Liévin, Marcq-en-Baroeul, Douai, Wattrelos). The capital of Flanders, Lille has 1,800 fans and the page hosts the town’s agenda as well as hyperlinks to the town’s activities (and to Lille’s credit a post that explains that Lille is in the top 5 French towns for accessibility for the disabled). You can also find a few ch’ti expressions (ch’ti is the local dialect) for special occasions, like for Shrove Tuesday: “Camarate, à’ch’t’heure ché Mardi gras, in va s’implir eu’l’panche ed’crepes al cassonat!”. Which means: “Comrade, today’s Pancake Day. We’re going to stuff ourselves with pancakes, sprinkled with brown sugar!” Similar mindset for the other towns in general, with, starting at the top in terms of fans, Arras (1,600 fans) and its photos of snow during the recent census taken in mid-February, Marcq-en-Baroeul (800), who have taken advantage of the page to get Internauts’ help to chose a new name for the historical area in the north of the town limits. Wattrelos (700 fans) and Douai (280 fans). The case of Liévin is rather special: created in June 2012, this assumedly official page, as far as our editorial team knows, only has a measly 24 fans. And things are unlikely to get better: no info has been published since its creation.
Attentive readers will have noticed that Roubaix is conspicuous by its absence up to now. Yet, with 4,800 friends, Michel-François Delannoy’s Tourcoing is the regional winner hands down, followed by Pierre Dubois’ Roubaix congregation with 2,400 friends. Highly animated and attractive pages (except for the profile photo with the blue sky and palm trees that fools nobody!), a bit less so for Tourcoing, which only Facebooks when it takes their fancy. But that’s not really the problem: both towns have created a profile, which is normally prohibited (profiles are reserved for real people and pages for businesses). In theory, they risk purely and simply…the suspension of their accounts. The responses of the interested parties, via their communication service? Roubaix first. “We haven’t found anything that formally prohibits the creation of a Facebook profile. Besides, the account is managed by a real person so there is nothing illogical in this.” DailyNord, having also once had its Facebook profile suspended without prior notice is therefore able to say from bitter experience that Facebook’s reasoning is not without logic. Tourcoing’s response: “The town of Tourcoing has been present on Facebook since February 2010. At that time, we chose to have an individual profile rather than a business page, which has less interesting features, especially when it comes to sharing information. And Facebook has never said anything to us about this. As we reached 5,000 friends in 2012, we are just about to switch over to a business page this year anyway.” If all the friends become fans, Tourcoing will become the regional leader for towns with more than 30,000 inhabitants, but will still remain far behind nationally. In October 2012, the barometer “Collectivités Territoriales et Réseaux Sociaux” established a national ranking: Paris was of course far ahead in terms of fans (1.9 million at that time, 2.1 million today). Next came Lyon (15,000), Bordeaux (12,700), Clermont-Ferrand (12,100) and Strasbourg (8,125). No northern town made it into the Top 10.
(*) In spite of our renowned professionalism, if a page has escaped our attention, please add it in comments.
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