SEAWORLD SAN ANTONIO GETS SOCIAL TO BUILD INTEREST IN NEW RIDE
When SeaWorld San Antonio needed to get the word out quickly about its new Journey to Atlantis water coaster ride, public relations specialist Kami Huyse of My PR Pro ( http://myprpro.com) worked with SeaWorld’s Director of Communications Fran Stephenson to survey the options. The team had three objectives: (1) build relationships with the community of coaster enthusiasts, (2) create awareness of the new ride, and (3) increase visitor traffi c. You can see that these goals stretch across three time frames: long-term relationship building, midterm awareness, and short-term sales. It’s a lot to ask of any communication campaign—and particularly a campaign with the time and budget limits that Huyse and Stephenson faced. Hard-core roller coaster enthusiasts are really enthusiastic about their coasters. They like to learn about new rides, compare their impressions of rides they’ve been on, organize trips to visit rides around the country, and even work to preserve some of the classic old roller coasters that dot the American landscape. Dozens of websites, forums, blogs, and coaster groups share information, including the 7,000-member American Coaster Enthusiasts ( www.aceonline.org ). With Huyse’s expertise in social media, she recognized an opportunity when she saw one: They would connect with the “thrill ride” community online. Their research identifi ed 22 blogs and forums that were particularly active and infl uential in the enthusiast community. “The primary strategy was to treat coaster bloggers as a VIP audience and to create content to suit their needs,” Huyse explains. These bloggers were also invited to attend a special prelaunch media day to test-drive Journey to Atlantis. As part of this effort to provide opinion infl uencers and the general public with enticing content about the new ride, SeaWorld’s in-house communication staff created 11 videos and a 45-image photo collection that were made available for public use through YouTube, Flickr, and Veoh. The staff also created a content-rich website with social media functionality to add to SeaWorld’s existing web presence to serve as the “hub” of the launch campaign. The results? One of the knocks against social media as a business communication platform is that its effects can be diffi cult or impossible to measure. While that is true in many cases, Huyse and her colleagues were able to make three specifi c measurements that highlight the success of SeaWorld’s social media effort. First, of the 22 targeted VIP enthusiast groups, more than half covered the opening in their blogs or forums, including the infl uential Theme Park Insider website ( www.themeparkinsider.com). Second, more than 50 other websites created links to the Journey to Atlantis campaign website, and 30 of those were from coaster enthusiast websites. These numbers might sound small, but remember that social media is a game of multiplication: Small numbers of people spreading a message can quickly turn into large numbers. The third and ultimately most important measurement is the impact on SeaWorld’s business. Fortunately for Huyse’s team, a measuring device was already in place: the exit surveys that SeaWorld routinely conducts, asking park visitors about their experiences and decisions to visit. Using data from this survey, the team could identify which media efforts drove visitors to the park most effectively and then calculate the cost-effectiveness of each method to see how the social media campaign compared to SeaWorld’s other, ongoing promotional efforts. While television was almost as effective as online efforts at driving traffi c through the front gate, the net cost to get one visitor through the front gate was nearly fi ve times higher for television. And in terms of actual sales, based on SeaWorld’s average per capita revenue fi gure, the social media campaign generated more than $2.6 million in revenue—for only $44,000 in total costs. From a marketing point of view, that’s even more thrilling than a ride on the latest roller coaster.47
1. With social media proving to be a cost-effective way to attract park visitors, should SeaWorld abandon its other promotional efforts and focus everything on social media? Why or why not?
2. What steps can SeaWorld take to maintain a relationship with coaster enthusiasts, now that the excitement surrounding the new ride has faded?
3. Do coaster fans such as members of American Coaster Enthusiasts constitute a brand community as described in the chapter? Why or why not?