The Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo has been enjoying a media frenzy over its 5-month-old panda cub Bao Bao. The tot’s public debut on Martin Luther King weekend is expected to draw record crowds, and the zoo’s social media feeds are burning up with admirers.
There are admittedly some built-in elements that make Bao Bao a media success story: she’s adorable and we all go soft for pandas. But the National Zoo didn’t rely on cuteness alone to drive this story. It developed a multifaceted media strategy to promote Bao Bao and ultimately drive up attendance for the zoo and recognition for its brand.
So, even if you don’t have a panda cub, you can use the same tips that made the National Zoo’s story a success.
- Promote your story with a unique hook and keep your audience updated. The National Zoo knew it had a great story on its hands when the cub was born in August 2013 because so few pandas are born in captivity. It posted regular updates on its website, promoted their live streaming Panda Cam and leveraged local and national media to advance the story.
- Get buy-in from your audience. The zoo ran a month-long voting campaign that allowed the public to choose the cub’s name, which was revealed in a public ceremony. Bao Bao, by the way, means "precious" or "treasure" in Mandarin.
- Get a celebrity or expert to endorse your brand. A few well-placed words by a thought leader in your industry or a celebrity can raise your brand’s profile. The National Zoo went all-in: movie star Hugh Jackman was allowed a private peak at Bao Bao.
- Use social media to share your story. The zoo has been posting regular updates on Twitter. It launched an Instagram account this week featuring Bao Bao’s first selfie and it has posted numerous videos, including a trip to the vet, and tributes by First Lady Michelle Obama and China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan.
Your organization may not have a baby panda, but you can still follow the fundamentals of media strategy that the National Zoo used, and you too can expand the reach of your brand.
To learn more about how the National Zoo handles social media, join us on Feb. 13 when Pamela Baker-Masson, its associate director of communications, will speak on our webinar Facebook's Latest Updates-and What They Mean for Your Brand.
Follow Richard Brownell: @RickBrownell