Berlin Surges In Small Town Poll

BERLIN — With preliminary voting officially over, Berlin has surged forward to crack the top three in Budget Travel’s “Americas Coolest Small Town 2014” contest. Town officials hope to keep that momentum alive as final voting approaches next month and Berlin has a chance to take the crown.
Sitting at 2,282 votes after the deadline for the first-round passed this week, Berlin is currently in third place. Berlin shot up from seventh place at 861 votes to its current spot near the top within a week. The rapid advancement has representatives of Berlin and Worcester County charged.
“It’s so exciting. We’ve been really getting the word out through Facebook and Twitter and it’s been getting shared,” said Lisa Challenger, director of tourism for Worcester.
Mike Day, director of Community and Economic Development for Berlin, gave a lot of the credit on town residents and businesses who got behind the contest in a big way.
“The merchants downtown are aware of it. They’re getting excited about it, so the more emails, the more people that we can reach out and touch, the better it is,” he said.
A lot of votes are likely coming from visitors as opposed to just residents, noted Challenger. In her opinion, Berlin epitomizes what people are looking for in a small town.
“Most small, cool towns have shopping and dining … Berlin’s got the Grow Berlin Green initiative and they do the community garden and the rain barrels and they’ve just got a lot of cool programs,” she said.
But whatever Berlin’s charms, Day and Challenger agreed that they may have been overlooked if the town didn’t effectively self-promote. Social media played a major role in the contest. Mark Huey, social media coordinator for the county, commented on the “snowball” effect that Berlin saw over the last few days of first-round voting.
“Towards the end we’ve been sort of snowballing. More and more people have heard about it and the word is getting out,” he said.
Huey admitted that Berlin started slow with the contest, not really committing fully until a few other towns already had large leads in terms of votes. But once Berlin got into the fight, those leads were eaten up quickly, leaving Berlin only about 500 votes behind second place Travelers Rest, S.C. and about 900 behind Buckhannon, W.Va.
“Our strategy was just to basically keep Berlin on the judges’ radar because there are other things that they take into consideration besides just the vote count,” said Huey. “And we just happened to keep crawling up on the leaderboards so why stop now?”
Berlin even had to deal with some obstacles during the first-round voting. A number of variations on “Berlin, Md.” popped up within the last week of voting, including “Berlin, Maryland, MD,” “Berlin, Md., MD,” “The Town of Berlin, MD,” and “Berlinm MD, MD,” among others. While all could have been innocent mistakes, the sheer number of variations indicates the strong possibility that some of the other towns in the contest weren’t above playing dirty to divert votes from the real Berlin.
Day didn’t view the fake towns as a big issue, however, and the website has already removed several of the false accounts. Once the finalists are posted, the idea is to reach out to nearby areas for support. If Berlin ends up being the only town in Maryland to make it to the finals, Huey would like to see a statewide promotion campaign.
Budget Travel is now in the process of reviewing all submissions and will post a list of 15 finalists in mid-January. Though the judges weigh other criteria besides number of votes, Berlin’s high placement makes it a likely candidate to make the finalists. The next round of voting will then take place until mid-February when the top 10 “coolest small towns in America” for 2014 will be announced.