social media case study… Shark/Ray Videos “Reel” in Event Attention, Attendence by Janet Krenn

A touch tank is the aquatic equivalent of a petting zoo, and an event like the opening of a new touch tank might not sound like front page news.

For McWane Science Center, the online video campaign, Shark and Ray, was featured on the front page of a local news website every week of the campaign. In the end, opening day became the Center’s third best attended, behind opening day and one other special event, and the Shark and Ray characters have gone on to help raise funds to support the newly installed touch tank.

So how did a couple of employees and a few professionals working pro bono do it?


The McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, is museum that encourages hands-on activities. So a touch tank in that allows children and adults to interact with sharks and rays was a natural fit. More than just an additional display in the museum, the touch tank was an expansion. It required the not-for-profit to attract additional funding to support it while generating interest in the new attraction.

“Social media is the least expensive way to reach our audience, and that is why we were initially interested in exploring it,” says Chandler Harris, Director of Public Relations at McWane Science Center.

Shark and Ray Campaign

The Shark and Ray campaign began as a series of 7 web videos that were launched weekly leading up to the grand opening of the Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

“When creating the concept for Shark and Ray we knew we would be speaking to a younger audience,” says Jason Hill, from Provenance Digital Media who consulted with the McWane Center on the campaign. “But we still wanted to make the humor broad enough to appeal to parents as well.”

“I think for most of us, the most surprising aspect was the range of adults without children that became some of the biggest fans,” Hill adds.

Social Media Tools

To promote the Shark and Ray videos, the team turned to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but focused on their already large Facebook fan base of 2,700+ fans. Twitter was used to tweet updates from the characters. YouTube was used as an alternative video host to Facebook.

“All three complement one another, but serve distinct purposes. When combined, they are much more powerful then when used as a single channel of communication,” Marc Beaumont from Contenova Growth Advisory.

Behind the Scenes

Those who produce the Shark and Ray series notes that their success cam from building a strong team. Combating the notion that social media is so easy it could be done out of a basement, the McWane Center brought in several groups to work on the project. Consultants helped by conceptualizing and producing the video. McWane Center Staff maintained social media pages.

“It was a great example of how a group can work together,” said Jen West, Designer at the McWane Center and Project Manager of the Shark and Ray campaign.

Advice from the Team

What does the team think is important in having an online video social media campaign?

1. Talent and Technical Know-How

The Shark and Ray team were specialists. There were people who wrote; those who strategized; and those who were responsible for the editing and compression of video. Some worked on the look of the video, and others offered their voices for the characters.

2. Courage

Not only do you need to take risks, you need to know when to reign it in. As Marc Beaumont put it: “You have to have the courage to fight the impulses to make it into a high-end production.”

3. Resourcefulness

Jason Hill notes that the consultants who worked on Shark and Ray, as well as the local celebrities who participated in the clips all did so pro bono. “Don’t be afraid to ask for volunteers and to reach out into the community and encourage participation,” says Hill.

4. Flexibility

One of the benefits of working with social media is the ability to respond. By keeping your projects relatively simple, you can maintain flexibility. “Social media is created to resonate with people, and make it moldable,” says Jennifer West.

5. Brevity

Remember that successful online video is only a few minutes long. Chandler Harris says, “Keep it short and simple.”

The Team

JANET KRENN is Communication Co-Chair of the New Professionals Section of PRSA. If you’re a member of the New Professionals Section, and you’d like to contribute to the New Pros’ blog, email her at janetqs(at)gmail dot com