At the end of April, 2014, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History closed its most popular exhibition, The Dinosaur Hall, to make way for a 5 year renovation that will completely makeover the space and create the biggest baddest Fossil Hall of all time.
This will be the most significant renovation in the museum's history and its crown jewel will be our very first real fossil T. rex. The #NationsTrex arrived at the Museum on April 15th, and to celebrate its arrival, the Museum launched its most ambitious and creative social media campaign to date. Starting with an April Fool's Prank on national television, the T. rex began a journey that took over the Museum's owned and shared platforms for the entire month, spanned DC, and even included a run for the Presidency from within the White House.
The result of this epic adventure was a huge increase in following on all @NMNH platforms, and a rate of engagement unlike anything we'd ever seen. This carefully crafted campaign allowed us to balance entertainment and education, both delighting our followers and informing them about important Museum updates and fascinating Paleontological developments. Even more importantly, it forged a path at the Smithsonian, teaching us that it's not only ok to have a little fun with our content, it's encouraged by our audience and ultimately a productive engagement tool!
The #NationsTrex campaign had to be creative, because there weren't many resources available to support it. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History was poised to receive their very first fossil T. rex and close their most popular Dinosaur Hall, and there were only two social media staffers to task with informing the internet, with a budget of $0. Resourcefulness and relationships became key to developing innovative strategies and tactics that would result in a month-long maelstrom of T. rex envy, online. Over the course of April, the campaign garnered a jaw-dropping 77M impressions on Twitter alone, a record for the Smithsonian. We increased our following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by more than 1,000 followers more than the previous months. We trended twice. The response we experienced was proof that our audiences want to be surprised by us. They want to engage with us in unexpected ways, and they want to have fun while they are learning. This has since set a precedent at the Smithsonian that enjoyment and education do not have to be mutually exclusive.
The mission of the campaign targeted 3 goals:
- 1.To entertain our publics, using creativity and humour to cut through the digital clutter and get their attention.
- 2.To leverage their attending for learning opportunities, balancing cool content with fascinating facts about the Earth's deep history.
- 3.To inform our audiences of critical updates at the Museum including the T. rex's arrival, the Dinosaur Hall's closure, and the renovation of the new National Fossil Hall.
We developed four discreet strategies supported by a variety of inventive tactics to accomplish these goals, some highlights of which include:
- Staging a wild April Fool's prank to turn attention toward NMNH platforms by working with our friends at the Weather Channel to broadcast 4 live news segments announcing a renovation to transform the current Ocean Hall into a live aquarium. More than 600,000 viewers tuned in for the segments.
- Pivoting to tease the arrival of the T. rex with memes inspired by pop culture references like Jurassic Park.
- Empowering the T. rex to takeover @NMNH platforms, sharing short-armed selfies and enlightening observations from its own perspective.
- Live-tweeting from behind the scenes in Bozeman, Montana where the T. rex was packed up and shipped out via FedEx to Washington.
- Using the #TrexRoadTrip across country as an opportunity to point out important fossil sites in the U.S.
- Sharing #infosnacks about the T. rex's anatomy and environment that were compiled into a single infographic near the end of the campaign.
- Introducing the T. rex to Sue at the Field Museum via Twitter, where they rwar-ed at each other as best they could in 140 characters, resulting in a lasting, and very entertaining friendship.
- Live-Tweeting the arrival of the T. rex, which Trended.
- Taking both a large and small scale T. rex cut-out around the city so that #TouristRex could take photos in some of DC's most iconic locations, getting used to its new home.
- Giving the T. rex a break from the spotlight and putting its curator to work on both a Reddit AMA and i09 chat about dinosaurs.
- Taking advantage of our Museum Director being active on social media, having him share #PetRex memes of the T. rex following him around and handing over high fives.
- Inviting local artists to re-imagine Disney Princesses as Dinosaurs in a #PrincessRex image series.
- Supporting the T. Rex's run for the Presidency by taking it to the White House for an exclusive tour of the grounds and Briefing Room. The photos #POTUSRex took in front of the White House and from behind the podium included a "House of Cards" reference, and trended.
- Celebrated real-time opportunities when other major cultural institutions reached out to us for an opportunity to meet Rexy. The Kennedy Center photoshopped an image we shared of the T. rex visiting the ballet, and shared a new version of it sporting a tutu. To top that, the Archives invited the T. rex over to meet the head Archivist and sign the Constitution and Declaration of Independence!
- All this in addition to leveraging our owned platforms such as our website, social media channels, and blogs to share all T. rex, all the time.
Ultimately, our quantitative and qualitative metrics demonstrate that we underestimated the power of a Jurassic ambassador. The #NationsTrex campaign succeeded beyond our wildest dreams at both exciting and educating the public and we think if not a Shorty, it at least deserves a Short-Armed Award for its achievements.
Video for #NationsTrex