The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 8th Annual Shorty Awards

Pope's Halo Effect for Visit Philly Social Media

Entered in Travel & Tourism


From September 22-25, 2015, the World Meeting of Families Conference – the world's largest gathering of Catholic families – hosted 100 speakers, panel discussions, workshops and more in Philadelphia. That weekend, on Saturday, September 26, Pope Francis arrived to speak at Philadelphia's Independence Hall. And on the afternoon of Sunday, September 27, the pope said mass for hundreds of thousands of people on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

For Philadelphia, the week brought once-in-a-lifetime events and celebrations to the city.

VISIT PHILADELPHIA, Philly's destination marketing organization, is tasked with building the city's image while increasing visitation and the number of things visitors do when they're here. VISIT PHILADELPHIA's highly engaged social media outlets (ranked No. 3 for engagement of top U.S. cities by Sparkloft Media) communicate daily with consumers to give them restaurant recommendations, hotel deals, transportation tips and more.

Pope Francis' historic visit gave VISIT PHILADELPHIA's social media team a chance to do what we do every day – talk to fans, followers and visitors – but on a much larger scale than usual.

Our goals:

• Build Philadelphia's social media audience

• Drive social media conversation around the pope's visit to Philadelphia

• Connect with visitors in town for the pope to get them to do more while they were here and to encourage them to come back to Philadelphia after the papal visit

Strategy and Execution

#PopeInPhilly AND #VisitPhilly HASHTAGS: VISIT PHILADELPHIA helped seed the #PopeInPhilly hashtag in 2014 when the pope's visit was announced. On Twitter, Visit Philly was an influential and frequent user of the hashtag #PopeInPhilly from the start.

VISIT PHILADELPHIA successfully campaigned to make the event hashtag #PopeInPhilly versus #PopeInPHL (for a global audience, PHL can often mean the Philippines, and we wanted to make it clear that the pope was visiting Philadelphia).

We used the hashtag and our own branded hashtag #VisitPhilly to connect with visitors and journalists. Tapping into these hashtags allowed us to find people who were planning their trips before the papal visit and helped us answer questions and offer suggestions in real time.

SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING: To ensure that visitors here for the once-in-a-lifetime experience got the most out of their time in Philadelphia, we found social media users interested in the World Meeting of Families and made them our fans through social media advertising.

CONTENT CREATION AND CONVERSATIONS: We knew Philadelphia would be in the spotlight for the week of World Meeting of Families and the papal visit – it was our job to capture the historic moments of Pope Francis' visit.

We published more than 600 papal-related posts from three Facebook pages, five Twitter accounts, three Instagram accounts, one LinkedIn page, a papal Pinterest board and Periscope.

We provided information and excitement before the event, shared real-time content and helped answer important visitor inquiries while the pope was here.

Our photographers and videographers were on the ground (and on terraces and in crowded streets and on bicycles) to record the historic events as they happened, while others were at home monitoring conversations almost around the clock.

Communicating with one another was paramount to our success. We created an internal email group ([email protected]) for VISIT PHILADELPHIA staff charged with collecting and distributing content during the weekend of the pope's visit, and we used it to quickly deliver videos and photos among the team. The email group also helped us distribute event details, which often changed quickly or were announced at the last minute for security.

Through our social media channels, we had personal conversations with more than 300 individuals throughout the week. We conducted media relations with more than 60 journalists through VISIT PHILADELPHIA's social media outlets, including our dedicated public relations Twitter account.

"COME BACK" MESSAGE: We not only used #VisitPhilly to reach visitors while they were in town, but we continued to talk to them after they've left and gave them reasons to come back to Philadelphia after the pope's visit.

As part of VISIT PHILADELPHIA's social media surprise and delight program – which delivers free, useable surprises to our fans and followers, social savvy visitors and social media users from Philadelphia and beyond – we sent visitors tickets for upcoming events and year-round attractions in Philadelphia.


Our posts garnered more than 12.6 million total impressions for the World Meeting of Families 2015 and the papal visit. Of those, 7.3 million impressions came from the week of the pope's visit.

That week, our social channels nearly doubled their average weekly growth.

The #PopeInPhilly hashtag had traction. Twitter created symbols for four hashtags about the U.S. papal visit, and #PopeInPhilly got a Liberty Bell.

By October 2015, #PopeInPhilly was tweeted 366,400 times, with 85 percent from the World Meeting of Families week.

#PopeInPhilly was used 46,000 times on Instagram. Of the four hashtags documenting the pope's U.S. visit, #PopeInPhilly was used most (as of February 2016):

• #popeinphilly: 46,500

• #popeindc: 21,700

• #popeinnyc: 10,900

• #popeinus: 10,300

The #visitphilly hashtag was used 39 percent more during the week of the pope's visit compared to the week prior. The hashtag was used 51 percent more during the papal visit weekend (September 25-27, 2015) over the previous weekend.

Recipients of comeback surprises were delighted, sending messages like: "What a freakin great surprise! Some of those things we've done, but a lot we haven't, so I'm excited for the next time we get to visit!! My kids will love all the activities, and all the gear is great too! I love Philly and miss it! You guys made it that much better :)"


Entrant Company / Organization Name