At the PRSA 2010 International Conference opening reception, Eric Schwartzman introduced me to Santa’s PR guy, Maj. Brian Martin, deputy chief of staff for communications at NORAD and USNORTHCOM. Ok, he’s not really Santa’s personal public relations consultant, but he does handle PR for NORAD Tracks Santa, and the program has a great PR story to share.
The history behind the 2009 campaign:
Over 50 years ago, a local department store advertised for kids to call Santa on a special “hotline,” but they accidently used the number for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). Col. Harry Shoup, received the first call and told his staff to put the rest through. They confirmed Santa’s location via radar, and the tradition of tracking Santa was born. CONAD is now the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). NORAD volunteers still take calls, but they also answer emails and respond to social media posts from kids all over the world who want to know when Santa will be coming down their chimney.
As of November 19, 2009, Stacey Knott, public affairs, social media officer, NORAD and USNORTHCOM says, NORAD Tracks Santa had 719 Facebook fans, and a minimal presence on Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube. For the 2009 holiday season, they wanted to increase communication with their audiences, improve awareness, and drive traffic to the NORAD Tracks Santa website. Additionally, they looked to increase awareness of NORAD’s brand and mission notes Maj. Michael Humpreys, public affairs officer, NORAD and USNORTHCOM.
Results from the 2009 campaign:
- As of January 1, 2010, NORAD Tracks Santa’s Facebook page had 417,608 fans.
- 13 million unique visitors from over 200 countries visited the NORAD Tracks Santa website.
- The NORAD NORTHCOM Facebook page went from 447 fans on October 1, 2009 to 5,911 on January 1, 2010.
- As of November 29, 2010, there 17,579 likes for NORAD NORTHCOM on Facebook.
- The NORAD website typically has 1,000-3,000 visitors per day. On Christmas Eve 2009, the website had over 90,000 visitors and over 85,000 of them were unique visitors.
Preparing for the 2010 season:
NORAD Tracks Santa is a volunteer operation, so NORAD relies on many partners to help create the website, keep the website from crashing, and help strategize on other tactics. For 2010, some local Colorado schools are helping to develop games for the website. And for 26 hours over the eve of Santa’s arrival, the command staff, families, and other volunteers will run the command center phones and monitor social media to answer questions. Martin says it has been a great way for NORAD/USNORTHCOM to spread goodwill.
“The memories of NORAD Tracks Santa are a real tradition in people’s homes,” says Knott. She goes on to say, you have to believe in Santa after you volunteer to help.
For social media, Humphreys says they decided to focus on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where they have the most activity – although they previously had a presence on Flickr and LinkedIn. Since they post pictures to Facebook, using Flickr seemed redundant. YouTube is the second most used search site, and they have a lot of activity on there.
All of the NORAD Tracks Santa social media sites and website are “family friendly.” Knott confirmed they spend a lot of time checking to ensure people are not posting mean, ugly posts, or profanity. In the video above, Maj. Martin discusses addressing issues on social media.
NORAD Tracks Santa’s Strategies, Tips and Best Practices—
- Link back to the main website as often as possible
- Have a consistent message across all media (mainstream media and social media)
- Encourage interaction by looking for questions and try to respond to as many posts as possible
- Further the conversation
- Interact quickly
- Have an engagement protocol and enforce it
- Be trusting
- Continue engagement throughout the year
- Post pictures and videos
Humphreys says success comes from constant engagement on social media. Martin adds that NORAD Tracks Santa continues mainstream media outreach to print and web publications and with satellite media tours for broadcast stations.
I know I have great memories of watching the news to learn when Santa might be coming to my house. Do you have similar memories?
The BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas readers would like to hear how you’ve taken an old program and made it fresh with social media. Do you have any tips to share?