How Visit Salt Lake capitalized on a golden opportunity

There’s no nightlife in Utah. At least that’s an idea that a pair of players on the Golden State Warriors roster put forward in a recent ESPN story.

Traveling to the Beehive State to face the Utah Jazz in the second round of the NBA Playoffs did not sound appealing to either Matt Barnes or Andre Iguodala. Barnes claimed there was nothing to do in Salt Lake City, and Iguodala told reporters that spending time in Utah could lull him to sleep.

Their criticism made national headlines. It also opened a door for Visit Salt Lake to steal the spotlight and playfully cast the city and its nightlife in a positive light.

On the same day that the article broke, Visit Salt Lake President and CEO Scott Beck sent out an email to his communications team containing a link to the ESPN article. They quickly formulated a plan of action to break down the stereotype that Salt Lake City does not have a vibrant nightlife.

Visit Salt Lake quickly purchased the domain and redirected visitors to a two-minute video posted on You Tube. The video highlighted dining and entertainment options for visitors coming into town for the NBA playoffs while flashing phrases like “no drinking,” “no dining” and “no fun” on screen. Beck also wrote a letter to the Warriors, promising that all of the bartenders and servers in Salt Lake would be put on notice to help keep them up late in case they stumbled across something to do.

“Having a savvy social media team really helped,” Beck says. “They recognized what aspects of the idea were gaining traction and they were constantly adjusting and responding to the ideas that were getting traction.”

Visit Salt Lake’s efforts soon went viral and became headline news. Several prominent national media outlets—including ESPN, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, Business Insider and the Washington Post—spotlighted the tongue-in-cheek video and the letter.

Seize the opportunity

For Beck and the rest of his Visit Salt Lake team, disparaging remarks from a pair of NBA players offered a unique opportunity to break down stereotypes about the city and the state. They were given a platform where they could demonstrate that visitors and residents alike can enjoy a vibrant nightlife just like in any other major city.

Letting such a window close isn’t an option. Social media campaigns such as this one can have a temporary lifespan, but they also prove valuable in educating people about a product or organization.

“It’s getting harder and harder in today’s world to break these stereotypes down,” Beck says. “We’re getting increasingly more blue or red. We’re getting more and more insular and listening to more and more of our own echo chambers. Part of it is you got to watch for these opportunities and, when they happen, don’t be too serious. Don’t take yourself too serious but, also, try to find a unique and clever way to break down the stereotype.”

Breaking down stereotypes and negative perceptions is a challenge faced by many businesses and organizations across multiple industries. Staying ahead in the social media game can help turn the score in their favor.

Listen more

For Visit Salt Lake, listening to the conversation mattered more than simply gaining a follower or getting someone to like a post. It allowed the organization to become a part of the conversation and steer it in a fun, new direction.

Organizations that seek out ways to engage social media visitors can do more for enhancing their brand value than simply sticking to the traditional advertising playbook. That’s a key lesson Visit Salt Lake learned in this endeavor and is one the organization plans to apply to future social media efforts.

“We’re all talking too much and not listening enough,” Beck says. “That’s one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in this whole thing.”

Seek engagement

Sometimes it comes down to knowing when to use traditional push marketing concepts or going outside the box to pull in visitors or customers. For Visit Salt Lake, social media engagement is vital to the organization’s mission.

Unlike a traditional business, Visit Salt Lake does not own a product or service that it sells. Nor does it manage a product or service. Promoting the city is what Visit Salt Lake does. That means effectively engaging people becomes a more accurate barometer for success rather than reaching a specific quota of followers or generating the desired number of likes on a social media channel.

Tuning into a conversation and engaging the participants is a savvy approach that Beck believes will serve Visit Salt Lake well in social media marketing efforts down the road.

“We’ve spent a lot of time based on traditional concepts of push marketing,” Beck says. “We have the microphone. We’re trying to yell over the other noise and we’re trying to get the volume up so people can hear us. But what I’m going to take away from this experience, and what I’ve shared with the team, is sometimes you got to listen and once you listen you will find an opportunity.”

If opportunity knocks again, you can be certain that the Visit Salt Lake staff will do everything in their power to answer the door right away.