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Orlando’s ‘Smile Ambassadors’ Build Buzz While Upholding Transparency

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Kyle Post and Stacey Doornbos have a pretty amazing gig. For 67 days, they will visit more than 100 attractions around Orlando and document their experiences via a variety of social media tools – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.

The two beat out hundreds of other applicants from around the world who were looking to take on the dream assignment, dubbed 67 Days of Smiles. The idea was launched by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which was looking for “Smile Ambassadors” to help generate interest for the tourism mecca during these struggling financial times, especially in the travel industry.

The contest follows a similar promotion that Queensland Australia ran a few months back looking for someone to fill the role of Island caretaker (a.k.a. the “best job in the world”), which entailed traveling around the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and then blogging about the experiences.

These promotions bring up a multitude of grey areas as the lines between content creators and brand promoters continue to blend together in the social media space. Looking at the “67 Days of Smiles” campaign, Post and Doornbos were given exclusive access to all the area attractions, as well as an apartment, rental car, electronic devices and money to cover expenses.

However, the difference between this and sending a blogger to a PR event is that the pair actually works for the tourism bureau. As Doornbos stated in a recent New York Times article, “It’s not just a vacation. It is a job.” While the two “Smile Ambassadors” might have been brand loyalists before, now they have become paid to develop online content and act as brand evangelists for Orlando.

Kyle and Stacy say that...
Kyle and Stacy say that it’s not all fun and games – gallivanting around Orlando and chronicling their adventures on several social channels is a job.

Ultimately though, this does not create a conflict of interest in the eyes of the general public because it is clearly disclosed that the two are being funded the entire way. Anyone who follows the Tweets each day or watches the YouTube videos are not expecting the fun-loving duo to express any disappointment in regards to the destinations they visit.

This is the same assumption we have when watching a movie star on a late night talk show, knowing the interviewer is not going to pan the actor’s latest movie. As consumers, we are coming to see what these two are up to next, whether it is a behind the scenes look at the latest Universal Studios ride or what it’s like to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove. There are sites like Trip Advisor and Fodor’s for the traveler in search of more honest travel reviews.

The value proposition for a promotion like this versus something professionally produced is giving the brand a human face (or faces in this case), rather than being exposed directly to the marketer’s messaging. While following @67days on Twitter or reading the “67 Days of Smiles” blog, it feels like you get to know Post and Doornbos as they continue along on their whirlwind journey around Central Florida. Even their families and friends get to join in on the action.

The duo keeps followers up to date on their activities in real time through the @67days Twitter page.

We also get to witness Orlando in a way that the average visitor would be unable to do, like participating in Shaq’s golf tournament or attending the grand opening of Cat Cora’s new restaurant. While certain situations might be contrived, these provide fun backdrops that help enhance the message that Orlando can appeal to a wide range of visitors.

Looking at the results to date, the numbers are solid, and the people following the adventures seem to be engaged. In regards to Orlando’s efforts, the city’s Facebook wall is populated with multiple fan posts a day, the number of followers on Twitter jumped from under 500 to well over 750 in the last week, and each daily video on YouTube garners hundreds of views. As for the Queensland promotion, the Island caretaker continues to update his blog every few days and has over 3,400 followers on Twitter (you can follow him @bensouthall).

Here’s what we can learn from these types of campaigns.

  • Leverage your arsenal – For brands like Orlando and Queensland, their locales and the unique activities and attractions found in these locations make up the core of their arsenal. Orlando is already a beloved vacation spot by many, so therefore it made sense to utilize paid advocates as both content creators and representatives for its social media presence.
  • Follow the rules of the road – The tourism bureaus were upfront about paying these advocates to document their travels and behave according to the proper etiquette within the social media spaces.
  • Create a value exchange – The audience gets to see these locations through the eyes of “regular” people getting to enjoy all that the places have to offer (both well-known and obscure), including certain experiences that are exclusive to the brand ambassadors.
  • Meet your objectives – It all goes back to your brand’s overall objectives, which for Orlando and Queensland entails attracting new and returning visitors in today’s tough economic climate.

In the end, both destinations decided that the best way to break through the clutter and create buzz surrounding all they have to offer was to engage a select few to embody the vacation spots online. While not right for every marketer, campaigns like this can be a successful option as brands continue to search for a voice in the continually changing social media landscape.

– Matt Hirsch, Digital Publicist at 360i