Feature Article - March 2010
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Expand Your Reach

Marketing in a Web 2.0 World

By Stacy St. Clair

South Carolina Generates Fans

The South Carolina State Parks waded into social networking with little fanfare in July 2009. The agency launched its page simply, by asking employees to become "fans" and asking them to make the same suggestion to their friends and family. Within a week, they had 1,000 fans—a great start, but even greater things were on the horizon.

"It just grew organically from there," said Gwen Davenport, the agency's sales and marketing manager, who oversees the page.

In August, the park system published a book in honor of its 75th anniversary called Beautiful Places: The Timeless Beauty of South Carolina State Parks, a coffee table piece with breathtaking photos and fascinating history. The book was going to be sold, among other places, at each of the state's 47 state parks. To promote the book, Davenport came up with a plan to personally deliver the books to each park and chronicle the journey on Facebook. The goal was clear: 47 parks in seven days.

The night before she left, Davenport posted a note on the Facebook page explaining the trip and posting Day 1's itinerary. She invited the public to join them and promised parks-related gifts to the first three people who took pictures of the van and posted them on Facebook. The first 10 people who met them along the journey and bought the book were given a free state park passport, which was valid for one-year's admission to all 47 parks. Children received special prizes, too, and anyone who purchased a book was put in a drawing for prizes that included a state park cabin vacation, camping vacation, golf rounds and special state park experiences, among other things.

"Some awesome stuff!" Davenport wrote in her note. "It's a tough job—but somebody's gotta do it. We love our state parks and hope that you can come out to see us and enjoy them too!"

As they drove from site to site in a cargo van, Davenport and her partner Kenneth Reed, the agency's retail manager, posted status updates on their Blackberries. At each stop, they posted pictures and videotaped interviews from the previous park on their itinerary. A few days into their journey, they noticed something incredible happening. Not only was their Facebook fan base growing, but followers were showing up at the parks to greet them.

"We actually had people following us," Davenport said, laughing at the happy memory. "We had groupies."

Despite the turnout at larger parks, Davenport didn't realize how popular Gwen & Ken's excellent adventure had become until they arrived at Woods Bay, a small park in the middle of nowhere. When they pulled into the tiny park—which features a 1,150-foot boardwalk along a cypress-tupelo swamp—they found a group waiting for them in the rain.

"Are you Gwen and Ken?" they asked. "We've been following you on Facebook."