Paula Werne is old enough to remember going to a friend’s house to see one of those new fangled color TV sets. She has been Twittering since before it was cool. As Director of Public Relations at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, since 1991, she started the first park-hosted blog and microblog.
A few months ago I took part in a social media panel speaking to members of the hospitality industry. A few minutes into my portion, a hand in the audience shot up. Its owner demanded to know, “What’s the ROI in all of this?!”
Good question, but…how the heck should I know?!
No, I didn’t really say that. (Heckling your audience is rarely a good idea.) It was a good question though, and said a lot about the person asking the question. A few follow-up nudges from me, and it became apparent this person wanted nothing to do with social media and was attending the session under protest. It just seemed like “more work” with no proof of bumping the bottom line.
As I attempted to get back on track, another hand waved frantically. This questioner wanted to know what new demographic segment was coming to Holiday World Theme Park as a result of our four years of blogging.
Again the urge to heckle. Who sent you guys, Six Flags?
It became clear that some of the audience member came to our session expecting promises of immediate cha-ching if they agreed to force themselves to post a little something now and then.
Social Media, I told them, is a party. It’s a social event, and everyone is invited. You don’t have to go, but you’re welcome. As you enter the party, be guided by the same rules you would follow at a reception or mixer. Be clever and witty. Teach without being preachy. Whisper a behind-the-scenes nugget or two. But also: listen. Have a conversation and invite others to join in. It’s just that easy and just that overwhelming. Rest assured, though, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Funner, too.
So where’s the ROI? How about increased website visitation? As long as you’re selling something (such as theme park tickets), you can watch your traffic build and discover what sort of blog post boosts interest in making a purchase. The more you engage your readers, the more they’ll want to visit and tell others.
As a seasonal attraction, we face the challenge of engaging our audience during the long, cold, boring winter. There are lots of other parks and other vacation venues outspending us with year-round advertising. So how do we stay top-of-mind?
We invite the readers to be part of our park family. They get to know us individually and share in our day-to-day off-season activities. Heck, I even tweet from our bimonthly Directors meetings. (Our followers were delighted to discover our president, Will Koch, started one meeting with his iPhone gavel app.)
And speaking of Twitter, we’ve been at it for a year and coincidentally will hold our first Twitter Event on the one-year anniversary (twanniversary?). Quite simply, on Thursday we’re previewing our new ride,Pilgrims Plunge (which just happens to be the World’s Tallest Water Ride) to the news media. Part of planning a media preview is finding riders. Actually, finding riders isn’t the problem, it’s figuring out a way to invite a finite number of folks without making the non-invitees feel snubbed.
Enter Twitter. By inviting riders via Twitter and creating a Twitter Event, we hope to create secondary news stories about riders using this media darling to talk about Pilgrims Plunge. (By the way, the news release a year ago announcing our microblogging venture got exactly zero mainstream media attention. Crickets. But now it’s cool, so we’ll give it another shot.)
If you’d like to watch our little experiment, please follow us @HolidayWorld (we’re also @SplashinSafari and @SantaClausLand) on Thursday. By encouraging our Twitter Riders to use the #HW hashtag leading up to and during the event, we’re hoping to create a fun stream of reaction at http://tinyurl.com/holitag.
At the same time, we’ll post videos on our YouTube Channel and photos on our Flickr and Facebook fan pages.
The party is hoppin’ and all the cool kids are here. Some of us non-cool kids sneaked in the back way, and we’re catching on just fine.