The “mask wars” of the COVID-19 pandemic have finally made it to the amusement park fan community.
Recently, several prominent ride / park fans have been hit with online criticism recently for posting updates of them without masks from parks and facilities across the country.
Putting aside the fact that the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC) as of 8/26/20 says, “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” is the criticism over posting mask-less photos at parks warranted?
First, we should consider context. Someone could wear a mask all day inside a safely operating theme park, take it off for one moment and someone snaps a photo. From there, the internet (which is known for thoughtful, critical thinking) immediately piles on the update, saying, “How dare you not wear a mask!”
That being said, let us also remember that large reach and “influence” on people’s behavior, comes with a heightened sense of awareness. We are no longer anonymous, general park guests.
We certainly wouldn’t post a photo of us on a coaster with the restraints in an unsafe position – that would be irresponsible. Right now, the most responsible thing to do (if you’re outside your home) is to wear a mask and socially distance. As such, we should model that behavior to fans and to the general public.
Yes, this means we need to plan what we share even more carefully than before. And yes, it’s going to be more difficult to do. But these are inherently different times and much like the modified operations at the parks we enjoy, we too must adapt how we do things.
If someone’s not in a mask in a photo in a park – let’s opt to not use it or post it. Think of it like I do with empty seats in a photo…it just doesn’t look right.
The more we hammer home that none of this is normal, perhaps more people will take the pandemic and it’s effects more seriously. Only then will we be able to defeat this virus and return to a sense of normal. We owe it to the 190,000 of our fellow Americans who are no longer with us.
Look, 2020 has been one disaster after another, I get it. We are all still flying by the seat of our pants, trying to figure out what the path forward will be. Since there’s no way to stop snap judgments on the internet, let’s not give them the opportunity to make one.
TLDR: We’re probably gonna have to mask up…in every update. In every photo and video…until we beat this thing.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my social media channels!
Looking through some theme park fan message boards around September, you get a common theme: people ask about / want to go to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) expo in Orlando, mostly because, “it looks like fun.”
Still others post that, “It looks like Disney’s D23, only for the whole industry,” while others say, “…the website is written in business-speak…”
Let me clear up a few things for you all. First, IAAPA isn’t held for park fans. Don’t be confused by some of the coverage you see on some of those other park blogs – IAAPA is about just three things: buying goods, selling goods and networking for jobs.
Millions upon millions of dollars are transferred in the four days this show is held. There’s a literal ton of business being done on the floor – so – if you do decide to attend this expo as a park fan, you have to know “the code.”
Attending as a park or ride fan and just barreling up to the B&M or RMC booth to swoon over Walter, Fred or Alan – especially while they’re trying to talk to potential buyers – is a massive faux paux. In some cases, a company’s livelihood can depend on the meetings they have at this expo.
Also, snapping photos or video without permission is a HUGE no-no. ALWAYS ask booth vendors if it’s okay to take a photo or record part of their booth the booth for a video.
If you’ve got actual business to discuss (such as inquiring about a job or internship) then feel free to speak to them…when they’re free. If you’re a fan and just taking in the convention for fun, it’s best to just grab some literature and move on. Speaking of discussing business…
Standing next to one of my photos in the Great Coasters booth.
The amusement industry – despite being worldwide – is a very tight knit group of individuals. Everyone knows everyone and word gets around…fast. That’s why IAAPA is the perfect event to go to if you’re looking to get a job in the industry. This expo gives you the rare opportunity to meet and network with prospective employers face to face, as well as the opportunity to give them a copy of your resume and cover letter.
Take it from me – I’ve been hired because of connections I made at this expo in the past, as have several of my friends!
Now, despite what you might think from some of the other bloggers out there – the way you dress says a LOT about your purpose. Shorts and a t-shirt emblazoned with your blog’s logo are not commonplace nor looked upon well by vendors. If you want to make a good impression, stand out from the other “schlubs” and come in a suit and tie.
If your registration permits it, one of the least talked about (but best parts) of the expo are the educational seminars they hold. From learning about the business from Disney legends, to how to properly curate social media for your brand, to symposiums on laser tag – these “edu-sessions” give attendees tons of insight, but tend to not get the fanfare that the show floor does.
Speaking of the show floor – yes, it’s true – there ARE a few rides and attractions you can go on at the show. It’s just like purchasing a new car. Just remember that those vendors are there to sell that ride – not entertain you with a day-long ERT session.
If you truly love this industry and want to make it part of your career, I would make it a point to someday visit the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando. However, if you’re looking for a place to nerd out with other theme park fans, save your money and stick with D23. You’ll end up having more fun there, anyway.
It seems like every week this summer, the news has stories of horrific injuries or deaths at an amusement park. With that, comes the predictable “I knew that ride wasn’t safe. They should have never opened it,” chatter online.
But, as hard to believe as it is: Amusement parks are not trying to hurt or kill you.
Around the turn of the century, things were different. Rides were a new concept and safety systems were, well – non-existent. In fact, a ride with a “killer” reputation was actually MORE popular, as people were willing to test their mettle against the machine.
The Revere Beach Lightning was one of Harry Traver’s “Terrifying Triplets” and it earned that moniker by killing a rider on the first day of operation.
But as the industry matured, so also did it’s guests – and the demand went from a killer coaster to a safer one. Manufacturers responded with the lap bar, seat belt and over the shoulder restraint.
It’s no longer in the best interest of a park to have a ride that’s not safe – and that’s been the case since the 1920’s. Coasters and flat rides can be millions of dollars of investment – and one accident could turn that investment into a fancy lawn ornament.
Yeah, there’s always the exceptions to the rule, but thankfully in this industry – they tend to be easy to spot. If a ride doesn’t “look” right – it probably isn’t. And if you don’t like the way it looks, you don’t have to ride.
So, with this rash of incidents across the country – could better oversight lead to safer rides? I’m not sure. Currently, the states regulate amusement rides, to varying degrees depending on location. Could a uniform standard be better? Maybe. But uniform rules have their drawbacks, too.
It’s hard to create a “one size fits all” methodology for the entire United States. If we can’t agree on anything in Washington, it would be tough to push through legislation that would work fairly for everyone.
I repeat this stat often, because it’s worth repeating: You have better odds of being injured driving to an amusement park than you do while inside. You may hear about a deadly crash on the freeway, only mentioned as a “Sig Alert” in a traffic update. A death on a coaster, however will cause the news choppers to be summoned to the scene.
So go to your local amusement or theme park with confidence – just follow the safety rules. A park doesn’t want to hurt or kill you, despite what the internet says. Because if they did – you wouldn’t be able to go back and spend more money there…
Social media use has exploded over the past decade. Its presence is so big, many companies are hiring people solely based on their experience with these new, direct marketing channels.
But while a “like” can be earned quickly, those bonds can also be lost just as fast if the user has a poor experience with it.
So, if you follow these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a superior social media experience for your guests, which will lead to more of those turnstiles rotating:
STEP ONE: KEEP IT UPDATED!
I can’t tell you the number of parks that leave their social media without updated content for weeks, even months on end. Common errors here can include outdated cover photos, profile photos and information. While one of the easiest to fix, this is also one of the most common mistakes many parks and FEC’s make on social media.
Keeping your content fresh on the landing page will encourage visitors to return to see what’s new and stay engaged with your company or property.
STEP TWO: STOP POSTING CRAP UPDATES!
Treating social media like a direct billboard or commercial to the fans of your park is instant poison for your social media. Consider a park with 400,000 fans, yet only receives 100 likes on average on their posts. Something’s wrong there – and it’s the content.
Mask the ad for your park or event in great content – make a cool video or post a beautiful photo that’s sure to be shared. Direct calls to action will turn off park visitors faster than an hour long wait in an un-shaded queue.
And don’t forget about video – it’s the best way to tell a story – and one of the most underutilized mediums on social media.
Video is good – but when you can see the cell phone being used to capture said video in a reflection – that’s not good enough anymore for social audiences.
STEP THREE: INTERACT WITH YOUR FANS!
It should go without saying, but many parks neglect the “social” part of social media – that is, they post something to their account – and simply leave it there. That’s akin in the digital age of throwing crap on a wall and seeing if it sticks.
Social media allows guests to experience things they may have missed on their last trip, post about how much fun they had – or in some cases – complain about a negative experience they had while at your facility.
Not responding or interacting with guests on social media is no longer an acceptable practice. It never was acceptable, period. One can easily gain back a potential repeat customer simply by interacting with them, acknowledging their concerns or eventually resolving them.
Dollywood was notably absent from social media; not answering questions of people who were led to believe their latest ride was going to open on time. It was not well received.
Yes, it IS a lot of work and yes, it CAN be frustrating at times with a never-ending deluge of comments – but that’s the world we live in. Consider it “job security.”
Plus, when a park or facility responds to a guest, they guest feels important – because they ARE! Remember who pays for the bills, folks…
By answering questions on social media, you’re also contributing to a higher engagement rating on many of the mathematical algorithms which dictate who sees what. Translation: responding on social media means more people see your post FOR FREE.
So, if you follow these simple steps, your amusement park or family entertainment center should see a nice bump in social media metrics – which should lead to more butts through those gates.
Got any other good suggestions? Leave a comment below or post on our social media channels. Don’t worry, we’ll actually interact with you!
After flying in yesterday and adjusting to the time change (best as you can) I’m ready to start writing down my thoughts – with some leftover pizza and a Blue Moon at my side.
Today, I was able to visit the Orange County Convention Center for the first time, to help set up the ACE booth as well as pick up my badge for the big IAAPA exhibition. For the first time, was able to see incredible scope of the event. As big as you might think it is – think BIGGER. Of course, the floor isn’t even finished as I type – so it’ll only feel larger by this time tomorrow.
Afterwards, I had lunch with American Coaster Enthusiasts President (and roommate for the week) Jerry Willard – that’s when he brought up his afternoon / evening plans…a trip to the Magic Kingdom.
I bit. It’s been 20 years since I last visited Florida (for Disney World with my family). And boy, was the trip out there today worth it.
Turns out, not only was the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” significantly less crowded than it was during the day (the park closed at 7 to the general public), they gave you all the cookies and hot cocoa you could down AND it was CHEAPER to get in, too. Every ride was either a walk on or well under 30 minutes.
If you don’t mind Christmas being jammed down your throat a little too early, this is a great way to experience the Magic Kingdom at breakneck pace, yet still get everything in, too.
Oh, and the fireworks were incredible as well 🙂
Day Two has technically already arrived, so expect a blog post late Monday night. Until next time, everyone!
#Hashtags – arguably one of the more confusing elements of social media.
For many, they’re seen as useless – for others, they’re invaluable tools for social media. So which one are they for social media and the amusement industry?
They’re actually both.
In laments terms – a hashtag is like a folder on your computer – it’s a depository for anything that uses that phrase of tag. So, if you’ve just opened up a new coaster called, let’s say Iron Rattler for example, the logical hashtag you’d want to promote is: #ironrattler. Got a halloween event coming up? Why not use #HauntCGA (If it’s Great America for instance) or #KnottsHaunt for the Knott’s Berry Farm’s event.
The whole idea behind hashtags is to get people’s attention, quickly – as well as help people discover content they’re interested in. That’s what keeps the user engaged and ultimately through your turnstiles. Because so many social networks are adopting this #hashtag feature, it behooves you to understand what they are and how to use them properly for you amusement park:
1.) Keep it simple!
The longer a hashtag, the more often it will be misspelled. In addition, the harder it will be for people to remember. Say you want to promote a specific ride one day. Your park can post “Have you ridden #theplunge today? One lucky rider will receive a backdoor pass after their ride! #YOURPARKNAMEHERE
Then, you can watch the #theplunge tags, even if you don’t have social media management software (which you SHOULD be using, if you’ve read my previous posts HERE).
2.) Make it unique, but relevant!
Say you’ve just opened up a new coaster called, let’s say Iron Rattler. The logical hashtag you’d want to promote is: #ironrattler. Got a halloween event coming up? Why not use #HauntCGA (If it’s Great America for instance) or #KnottsHaunt for the Knott’s Berry Farm’s event. You wouldn’t want someone else to be getting web traffic because of your event / advertising campaign, would you?
Not to be a shameless plug here, but whenever we shoot our “Lost Parks of Northern California” series – we always send out social media updates using the hashtag: #lostparks. Not only is it easy to remember, but it’s also unique in that it wasn’t being used before – therefore all the content using that hashtag is ours.
A logical, simple and relevant hashtag makes search engines (and users) easier to capture.
3.) Do NOT make it long!
Remember that some social networks, such as Twitter – give the user only 140 characters to get your message out. A hashtag like #welcomebackspaceexplorers probably isn’t the best bet. But, breaking them up into two smaller hashtags is a better alternative, say #spacemountain #disneyland for instance.
Stick to these guidelines, and you’ll find your SEO increase as well as your interaction via your social media pages. Just be prepared to actually interact with your users – it is SOCIAL media, after all!
In my next post, I’ll discuss the top ten post ideas you SHOULD be doing at your amusement park, regardless of size.
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Kris Rowberry has been following the amusement industry for over 15 years. He has curated social media accounts for several companies, totaling over 450,000 followers across multiple social channels. In addition, he is working on his latest video project: “The Lost Parks of Northern California”
Check out my other postings about Social Media and the Amusement Park HERE.
After a slight delay to install an additional 70 foot long tunnel, Gold Striker is back up and running (and presumably under the decibel limit agreed to by both Prudential Real Estate Investors and Cedar Fair (owners of the park).
The park sent out this message on Facebook today:
“Great news regarding Gold Striker. An additional 70 ft. tunnel, similar to the initial descent tunnel, has been added and the ride is better than ever. Feel the rush today.”
So – no long closure (as was initially implied and worried about on some websites – this one included) and a second massive headchopper sure to add to the thrills of the ride – what’s not to love?
It’s been a long road to get here, but all fans of the park and ride can breathe a sign of relief – after seven long years – Gold Striker is finally here to stay and now open PERMANENTLY!
If you haven’t already, get yourself out to California’s Great America and ride the Best Wooden Coaster on the West Coast, GOLD STRIKER!
After a brief hiatus, Gold Striker is back up and thrilling guests after an additional tunnel was added to mitigate sounds coming from the coaster.
Continuing my series on how social media can be used more effectively at amusement parks / FEC’s – just how many times should you be posting to your social media accounts on a daily basis?
Some experts feel that the higher quality the post, the less often you have to post it, while others feel that with all the filtering being done online, the more often you post, the better chances you have of actually being seen and / or heard.
The New York Times – arguably the most respected news source in the country – posts on average, seven to eight times per day. As much as you’d like to think your attraction has that much to tell the world – it simply doesn’t.*
Posting even HALF that often is enough to turn off your potential viewers. Yes, you are being filtered by Facebook and the new algorithm – but it’s not worth over-posting if most of your “likes” are going to mute your posts or worse, mark them all as spam.
If RollerCoasterTycoon had a social media option, I’d be posting a maximum of three times a day while open, once a day when closed.
Post #1: Morning, Before Opening
Post #2: Midday
Post #3: End of Operating Day
Rotate the timing of each of these posts (i.e. Don’t post a funny / cool photo each day at 3:00pm, spice it up a little).
It should go without saying, but you simply MUST be scheduling posts – to try and keep up with each post each day will ultimately drive you nuts. To assist in keeping your sanity, a scheduling software solution, such as TweetDeck or HootSuite is an absolute must! (I’ll be going into more detail on how to use HootSuite with my #Hashtag post soon)
Also to help with keeping up with your quota – consider “banking” photos over your operating season, as well – if you can’t find anything interesting to post about one day, use one of those banked photos.
Remember that while rides are fun, most people visit parks to enjoy the fun WITH OTHERS. Highlighting unique groups in your attraction, big game winners and specific attractions is sure to bring in more views (plus more turnstiles rotating).
Fan submitted photos are also a great (and often overlooked) way to have your social media content create itself. But, as I said in my first posting on this series – never forget that the entire purpose of social media is NOT to sell to your followers directly – it’s to start a conversation and interact with them.
Once you throw up an update, be prepared to interact with people. “Like Bait,” as it’s known, has a place on Facebook, but it will never convert those eyeballs to your turnstiles unless they can feel a connection to your attraction. For instance, posting a cool photo of your roller coaster may get 1,000 likes, but people will also ask questions, too. Each one of those questions is an opportunity to connect (and THEN sell your product to them AND all their friends).
If you’re a seasonal park, take advantage of the off-season to show all the transformative work going on behind-the-scenes. Just be aware that trying to sell a season pass in the middle of the winter with a photo of a dry waterslide probably isn’t going to go very viral. However, a video of employees sliding down said slide in a bathing suit – in the snow, now THAT’S different!)
If you’re shooting your own photos to post on Facebook, Twitter and / or Google+ (and you should be) and you’re using a DSLR (i.e. NOT a cell phone camera) adding a watermark with your website or hashtag is absolutely necessary. People will inevitably share quality or memorable photos – and with watermarked information on them, your logo and website will be sitting right there in front of all those shares for consumption.
Which one of these social media update photos would YOU want to be saved as a follower’s new computer background? (Airship Ventures, 2007 – 2012)
So, don’t fill guests (or potential guests) feeds, walls or updates with tons of info, photos and sales pitches – just nurture them. There’s no reason to go crazy and post 15 Instagram shots of your newest ride. You’ll see your following grow and ultimately see more butts through the turnstiles.
In my next article, I’ll be talking about #hashtags – what are they? How can you use them to promote your attraction / FEC?
*The only exception to this rule is when your attraction is facing a crisis situation or dangerous weather conditions.
Review my prior posts about “Social Media and the Amusement Park” here.
Seems counter intuitive, right? How can the very thing that allows dangerous, illegal POV video to be so popular be used to stop it? Well, read on and find out:
Arguably, cell phones are one of the greatest inventions of the past century – the convenience of being on contact whenever, where ever. The freedom to upload photos and videos at any moment – including while guests are on your rides and attractions.
You don’t have to hear me tell you that cell phone filming on rides is an epidemic in our industry. It’s pushing insurance premiums higher and higher. A projectile of that density, loose at 65mph could be several injury lawsuits just waiting to happen, not to mention the bad publicity in the media.
Before the Gold Striker wooden roller coaster even opened to the public at California’s Great America this past month, guests were seen filming on the ride using cell phones. When opening day came, the second train of the day that featured general public passengers had three (3) cell phones out.
“But we already provide guests with storage options while they’re on rides!”
Sadly, that doesn’t matter. The mentality of guests today, specifically Millennials, is to not experience the ride they’re on, but to record and share the experience with all their friends. The more “Likes” on Facebook, the higher “Thumbs Up “ count on YouTube, the better.
“But, it’s free publicity!”
Yes, it is free publicity – telling everyone online that it’s okay to film on your rides – and risk the safety of everyone around them. It’s nothing a good marketing campaign of your own marketing team couldn’t accomplish (see #3).
So how then, does your park stop this major liability and potentially lower your insurance premiums at the same time? It’s actually a simple, three step process:
1.) When it Comes to your Park’s Policies, “Grow a Pair”
Stark as it is, it needs to be said. For so many years, park guests have received warnings about what NOT to do at a park. They’ve received so many that they’ve become complacent to them. A good comparison would be to think about the last time you actually picked up a safety card in an airplane and read it. That’s the same mentality going on with your younger guests.
Also to consider – Millennials expect warnings. They’re willing to go right up to the warning and only back down when confronted. This is a generation where “everybody’s a winner,” and there’s little to no consequences to their actions. If your sign says “anyone caught with a camera on a ride will be removed from the park” then DO IT. (While deleting or confiscating the offending device.) The only way to change guests’ behavior is to show them that you mean business.
For example, Six Flags New England has a single warning sign at every high profile attraction. It reads, “Any cell phone or filming on this ride will result in immediate ejection from the park, no refunds and a 5 year ban from the park.” That gets people’s attention. In addition, all of their ride auto spiels also include a warning: “Anyone using a cell phone or MP3 payer to record while on the ride is subject to immediate dismissal from the park by Six Flags Security.”
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk goes a step further. Ride attendants actively monitor the lift hill of the Giant Dipper roller coaster via security video. If a cell phone or other recording device is seen, the ride is immediately stopped and will not start again until the offending device is put away. If the device re-appears after the lift, security is called to wait at the station, takes away any tickets or passes the guest may have and is escorted immediately off park property.
Now that you’ve taken the first steps to stem the flow of content at the source, it’s time to move onto where the content lives…online.
2.) Actively monitor and police social media, especially YouTube.
This should go without saying, especially if you read my last post – but if you don’t watch your social media channels continuously, you’re in for a shock…
What’s your signature ride at your park? Go ahead and search it on YouTube, I’ll wait…
Okay, you’re back? Great – how many results came up? Each one of those videos are potential lawsuits from injured guests, who will blame you for allowing people to film on rides. The real scary part – these are only the videos that were tagged properly on YouTube – many more could potentially exist without proper tagging or incorrect spellings. (Not to mention Facebook videos as well.)
Remember, this is your property people are filming on. You are well within your rights as a park to have videos on YouTube flagged or taken down for safety, security or other reasons.
Use the ban as an opportunity. In the complaint, be sure to add a link to an authorized POV (point of view) video that came from the park, with a friendly reminder to not film on rides.
Some park-centric websites have gone so far as to monetize videos filmed at parks . Yes, you heard me correctly – they were filming commercially – and they paid none of your fees, had no insurance coverage AND you didn’t even know they were there. You wouldn’t allow a film crew to just wander around the park without your spokesperson, so why would you allow this?
3.) Film (and share liberally) professional, on-ride video that you created or authorized.
Gone are the days of needing a film crew, jibs, cranes and more when it comes to making high quality video. A simple GoPro Hero with accompanying mounts will run your department about $400-$450 after tax. That’s a small price to pay to avoid millions in lawsuits.
Mount the camera on either the handlebars of the front car, or via the suction cup mount to a flat, non-porous surface. Duct tape can be used to stabilize the rig, but it’s not necessary in many cases. Never use any footage that could come across as shaky, or handheld. You’ll run the risk of having it look too much like a cell phone video; guests will be only encouraged to film on their own.
Now that you have authorized POV, post your video everywhere – not just on YouTube. Link to it via your other social media outlets – have it available for download for free (just be sure you include your personal watermark to show it’s really from the park). Have a QR code posted near the ride exit, so guests can scan it and receive a link to the video. It takes the work (and risk) of filming on a ride out of the hands of the guests – it’s already been done for them!
Combine that with active monitoring and better training for ride attendants, and you’ll see a significant decrease in after the ride and receive it on their phone. Take all the work out of guests filming and put it on yourself – you will see results quickly and hopefully, watch your insurance premiums decrease as well.
Review my prior posts about “Social Media and the Amusement Park” here.