Florida cultivates 'smile ambassadors' in inaugural social media launch

To launch its social media presence, Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau wanted a meaningful program that would generate content that would live beyond a campaign.

Organization: Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau (Orlando, FL)
Campaign: 67 Days of Smiles
Duration: May – November 2, 2009
Budget: $100,000

To launch its social media presence, Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau wanted a meaningful program that would generate content that would live beyond a campaign.

“We didn't just want to just start pages and see how it went,” says associate VP of publicity Susan Lomax. “We wanted exciting, interesting content.”

Lomax adds that while Orlando is known for its theme parks, the priority was to expand awareness of additional attractions.

Strategy
The in-house team devised “67 Days of Smiles” (dovetailing with an “Orlando Makes Me Smile” ad campaign) that would include a contest to find two “smile ambassadors” who would visit more than 100 Orlando attractions in 67 days (August 27 – November 2). The pair would then relate their experiences through social media channels and media interviews. Publicizing the search for the ambassadors would extend the life of the campaign.

Tactics
The microsite, Visitorlando.com/67daysofsmiles, housed information and contest entries. Exclusives were arranged with USA Today and Canwest Publications to kick off the search.

Ten finalist pairs attended a 67-hour boot camp, in which they visited and reviewed attractions.

“We were looking for people who could tell an interesting, fun story,” Lomax says.

Nationally syndicated morning show Daily Buzz, which is based in Winter Park, FL, broadcast live with Orlando actor/musician Joey Fatone on day one of the boot camp. A press conference was held for local media.

The winning ambassadors posted written reviews daily on the tourism board's existing and campaign Facebook and Twitter sites, and its blog. They also posted video recaps of daily experiences on YouTube and photos on Flickr. Lomax says authenticity was paramount, and ambassadors were instructed to submit honest opinions.

The team conducted an SMT for the winners' first outing, and they conducted interviews throughout the program. Consumer media and travel trade were targeted in US, Canada, and UK. AOR Laura Davidson PR helped with pitching in the US. Communications Mecca assisted in Canada and Publicasity helped in the UK.

Results
Visitorlando.com/67daysofsmiles got upwards of 70,000 hits, and blog hits were more than 80,000. Ambassador-generated content has been turned into an online guidebook.

Facebook fans total 15,126 so far, and the Twitter accounts garnered nearly 5,000 followers (Twitter.com/67days has been folded into Twitter.com/VisitOrlando). At the end of the campaign, video views on YouTube were 65,620, up from 21,283 in May 2009. Flickr views since February 2009 total 48,000.

Combined circulation on more than 900 media placements exceeded 127 million. US outlets covering the story included Today, The New York Times, and Gadling.com.

Though the CVB doesn't have a final count yet, media manager Denise Spiegel says total visitors for 2009 are forecasted at 44.3 million, down from 48.9 million in 2008.

“While our 2009 [numbers] are lower than 2008, the tourism industry as a whole was hit very hard by the economic situation,” Spiegel says. “We feel like 67 Days certainly helped to keep our destination performance stronger than other [destinations].”

Future
Based on the campaign's success, the smile ambassadors will embark on a worldwide “smile tour” this spring.

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