How Theme Parks Are Leveraging Guest Social Media Usage for Marketing
Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, August 13th, 2015
The social media landscape is rapidly evolving and in turn having a direct impact on themed entertainment. Guests increasingly bring their smartphones and even sometimes tablets with them to attractions. The goals are partially logistical; more parks are relying on branded apps for navigation, information, and in-park entertainment. But there’s also the social element of promoting interaction between guests and their networks. People want to record their experiences and share with friends and family. To invoke a cliché but popular saying, “pics or it didn’t happen!” As the trend grows, it’s important to consider where the line is between creating the social experiences that guests crave and exploiting social media for free PR.
Last year’s Thinkwell Group report suggested that as many as 80% of guests have a device on hand while in a park. Half of those users will take and share pictures on social media. How do theme parks benefit? One of the most obvious ways is exposure. When a user posts a photo of themselves enjoying a particular ride or posing with a favored character, that’s some of the best word of mouth marketing that a park can generate. To encourage these connections, recent statistics show that more parks are creating more social media opportunities for guests.
Some of the most basic improvements are infrastructure related. Parks increasingly seeking to have reliable WiFi throughout parks. WiFi helps improve access speeds and reduce the data costs associated with posting photos to social accounts. Many parks have location-based tagging available on the major social networks, which allows guests to check-in or note their location when they post. Others are offering more complex features like themed image opportunities or augmented reality photo stations. Guests love the chance to take pictures on a ride, with a character, or near key theming elements.
Universal is finding uses for social media beyond publicity. In their case, the social interaction is happening between park employees and park visitors. They are using their accounts to help generate excitement for upcoming visits and responding to simple queries about issues like park weather. The company just launched its Social Engagement Center. A team of support people is following the @UniversalORL account and hashtag #AskUniversal on Twitter and Facebook and responding to mentions during business hours. While it just launched at the end of July and the definitive results aren’t in, early reviews are positive. It’s another way for parks to offer engagement and support and may provide a valuable connection to park staff on crowded days, for example.
Parks are also experimenting with themed technology that helps promote social sharing. Previously, we’ve explored examples of branded apps with a gamification element encouraging users to collect “stickers” by visiting locations within the park. Players then received badges that they could share on their social media accounts. Users that wanted to participate had a simple game to play, and the park got the benefit of exposure each time users posted.
Another element of online posting is user reviews. Studies show that online user generated reviews are highly trusted and frequently consulted by guests. As a result, parks need to pay attention to how their social strategies intersect with their online profiles and brand reputation. In the digital marketing world, tools allow brands to monitor when they are mentioned to see if the sentiment is largely positive or negative. Keeping a handle on these issues – whether mentions are positive or negative and the content of reviews – is critical to capturing the benefits of guest social media usage over time.
The relationship between theme parks and guest social media usage is evolving. For parks that are delivering a great customer experience, guests posting on social media can only amplify their brand reach. But guests that are frustrated with long lines, broken rides and other issues could become negative voices in the online space that are harder to manage. The goal is twofold for parks. One is to think of innovative strategies to use social media as both a marketing tool and a way to improve the guest experience. Second, parks must determine how to provide better customer service in the face of increasing visibility and accountability from guests’ realt-time sharing.
Images sourced courtesy of Babble.com, WN, Universal