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Ocean City, National Aquarium use social media to reach fans

Ocean City and the National Aquarium in Baltimore will soon start pumping out deals to those who are staying in touch with the tourist destinations via social media.

With the growing popularity of daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Eversave, the two attractions are connecting more directly with fans and visitors by sending them deals and information on free events.

Ocean City has created a website and email blast called “Ocean City Free-For-All” that is a compilation of free concerts and events. The aquarium will start posting to its Facebook fan page and Twitter accounts promotions and will offer coupons and codes for discounts and other surprises to those who are fans and followers, respectively.

The National Aquarium conducted a similar promotion in November during the holiday season to pick up more fans for its Facebook fan page. The strategy worked as more than 2,000 new fans joined the aquarium’s throng on Facebook, said Genevieve Liboiron, the director of digital marketing.

Liboiron is counting the fans who have stayed loyal to the aquarium’s Facebook page and haven’t “de-friended” after scoring a deal from the site.

This year, the aquarium’s “Spring Social” campaign began Thursday and will go through June 17.

“For us, it really worked,” Liboiron said. “We had a huge increase on our social media in terms of amount of fans. That demonstrates to us an interest. Some companies don’t entertain their fans or provide much of a value to be in a relationship with you.”

The first deal is a free ticket to the National Aquarium’s sister venue in Washington, D.C., for every ticket purchased to the Baltimore location, a $10 value.

As of Friday, 24,792 Facebook users are fans of the National Aquarium’s page, and more than 8,200 Twitter users follow its Twitter account.

For Ocean City, creating the e-blast and a microsite are the latest efforts in promoting free events that the popular beach resort has had for years.

Business and city officials teamed with advertising firm MGH Inc. to create the page and send out announcements on a weekly and monthly basis to thousands of visitors who have already signed up and to those who sign up for notifications.

Each week the website and email blast will be updated with a new free event. Ocean City Public Relations Director Donna Abbott said the more timely blasts are helpful since in previous years events that were added to the city’s calendar often went unnoticed because visitors never heard about them.

“This is just a fresh approach to let people know you don’t need a coupon or a voucher to get something free and show up,” Abbott said. “People are still looking for value, but are inundated with deals, coupons and offers.”

Upcoming crowd attractions are the Ocean City Air Show on June 11 and June 12, the Dew Tour Festival Village from July 21 to July 24, and the city’s concert series hosted by Radio Disney AM 640.

The approach of businesses using their own social media platforms to get to consumers is one that works for engaging customers the business already has, said Wendy W. Moe, assistant professor of marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland, College Park.

“I think that it’s more successful if you have a core group of customers and encourage your own customers to use your product more, and come to Ocean City and the aquarium more frequently,” Moe said.

The next step for businesses is to attract visitors who may not be fans or connected already, Moe said. Partnering with similar brands and bundling promotions or social media efforts could help cross over into other demographics or markets, she said.