Camp snapshots: Mall of America -- like you've never seen it before

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The Mall of America social media team shows off their "nerve center," or where they can monitor tweets and Facebook activity to maximize brand value and customer interaction.

Would Minnesota’s largest attraction exist as it is today without public relations teams monitoring the Mall of America brand constantly?

The Mall of America is multifaceted –- a theme park, movie theatre, colossal aquarium … you name it. In order to keep up with the hustle and bustle inside the massive infrastructure, MOA has both a traditional public relations and social media PR team.

Sarah Schmidt and Tara Niebeling work on the traditional side. Their job consists of contacting local media outlets to see if they want to compose a story on something at the mall.

“MOA hosts upwards of 400 events a year,” Schmidt said. Since opening its doors in 1992, MOA has been featured on the Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and TLC. Numerous celebrities such as Barry Manilow, Cindy Crawford, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift have made visits over the years. Recently, stars from the film, “Jersey Boys,” made an appearance at the movie theater, while Madilyn Bailey, an up-and-coming singer, arrived for a performance in June.

The pair agrees that it can be a tedious process going back and forth convincing reporters to cover something while working with the PR personnel of another organization or person. Making timely decisions is imperative for these professionals. They must prioritize their workload constantly — looking at what is most important for the mall — or as Schmidt deems it, “organized chaos.”

The occupation is changing rapidly, too.

“We no longer use a fax machine here,” Schmidt said, chuckling.

GETTING UP TO SPEED

Social media PR, however, is where the real evolution is taking place.

Erin Vande Steeg, a social media strategist at MOA, has seen the transformation first hand. She was involved in traditional PR three years ago at the mall and soon was integrated into the social side.

“We wanted a tool to use to communicate with guests. It was a process to figure out how it would be successful,” she said.

MOA’s social media PR team utilizes a tool called Spredfast. The network allows users to view others on various social sites talking about a specific brand.

The social PR team at MOA wants to be engaged with customers, and they need to take care of customer service issues as soon as possible, said David Jungers, the second member of MOA’s social media PR duo.

After all, online negativity can be picked up by the public quickly.

“We must make sure things stay positive in conversations already happening on social media or turn a negative discussion into a positive one,” Jungers said.

The social PR pair can see anyone using the key-words of Mall of America or MOA on social networks and connect with them. Often times, they reach out to these visitors, primarily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in hopes of gaining a larger audience in electronic communications and for an increase in returning visits.

On January 6, MOA held a free rides day at Nickelodeon Universe because mall attendance was so low due to dangerously frigid temperatures. Governor Mark Dayton had closed all public schools in Minnesota that Monday.

Jungers got to break the news of the free rides on social media.

“It’s cool to have experiences on social media being the cutting edge,” he said. “Retailers wanted to close early but ended up staying open because of the boom social media caused that day.”

This was a case study on how quickly things can happens thanks to social media.

“Sometimes you plan for things and it doesn’t work out. Other times it simply does, it’s the nature of it,” Jungers said. The duo learns from successes and mistakes in their jobs just like anyone else.

Geofeedia, also used by the team, is a platform that locates individuals at MOA when they post on social media within the parameters of the mall. A car was once on fire at the mall and social PR used Geofeedia to locate the incident after someone Tweeted about it with location services enabled on their device.

“We were able to connect with security and solve the problem with no one hurt. The fire was extinguished within minutes and the story was squashed before it took off with local media,” Vande Steeg said.

There are 90 phone numbers around the gigantic complex for people to use to approach social PR if assistance is needed: ranging from security issues to cleanliness. The primary goal is to fix any problems before they affect more people at the mall. In fact, this technology decreased security calls by a third of what they were pertaining to lost or “stolen” vehicles, Vande Steeg said.

AN “APPLICATION” FOR TEENS

So, how does one become a social media or brand manager at a mall that doubles as an international tourist attraction?

Schmidt and Niebeling agree – experience is important, even in undesirable jobs. Schmidt has a PR degree but didn’t have a clear-cut path to her current position. Niebeling stresses that young people must build their resumes and find “nuggets” of experience to use to their advantage.

Katie Braman, a ThreeSixty Intermediate Camper, thoroughly enjoyed the unique experience of meeting PR professionals at MOA. She is a regular visitor there and already follows MOA on multiple social networks.

Braman has already found some of those “nuggets” that will help her in the future. She started the Instagram account and manages Facebook and Twitter at St. Paul Academy for the school’s newspaper, the Rubicon.

“I was reminded today that it takes more thought in this profession than just clicking ‘send’ on Twitter. The pair is representing MOA which is huge,” she said.

Junger said Twitter serves as the “new word of mouth platform” especially for this generation. Everyone must realize that there are vast disparities between having personal Twitter accounts and representing a brand.

FUTURE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS

Since MOA does not have an abundance of advertisements on TV or radio, a lot of promotions are spread on social media or traditional PR segments. It doesn’t cost much money to advertise this way — even celebrity visitors aren’t paid to come to MOA, Jungers said.

Further proof this is the present and future: The labor force is growing. There are six new hires in social media PR at MOA, Jungers said.

Because the office for PR is located in the basement of MOA, anyone communicating with social PR through text or social media is talking to an unseen entity. But on multiple screens, they’re monitoring Tweets and texts much like a newsroom would observe various media outlets.

The Mall of America would not be able to connect with visitors and promote its one-of-a-kind brand without social media.

Who knows where you will spot MOA next? Or will they locate you first?

PHOTO GALLERY

To view photos from ThreeSixty’s trip to Mall of America, click here.

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