Feature Article - March 2010
Find a printable version here

Expand Your Reach

Marketing in a Web 2.0 World

By Stacy St. Clair


Arkansas Faces the Future

For further proof of the importance of social networking, look no further than Arkansas State Parks' new advertising campaign. The television commercial begins with scenes of 1950s Arkansas with families camping with antiquated equipment and waterskiing in old-fashioned swimming trunks as campy documentary music plays in the background. Flash-forward 50 years and there are energetic, handsome people camping at modern facilities, kayaking challenging water courses, splashing in swimming pools and relaxing in bubbling hot tubs.

The message? These are not your grandparents' state parks. And to confirm it, the advertisement encourages people to find out more about the parks on Facebook. But sending folks to Facebook wasn't just an attempt at hipness. It was a sound marketing move. Arkansas State Parks have a huge following on the social networking site, with nearly 20,000 fans who serve as the agency's greatest cheerleaders.

"Our fan base is awesome," said Joe Jacobs, manager of marketing and revenue for Arkansas State Parks. "It has grown organically."

Jacobs joined Facebook on the agency's behalf in November 2008, when he was home recuperating from an operation. With time on his hands, he decided to tinker with the social networking site and created a presence for the parks there. Though he began with the standard friend page, he later migrated to a fan page that required users to declare their fanaticism for the parks rather than simply befriend it.

Jacobs initially worried people wouldn't follow him from the friend page to the fan page, but his concerns were unwarranted. In less than a year's time, nearly 17,000 people—including presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee—declared themselves fans, creating one of the biggest fan bases for any park system in the United States.

The site's popularity stems from Jacobs' dedication to keeping the page updated and interesting. He posts photographs, asks trivia questions and posts videos such as the aforementioned commercial.

"If you're not trying to engage everyone, then you're not going to be successful," Jacobs said.

The site also has made money for the park system. In concert with Arkansas State Tourism's Facebook page, Jacobs will post notes about available lodge rentals and other programs. Over the Independence Day weekend, for example, both pages alerted fans that Mount Magazine—a site known for its breathtaking views and highly coveted lodge rentals—had lodge openings. Within hours of the posting, the empty spaces were snatched up by people who were surprised (and grateful) to learn of the availability.

"It's all basically free advertising," said Dena Woerner, communications manager for Arkansas Parks and Tourism. "If it's done well and you pay attention, it will be successful."

Woerner, for example, has a rotating weekend staff that checks the page on Saturdays and Sundays to keep it fresh. She also leans on her four tourism writers, who are experts on the parks in their assigned regions, to answer questions—no matter how esoteric. On one occasion, a Facebook fan asked which park would be the best place to see a rare species of toad. Woerner's travel writers found the answer quickly and posted it.

Woerner also encourages the "fans" to post pictures of their state park adventures on the page. The photographs, in addition to being visually spectacular, serve as testaments to the beauty, opportunities and fun that can be found at the Natural State's parks.

"It's time-consuming," said Woerner, who dedicates one to two hours a day to social networking on behalf of Parks and Tourism. "But there is a reward. You're giving people an opportunity to share their park experiences and memories."

Jacobs also has expanded the park system's Web 2.0 presence to YouTube, where he posts commercials and other videos. He also has begun subscribing to other users who post video from Arkansas parks. Those people, in turn, subscribe to his account and are alerted when the newest videos are out.

"It's not costing the state anything but a little bit of my time," Jacobs said. "Everyone loves the response we've been getting."