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GO Big! GO Six Flags! That’s exactly what our Chicago neighbors at Six Flags Great America have done — they’ve gone BIG with their digital marketing.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to visit the park and interview Katy Enrique, the Communications Manager at Six Flags Great America.

2013-10-08_0003Through the company’s online presence, they are turning everyday customers into park enthusiasts. See how below.

Planning a social media strategy can feel like a roller coaster. The dips and peaks in metrics combined with the large amount of variables across different networks can truly make your head spin. What a ride!

In the Q&A below, you’ll find solid examples of:

  • Online Product Branding
  • Viral YouTube Videos
  • Word-of-Mouth Marketing
  • Strong Social Engagement

I asked Katy nine questions about the park’s online marketing success, and here’s what she had to say:

Q1: As I walked the park this summer, I admired that each roller coaster has its own branding. Tell us briefly about the how the coaster branding process works.

We work very closely with our corporate Marketing and Engineering team to brainstorm branding ideas. It usually begins at the local park to come up with the theme of the ride. We start with questions like “Does it make sense to theme this to a DC character?” or “Should this ride have its own unique brand?” The answer to those questions can take us down two very different paths. xlight-great-americaIf we want to name a ride after a DC or Warner Bros. character, then we have to start working with Warner Bros. for licensing rights.

If we are branding a ride to have its own unique name, then we begin throwing out names that make sense for the thrill experience the ride will have.

X Flight had a couple of names that were high on the list, but we also need to make sure that whatever name we select has not been trademarked by another brand in a similar category.

Q2: Roller coaster branding is noticeably showcased when watching the Whizzer and X Flight virtual rides on YouTube. Tell us about the social benefits of creating YouTube virtual rides.

If you were to search point-of-view (POV) videos of our coasters on YouTube, you would find that many of our guests were taking cell phones and Go Pro cameras, without consent, and posting those videos to YouTube. Some of those POV videos get hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, views. We decided that all coaster POV videos should be official from Six Flags Great America. We started the process last year and finished filming this summer.

Guests love to research their visit to our park, so the more visual assets that we can provide, the more likely they are to envision themselves enjoying a day at Six Flags Great America.

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Q3: They POV videos are obviously popular. Wow— 133 Facebook shares on this Vertical Velocity post alone. Tell us about the production of your virtual ride YouTube videos.

We use a GoPro Hero 3 for all of our coaster POV footage. We mount the camera, then our maintenance and operations departments inspect that the camera is properly mounted.

For any other videos that are on YouTube, we have an intern who studies film that shoots and edits the video. All of our social media strategy falls under the Public Relations umbrella. We brainstorm as a team about what videos we think our guests would like to see and if there are any teasers we should be working on. Most of our videos take about a day or two from idea to shooting to editing to posting. We try to keep videos under 1:30 in length. After that point, too many people drop out and discontinue watching. We want guests to stay engaged with the video.

See the full collection of Six Flags Great America Virtual Rides on YouTube. While you’re there, you’ll also find this intriguing video.

Q4: In a matter of 14-seconds, you’ve managed to create social buzz around Follow the Journey 2014. The short tip-off videos that followed have elicited countless conversations, eager tweets, and YouTube video responses. Can you tell us about the goals of this social campaign, without letting the cat out of the bag?

The goal is buzz. We wanted to get people excited for our announcement that’s coming up on Thursday, August 29. Sometimes buzz takes a little while to generate. Fortunately for us, we have a very loyal base of fans that immediately jumped on our tease campaign and have been guessing what the announcement will be on August 29. It’s been really fun to watch and read their guesses and comments!

UPDATE:  Read Six Flags Great America’s press release from August 29, and click here to see learn more about Goliath [includes video].

Q5: This rollercoaster goat video seriously cracks me up. Who is the creative genius behind this humor?

We pay close attention to anything that is trending on YouTube. We did a Harlem Shake over the winter and then we saw all of these goat versions pop up this summer. We thought, how fun would it be to make the screams on a coaster a goat screaming? The idea popped up as we were filming the POV on Vertical Velocity and Brandon Bruce, public relations specialist, and myself, communications manager, hopped on the ride and did a reverse POV of Vertical Velocity for its official goat version.

Q6:  Over the last seven years, Six Flags Great America has earned the trust of 2,700+ YouTube followers, created over 60 videos, and garnered al­most 1 million views. Tell us about how your approach to using YouTube has changed over time.

A few years ago, we really didn’t use YouTube very much. Part of that reason was that we didn’t have the skill set in the department to make and edit the videos. But we’ve tweaked our internship program so that we can have that skill set available to us all summer long.

We also do our research. We know that people like seeing what their experience could possibly be like when selecting a travel destination. YouTube is a perfect avenue for us to get people excited about what we have to offer. Six Flags is also going to be launching a new website for the 2014 season, and every ride and attraction will have its own landing page featuring photos and video of the ride.

Q7: Six Flags Great America boasts nearly 700,000 Facebook fans. The page showcases a great mix of social sharing: engagement, humor, fun facts, video, and amazing photography. Your 2013 March Madness Coaster Showdown campaign stats are astounding. Can you tell us more about this unique campaign?

{March Roller Coaster Madness} Facebook campaign from Six Flags Great America

Our corporate facebook strategy is to only post things that our fans will find engaging. We are also directed to stay quiet on Facebook during our “off season.” The strategy behind going dark in the off season is that we don’t think that our guests really care about what Six Flags Great America has to say when it’s the dead of winter and there’s snow on the ground.

March Madness came up as an idea from our marketing director who’s really into it and he wondered if fans would find roller coaster March Madness interesting. We tried it out in 2012 and our fans loved it! This year we saw some of the other Six Flags parks pick up on the idea, and it was an amazingly successful campaign.

Q8: Great America has done a unique job of playing with mobile networking. This “Get spotted eating Warheads” Facebook example integrates online social networking while the guest is at the park. Tell us about additional ways you’re carrying online marketing into the customer’s park experience.

As a park, we generally only network with in-park guests through Twitter. Our Twitter followers are our tried and true, loyal fans. We’ll give them a day’s notice that we’ll be hosting a Twitter hunt at the park. If they are visiting us that day, they get hints about where the prizes are and take a photo with the claimed prize.

{Twitter Hunt} Social interaction created by Six Flags Great America

We generally stay away from doing this strategy on Facebook because, as you can imagine, of the 700,000 fans, most of them are not likely in the park. We don’t want to bombard our Facebook fans with teases of fun things happening at the park while they are not. That gives them a really good reason to hide us. If fans don’t engage with our Facebook posts, then the Facebook algorithm assumes that those fans no longer want to see our status updates and no longer puts them in those fans’ newsfeeds. We are very protective of our Facebook content and make sure it’s content the majority of fans would like, share, or comment on.

Q9: Below is a list of places people can check out Great America online. Thank you for chatting with us today. To close up, will you give us a quick review of your social strategy and how Six Flags Great America will move forward into 2014?

great-america-logoWebsite: http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica/index.aspx
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SFGreatAmerica
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/sixflagsgreatamerica?feature=watch
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SFGreat_America
Instagram: http://instagram.com/sfgreat_america#
Google+: https://plus.google.com/104922533731777847103/about
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/sfgreatamerica/
Newsletter: http://content.sixflags.com/news/updateaccount.aspx?p=7

From the list above, you can see that we’ve set up accounts across many social media platforms. We basically want to secure our brand by creating these accounts. We decide as a marketing department which social media sites deserve our time and attention. Currently, we are the most active on our website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

Google + doesn’t seem to be huge…yet, and we just post some very basic photos on Pinterest. We try to fish where the fish are biting. Social media campaigns can become very time consuming, and if we only end up engaging with a couple hundred people when we’re a business that drives millions, we just need to evaluate if it is the best use of our time.

Social media is fun and is even more fun when representing a brand like Six Flags. It’s a great destination for teens and for families. It’s a trip that many people have very high intent to visit, and we hope that our website, newsletter, and social media efforts help them to make that final decision to book.

Thank you to Katy Enrique for sharing these great behind-the-scenes insights into Six Flags Great America’s online marketing success.

Do you have another example of a MUST-FOLLOW company exhibiting super-savvy social networking? Leave a link in the comments below. Let’s chat.

See all articles by Zina Harrington
Connect with Zina online: LinkedIn

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