Becky McCray, left, shows the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s Marci Penner a new way she can use the micro-blogging application Twitter during a gathering Friday morning. McCray was one of eight other bloggers who toured Hutchinson as part of a tourism promotion the city hosted.
INMAN – For two days last week, the City of Hutchinson’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Kansas Cosmosphere did something different to promote their town and all it has to offer.
Instead of relying on traditional marketing methodology, a group of technology-aware people decided to let the Internet do the work for them by inviting eight bloggers from four states throughout the Midwest to come and tour the city and some of its attractions in hopes that the bloggers would write about their Hutchinson experiences, which would convince readers from across the country to check out Hutch.
It was a novel idea that other town could try to replicate, and early indications, judging by the articles and conversations the bloggers have produced, are it was a success.
However, two Oklahoma bloggers weren’t done with Hutchinson.
Being so focused on helping rural communities, Becky McCray of www.smallbizsurvival.com and Jeanne Cole of www.twitter.com/OkieJ both had to stop in Inman and talk with Marci Penner, executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, and WenDee LaPlant, assistant director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Hutchinson’s own Patsy Terrell of www.patsyterrell.com helped arranged the meeting.
Penner asked if a blogger familiarization tour was a common thing.
McCray said it was rare for the size of community Hutchinson is.
“It’s been done in a few other places,” she said. “Levels of success vary. I think the biggest thing is that it didn’t end up targeting travel bloggers.”
McCray and Cole both told Penner that by not having only travel bloggers a wider variety of prospective visitors could be reached based upon the various interests of any given blog and group of readers.
For nearly an hour, the five women talked about the possibilities of connecting with people via the Internet in ways that can promote rural communities.
Penner said she enjoyed getting to talk with the group.
“It kind of pumped me up for the opportunities blogging and social networking provides for small communities,” she said.
Social networking is the use of online tools such as Facebook.com or Twitter.com to connect with people who share interests or geographic ties that create a relationship. The networking sites then provide a way for those people to stay in touch and share photos, videos and stories, and Penner said after hearing about how successful the Hutchinson blogging tour went, she felt the urge to increase the Kansas Sampler’s use of technology to get the word out about the state.
“There is so much potential in rural Kansas,” she said. “The disconnect is that we don’t let the public know what there is to do.”
Penner said she is already taking steps to capitalize as she and LaPlant are on Twitter (www.twitter.com/marcipenner and www.twitter.com/WenDeeLaPlant), have a Web site (www.kansassampler.org), and they have a blog (http://kansassampler.blogspot.com).
Proof that the Kansas Sampler is making some noise in the online world is that the Oklahoma bloggers already knew about the organization and what it does, which Penner said was cool considering they were from another state.
“That was only possible thanks to social networking,” she said. “It closes the miles.”
Penner said the Kansas Sampler is has a framework in place to give small Kansas towns an online presence, but she said speaking with Cole and McCray made the whole concept come alive and stressed the importance and urgency in getting small towns into the online arena of promotion.
“What happened in Hutchinson is what could happen in rural Kansas,” she said.
Social networking can help everyone see what Kansas has to offer, Penner said, and she said she would like to eventually see bloggers writing about the annual Kansas Sampler Foundation Festival as it takes place. This year the event, in its 20th year, is being held May 2-3 in Concordia.
Penner said she is going to be utilizing Twitter heavily when she writes the next Kansas guide book.
“I will be Twittering each stop I make,” she said.
Locally, Penner, McCray and Cole all agreed. The southern end of McPherson County could easily capitalize on social media and all the Web has to offer.
“For Moundridge and Inman, the can definitely benefit from social networking,” Penner said. “It’s a way to get a younger generation involved.”
Getting bloggers immersed in the rural offerings of Kansas could be done, Penner said, but it would have to be done slightly differently than the Hutchinson tour. Rural communities would have to be done in groups.
“What they did in Hutch last week, we would do in multiple rural communities,” she said. “We need to orientate the bloggers in an explorer mindset and turn them loose in rural communities.”
Penner said she hopes to have this going for Kansas’ rural communities sooner rather than later.
“I see social networking as being a huge bonus in exploring rural Kansas,” she said. “The problem has always been how to get the world out. Now they can get the word out. They definitely have something to offer. Now we just need to connect the world with what they have to see and do.”
Also, to read a play-by-play of Twitter posts about the event, go to http://search.twitter.com and search for “#hutch.”