The Government of Saskatchewan dove into a social media experiment this past summer with a marketing pilot project designed to garner attention for the province, break negative stereotypes, and generally encourage more tourism within and to Saskatchewan. The result? The project was so successful it taught Google a new word.
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport wanted to market the province in a new way, to a younger audience, so together with its ad agency, it developed a project to hire a summer student through a contest with public voting. The winner would then travel around Saskatchewan and blog about everything that makes the province special. The Ministry called the position the “Saskatchewanderer.”
When the project first launched in February, a Google word search for Saskatchewanderer would come back with the result: “Did you mean Saskatchewan Deer?”
Today, saskatchewanderer.ca pops up as the first search result.
“We are extremely pleased with the results of this project,” said Bill Hutchinson, Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. “Thousands of people from all over the world checked out the Saskatchewanderer’s adventures – and hopefully they are as impressed with Saskatchewan as those of us who live here.”
The contest launched in February. More than 60 young people submitted applications to be the Saskatchewanderer. The ministry shortlisted 10 contestants, and then handed the reigns over to the public. Three rounds of voting later, Andrew Konoff was named the first Saskatchewanderer.
The contest wasn’t just for fun though; it was part of the marketing. The contestants submitted videos, extolling their virtues, but also the virtues of Saskatchewan, describing why it’s the best place to live, work and play in Canada. Then they reached out to their social networks to generate votes, driving thousands of people to saskatchewanderer.ca.
By the time Konoff won the contest, the Saskatchewanderer already had an audience. It also had a media following. Overall, the project resulted in more than 60 positive media stories, including in high profile places such as the Vancouver Sun, Toronto Sun, Winnipeg Free Press, on Sympatico.ca and Yahoo! News Canada.
Over the course of the summer, Konoff gained nearly 2,000 Facebook and Twitter followers, and directed all of them to check out his blog on a regular basis. By the end of the summer there had been more than 176,000 pages viewed on the website.
And on those pages, people got to see a side of Saskatchewan they might not have known existed. Saskatchewan residents and tourists alike were able to live vicariously through the Saskatchewanderer as he travelled more than 12,000 km and rode a new zip line in Cypress Hills (there are actually six zip lines, about 45 feet above the forest floor), interviewed the Sheepdogs (a Saskatchewan rock band that won a contest to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine), tried paddle boarding (a popular fitness activity among celebrities like Jennifer Anniston and Matthew McConaughey), and flew over the Athabasca Sand Dunes (the largest active sand surface in Canada and one of the most northern sets of major dune fields in the world).
“Saskatchewan is not just what you’ll see on the Trans-Canada Highway – go off the road for an hour in any direction and you’re well into adventure territory,” Konoff said. “We have more than five million acres of parks, lots of music festivals, tons of history, and a rural and urban landscape unlike anywhere else in the world. Whether you need to escape from civilization for a while or get fully immersed in it, Saskatchewan has something for you.”
People from all over the world checked out saskatchewanderer.ca, from as far away as Finland, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Viewers also took advantage of the social media component and got engaged in the project, sending Konoff messages and commenting on photos throughout the summer. Miranda Blaber wrote on the Saskatchewanderer Facebook wall: “We are loving the Saskatchewanderer as a whole; great photos and fun information about the best province in Canada!”
Two sponsors helped support the project – Bennett Dunlop Ford provided a vehicle for the summer and CAA Saskatchewan provided a membership and gas gift certificates.
The Saskatchewanderer has now wandered back to school, but you can still check out his adventures at www.saskatchewanderer.ca.
Jennifer Johnson is director of communications for the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport and a former journalist with CBC.