On Friday, March 25, 2011, a 20-inch Egyptian Cobra went missing from the Bronx Zoo in New York City. On Monday, it got its own Twitter account, and within 24 hours after the first tweet, the account had nearly 100,000 followers, and more than 160,000 as of publication.
The impact of a cobra on the lam in the Big Apple ‘cracking jokes’ on twitter is powerful, and the Bronx Zoo couldn’t buy such publicity.
In fact, it’s just as big a free lunch for the city too, since the cobra spent the day tweeting about slithering around at various New York City landmarks and attractions, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Here’s a few samples from @BronxZoosCobra:
Rockefeller Plaza is amaz….wait…OMG! Tina Fey totally just walked by me! HUUUUGE FAN! #snakeonthetown
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Temple of Dendur really kicks some asp. #snakeonthetown
On top of the Empire State Building! All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice. #snakeonthetown
This missing cobra on Twitter is the latest in a rising trend of animal social networks, where the account owner poses as a real animal that’s in the news for some reason. If the concerned tourism organization is able to jump on the opportunity and push it on social media, then it can end up as a marketing windfall.
A case in point is Canada’s Banff crasher squirrel. The cute critter popped up in a photo taken by Melissa and Jackson Brandts when they were in Banff. The photo was published in National Geographic and went viral.
Sensing the opportunity, Banff Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT) set up YouTube, Twitter and Facebook accounts and launched a search-marketing campaign for the keyword ‘squirrel.’ They also took it offline with billboard ads and stickers.
At that time, the squirrel had already garnered 301 blog-post mentions, some 5,000 tweets and 650 Facebook posts. The ad value was worth $3 million in online, print and TV, and reached more than 80 million people.
But more often than not, the opportunity goes a-begging. The Bronx Zoo cobra is most likely unaffiliated with NYC & Company (the tourism marketing organization for New York City) or any other official city organization, and it also doesn’t seem likely that they’ll jump on this the way BLLT did with the squirrel.
Another similar example is the case of Greg Swan and Punxsutawney Phil. There’s no denying the public interest in the world’s most famous groundhog. In 2009, Greg Swan set up an account for Punxy as @GroundhogPhil. Every year in January and February, Swan starts tweeting as Punxsutawney Phil. He has even posted a message that says, “If you represent Punxsutawney Phil and/or Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, I will gladly turn over the Twitter account to you. I’m just having some fun, so please shoot me a note.”
One would think that a town whose reputation entirely depends on this groundhog would be a little more interested in reaching out to fans on Twitter, but Swan says on his blog that he hasn’t heard back from anyone.
But there’s no doubt that animal social networks do have an impact, and they are being taken seriously. The Brookfield Zoo near Chicago even has a scientific grant-funded program where it’s trying to get citizens involved by studying the daily routine of zoo animals, then posting on their behalf on twitter @brookfield_zoo.
Photo – Bronx Zoo