9 Aug

Everything I Need to Know About Facebook I Learned from Fiona the Baby Hippo

There’s a lot of divisiveness in today’s headlines, but there’s one story that virtually every Cincinnatian I know has rallied around this summer — that’s the tale of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s media darling, Fiona the baby hippo.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or managed to avoid every imaginable news outlet, you probably know at least a little about Fiona.  A Nile hippo, born six weeks premature and dangerously underweight, Fiona is now a thriving 6-month-old superstar, drawing fans from across the country thanks to profiles on NPR and pictorials on E! News. As someone who works for a Cincinnati marketing company, one aspect of Fiona’s story that inspires me is how the zoo has used social media to engage existing fans, garner new ones and educate both about the organization’s mission.

There are several lessons we all can glean from Fiona’s winning Facebook strategy:

1) Give the people what they want.

From Fiona’s first bottle to first steps, there was no achievement too small for fans hungry for details about her progress. The zoo understood this and documented Fiona’s milestones like every parent with a newborn. Several months after her birth, the zoo wasn’t sure fans still wanted so many updates. So they asked! The response was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing daily Fiona fixes. With Facebook insights, it’s easy to analyze the type of content your visitors engage with most. Have you looked at your own recent posts to see what’s hitting or missing the mark? Have you examined how images, videos and even the time of day you post affect your engagement numbers? Or, when all else fails, have you asked your fans what they’d like to see?

2) Make everyone an insider.

Peppered among pictures of Fiona napping or playing with bubbles, the zoo found ways to teach her fans about hippo characteristics and behaviors. I knew little about hippos before Fiona’s birth, but now facts such as the name for a hippo community (a bloat) or a hippo’s typical display of affection (slobbery mouth massages) roll trippingly off my tongue. Through Facebook, the zoo has made me and everyone else who chooses to follow along feel like a Fiona insider. We may not all have adorable hippo pictures at our disposal, but we do have people, products and stories that make our organizations unique. In what ways do you give your followers insider access to what you do?

3) Play the long game.

For months, the zoo posted updates about Fiona, knowing that fans couldn’t actually visit her. Now that Fiona is making periodic appearances, it’s hard to imagine attendance numbers won’t increase as her adoring public gets its first chance to see her in person. We humans tend to have limited patience; we want to see immediate results from our communications efforts. Social media doesn’t work that way. It’s prolonged engagement and insider access over time that yield results in heightened awareness, advocacy, loyalty … and, yes, revenue. Remembering that you’re in it for the long haul will help you set appropriate expectations for your Facebook campaign results.

My personal Fiona journey culminated in a trip to the zoo just a few weeks ago. I anxiously turned the corner of Hippo Cove, wondering if I would be one of the lucky fans to get a glimpse of my favorite zoo baby. When I caught sight of Fiona for the first time, I’m not ashamed to admit I was as excited as any of her (much) younger fans. Thanks to the zoo’s fabulous Facebook team, I felt as though I actually met Fiona long ago and, #TeamFiona shirt in tow, I left that day happy to follow her every upcoming adventure.