OC Eyes Social Networks To Help With Promotion

OCEAN CITY – Don’t be surprised if you get a “friend request” from the town of Ocean City on social networking websites like Facebook.

Ocean City is getting “hip” to the popular world of social networking, and in doing so, hopes to maximize their advertising dollars by using free viral services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to help promote the resort this summer.

The town took the first step in catching up with the digital world when it approved a new $178,000 website (currently in the final design stages by MGH Advertising) last fall, but now it’s further embracing the technological world of social networking sites including the reasonably new but widely popular micro-blogging service, Twitter.

“From what I understand, the town will be using Twitter for public announcements, and other ever changing information,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight.  “If a child is lost on the beach, or if there is a major storm coming, or if we have to close a portion of the beach for a period of time, that’s what the ‘tweets’ will be used for.”

It makes sense that the town would use the free viral services to help promote the town as a tourism destination, and last year’s “End of the World” commercial featuring Mayor Rick Meehan, which became a mild hit on YouTube, is an example of the value of using these services, according to Debbie Travers, assistant tourism director for the town.

“We are trying to make sure that we are doing all that we can to keep Ocean City’s message out there, and stay up with the current times,” said Travers. “YouTube has proven itself to have a great return investment after last year, and we are going to concentrate our efforts there.”

As part of the new www.ococean.com site, the town of Ocean City will be putting streaming video clips of various footage of Ocean City, including the Rodney the Lifeguard commercials, the End of the World commercial as well as “user videos” that will be submitted (and prescreened by town officials before going live) by the public.

“This shows that Ocean City is trying to stay fresh and willing to try new things to get our message out there,” said Knight, “because we knew that our website was very much behind the times before.”

Knight, who at last week’s tourism commission meeting announced that she has in fact joined the millions that use Facebook, has started the “Friends of Ocean City, Maryland” page in efforts of increasing Ocean City’s presence on the web.

Travers added that the town’s new “mascot”, Rodney the Lifeguard, will have a Facebook page, and there are talks about utilizing Rodney’s character with Twitter as well.

“We definitely needed a bit of a crash course, because these technologies change every single day,” said Travers, “but we are going to be somewhat selective because the maintenance on these sites often take up a lot of time.”

Knight noted that people spend an enormous amount of time on these social networking sites and conceded that being on those sites “becomes a bit addictive.”

“We are catching up by leaps and bounds as far as technology goes, and it is amazing to me how popular things like Facebook are,” said Knight. “We are rarely ahead of the times with technology, but we see it as just another avenue to try to see if it works.”

Travers said that she is amazed by the amount of videos and other entries that are sent in by people who visit Ocean City and noted that the streaming video on the new website will be a venue to see some of these entries.

“We probably get half a dozen songs a year that people write about Ocean City, and whether we like them or not, the simple fact that these people took the time to write a song about Ocean City or shoot a video about how much fun they had in Ocean City is extremely flattering,” said Travers.