Friday the 13th gets a bad rap as being an unlucky day. But, that wasn’t the case at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County this year. Students had the opportunity to compete in a Twitter-based scavenger hunt; a search that led two very lucky winners to a secret location where they were awarded a special prize.
It all began when Bob Somers, director, presented the store’s Marketing/Online Community Manager, Austin Kidwell, with a challenge: to generate more Twitter followers than Towson’s University Store. Towson is a neighboring college and, because of its close proximity, Bob has developed a friendly rivalry with the store’s director, Stacy Elofir.
“They have an informal competition going on to see which store can create a larger Twitter following. And, for awhile, we were leading,” explained Kidwell. “Last month, however, they jumped ahead, so Bob asked me to create a promotion in response. Since Friday the 13th was coming up, I decided to combine those two directives into one campaign.”
As a result, Kidwell came up with a fun challenge that encouraged students to ‘follow’ the store. He hid two backpacks filled with prizes on campus, then released clues to each exclusively on Twitter.
Two days before the event, Kidwell advertised the upcoming promotion on the UMBC Bookstore's Facebook page, and it was clear that students were excited. In fact, their follower count increased by 10 percent in just one day!
“I have to say, I was surprised! My original goal was just to beat Towson’s Twitter following, but we surpassed it before the contest even began,” he described. “I had to set a new benchmark for the actual scavenger hunt.”
On Friday, it was time for the fun to begin. Kidwell positioned himself at the first undisclosed location and tweeted clues remotely, using his iPad. The first student to find each backpack was able to keep it, and all of the enclosed items, including everything from UMBC emblematic gear to electronics such as a digital camera and mp3 player.
All together, the backpacks were valued at well over $200, though some of the higher-ticket items were donated from vendors, reducing the store’s investment. Although he had prepared five clues, it only took 4 before the first backpack was found.
"She was literally running to the Philosophy Department office, where the backpack was hidden, and collapsed on the floor out of breath when she arrived," he described. "A couple of minutes later 4 more students showed up and, when they saw that she had won, they were disappointed; but the winner actually took it upon herself to give them a few of her prizes since they were close behind her."
Kidwell later repeated the process in the afternoon at a different location. This time, students were on the hunt and it took just two clues to lead them to the prize. At the end of the day, he then posted pictures of the happy winners to the stores’ social media sites, which only further encouraged students to engage in the future.
Students weren't the only ones excited about the promotion, however. The staff in the Philosophy Department and Learning Resources Center where the bags were hidden had just as much fun as the students who participated.
"I asked them for clue ideas and ended up using their suggestions for a couple of the hints. They also enjoyed the exposure and free publicity for their offices," Kidwell commented. " The Learning Resources Center passed out information sheets to the students who came by, and even added something to the backpack. Other departments like Residential Life, Graduate Student Association and Institutional Advancement helped us promote the backpack hunt via their social media accounts. It was great to combine forces and work together in that capacity."
When it was all over, the store had 903 followers – and counting. That equates to a 14% percent increase in just three days, making it easy to see that the endeavor was a success.
“I am very happy with the results. My original thought was that we would get about 50 new followers, and we ended up with over 100 more than that," he said. "More important than the number of followers, however, is the level of engagement. This is by far the most mentioned, favorited, and retweeted promotion we've done. The students were extremely appreciative of the prizes, and even the ones who didn't win thanked us for doing something fun.”
Based on his experience with social media promotions, Kidwell has one suggestion for others in the industry.
“My advice to other stores is to try to find ways to leave the bookstore and involve the entire campus in promotions. It promotes goodwill between the store and departments and shows that the bookstore is a part of the campus community."