2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - Lunch and Learn

1801_EXPO_SIG_WHITE

Village Roadshow’s Bob White: Win Over Customers with Direct, Authentic Social Media Videos

by Michael Switow

What do you do if business is down, sentiment appears to be against you, and your company’s traditional ways of communicating with the public just aren’t working?

This is the challenge faced by Australian attraction operators following intense media scrutiny and social media attention.

“The past 12 months have been the most difficult in my career and in the entire Australian theme park industry. In February/March, our business was down 30 percent,” Village Roadshow Chief Operating Officer Bob White told the crowd at an Expo Lunch and Learn gathering.

As an industry insider, White will tell you ride stoppages are a sign that safety systems are working properly. But that’s not public perception. In an age when every guest can stream live events from a smartphone—and the traditional media monitors Facebook and Twitter for leads—Village Roadshow became targeted by the press every time safety measures on ride systems kicked in.

In nearly 40 years in the industry, White said he had never seen anything like it. Issuing media releases, making statements to the press, and working directly with news outlets to generate positive coverage had little impact. Village Roadshow’s research showed up to 15 percent of potential guests were scared to come to parks after the incidents in the news. To win back consumer trust, Village Roadshow now needed to think differently.

With properties like Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World, and Wet’n’Wild, Village Roadshow created a series of compelling behind-the-scenes social media videos that have attracted more than 1 million views. The videos are direct and detailed, with line managers—not corporate leaders—demonstrating safety checks, while also using real numbers to highlight the extremely low likelihood of experiencing a ride stoppage.

“Recent ride stoppages have created huge media interest. While it may look dangerous, this really isn’t the case,” a narrator says in one video. “Stoppages are proof that ride safety systems are working. Every ride is engineered to stop in safe locations. Every ride has hundreds of sensors constantly measuring and watching the ride.”

“If just one of these little sensors isn’t happy, the entire ride will automatically shut down,” adds a Village Roadshow employee in the video. “Most faults are easily reset after a short inspection.”

Village Roadshow looked inward to produce the video content, rather than working with an agency, and encouraged its own employees to take creative control. Management vowed to learn from the first video and make improvements with each additional edition, rather than stopping altogether if the initial video didn’t succeed. White said his parks are now more proactive, helping the public understand the context of a ride stoppage in a timely manner.

“Rides will stop in the future,” White added. “Our goal is for our guests to understand that these stoppages are essential to ride safety, not evidence of the opposite. We’re going to keep working on getting this message out.” The videos are posted on Facebook, where data shows guests in Australia and around the world watched.

“Has it worked? I don’t have an empirical measure to tell you, but we do know our social media engagement has increased, and we’ve seen a decline in concerns over ride safety,” White concluded.