April in the Adirondacks is…..well…quiet. As far as tourism activity, it traditionally represents the transition month between winter/ski season and the beginning of summer travel. It’s also a time when many north country folk head south for vacation, coinciding with school breaks. Lake Placid welcomes its share of conference attendees in April, but by May the whole region sees more visitors arriving to hike, bike, paddle and fish.
To me, it’s also a good time to ramp up for the busy season; develop content, fine-tune promotional schedules, and to conduct some online social media experiments.
Did you hear about the Adirondack park-wide floodlights installation that was proposed?
Essentially, I began April by distributing a press release on lakeplacid.com via social networking mechanisms. The release announced that “a proposal to install floodlights throughout New York’s Adirondacks aims to extend the Park’s open hours, and improve visibility at night.”
Simulcast at 8:00 a.m. on both Twitter and Facebook, the reviews started coming in right away. Depending on the topic, a typical Facebook post for Lake Placid will garner 2-5 comments on average. On this one, we had over 20 comments before noon on a Sunday, with sentiments that varied from chuckles to outrage that we should “keep the Adirondacks wild”. I even received an email from a friend in Saratoga offering to do whatever necessary to help me “stop this criminal outrage”.
By 2:00 p.m. most had come to the realization that it was an April Fool’s joke.
Why did we do this? Well, for one thing, April Fool’s Day is my favorite holiday. But, truly, this type of activity is just one more way to maintain top of mind awareness. The communications landscape has dramatically changed since the days when we sent out press releases to traditional media and hoped they’d print it. The countless channels of outreach available now offer unlimited potential to increase our target market reach.
That potential DOES exist, however, one can distribute a message via social media, SEO release, blog feature AND video and still be completely ignored. In order for a message to stand out in a very noisy marketplace, it must be inspired and creative.
We’ve all heard about videos that have gone “viral”. How does it happen? 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube, the video search engine. Only a tiny fraction of those videos will go “viral” – or achieve millions of views. It’s every brand manager’s dream to obtain positive viral status and become an overnight success.
According to Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube, those videos that go viral meet three criteria: 1. they are unexpected, 2. they are further ignited (shared) by a “tastemaker”, or an influencer worthy of imitation, (such as popular late night TV hosts), and 3. they are subject to community participation: the video inspires creativity, and we become part of the phenomenon by sharing and sometimes imitating its content.
What’s that have to do with my press release? Advertisers have known for ages that incorporating humor is an effective way to connect with target markets via emotional appeal, and/or humanizing a brand.
By creating an April Fool’s message about a faux proposal that would negatively affect our product, and sending it to our existing ambassadors via social media, we elicited an emotional response. The release underscored the fact that the Adirondacks are a protected wilderness without light pollution; a product differentiator. We confirmed that our Facebook fans and Twitter followers are fiercely protective of their favorite destination. In fact, it can be surmised from comments both online and anecdotally in person that there were many who were immediately ready to join the made-up Park in the Dark Coalition that had formed to fight the proposal as referenced in the release.
The anecdotal references are good, but the response to this project was also tracked with Google analytics, Facebook and Twitter click statistics. I didn’t reach anywhere near a million viewers, but this one-time post on just two major social networks did garner about 2,000 unique visits to lakeplacid.com directly from those social networks on both mobile and web platforms. We know that visitors spent an average of 2:24 minutes on the page, (presumably to get to the end of the release where they learned it was a prank). We also know that the bounce rate was high: nearly 80% of the visitors then left the site without visiting any other pages. (This is why I won’t be using this faux story tactic as an exclusive destination marketing strategy.)
The biggest benefits of this type of communication is the resulting top of mind awareness that it helps to maintain. It facilitated engagement with our ambassadors, and increased the potential exposure of the Adirondack destination’s name via the sharing nature of social media.
In addition, it did gain media attention, as the release was also picked up by an about.com writer who listed the prank as one of the “Best Fake USA Travel news from April Fools Day 2012”.
The trick is to integrate this type of humor into our communications year-round. And humor isn’t easy to convey successfully. The challenge is to incorporate this witty style of promotion while maintaining the professional integrity of your brand, product and organization.
I try to incorporate creative descriptions and phrases into social messaging, and it is a required industry skill to craft a standout headline for a press release. It all goes back to creativity: and the overall objective is to evoke an emotional response.
I wonder how many will cry over next spring’s Mud Season Wrestling Festival.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications at the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism