Case Study: A Successful B2C Hashtag Contest

#Yogais Case Study: Executive Summary

An internationally renowned, very esoteric nonprofit, the Himalayan Institute, is a yoga and meditation retreat center. This case study summarizes how they successfully garnered attention, expanding their niche audience through an integrated online and in-real-life hashtag contest.

The face-to-face component of this campaign educated and engaged a somewhat reluctant staff about the opportunities and value in social media marketing, whereas the Twitter component introduced the Institute and its offerings to a new and connected generation of deep practitioners.

  • Increased niche audience
  • Generated audience participation and interaction
  • Improved the acceptance and buy-in from the nonprofit’s staff and volunteers
  • Opened a pipeline for ongoing submission of quality content for the social feeds
  • Attracted attention and initiated relationships with industry influencers

Himalayan Institute

Challenges

Tucked in the rolling verdant hills of the Poconos in northeastern Pennsylvania, this small thirtysomething-year-old yoga retreat center is famous among longtime students of the yoga philosophy and lifestyle. You might not hear it mentioned, however, at your local yogapants purveyor.

Therein lie the challenges this contest sought to address: attitude, behavior, and awareness.

Challenge 1: Staff and Internal Acceptance of Social Media

For one thing, some longtime staff and residents were hesitant to embrace social media. After all, as the longtime publisher of the print and online magazine, Yoga International, intellectual content and the written word are necessarily a major part of their business model.

Even the most seasoned marketer can find the prospect of freemium sharing to be daunting. (Freemium is where you “give away free” content to get people interested in you. It’s what we normal people call “sharing.” Except the goal is to later sell a product or subscription once they have sampled the goods.)

Of course, nobody wants to “give away the farm.”

Challenge 2: Untapped Potential Content Spotters and Creators

A related challenge, was the vast pool of staff, volunteers, residents, and weekend visitors who, with nominal training and oversight, would become a natural resource for finding and sharing memorable moments with the online community.

Again, I tell you that business is situated on 400 acres of “God’s country.” There’s a creek, and a pond, and a waterfall in the backyard. Down the mountain trail.

I’m not even kidding. That’s a content sharer’s dream.

Creek on the Blue Trail

Challenge 3: Renowned, But Relatively Unknown

Lastly, the center was not as well known as it could be in the American yoga asana, or yoga-as-fitness, scene. Your teacher’s teacher may have heard of it and, even though it was their neti pot that Oprah gave to her whole audience that one time, most newcomers to yoga hadn’t heard of the Institute.

Goals

  • Internal PR: Improve staff understanding and appreciation of the organization’s new commitment to social media.
  • External PR: Establish awareness of the Institute as a retreat destination, a learning center, and a trusted resource for deep yoga study.
  • Advocacy: Raise awareness of “the art of joyful living” and yoga as a way of life.
  • Engagement: Increase internal and external participation and interaction.

How a Twitter Hashtag Contest Was Born

a.k.a. “This One Time…at Yoga Camp”

The inimitable and delightful Rolf Sovik, PsyD, President and Spiritual Director, had just concluded another successful full-house weekend-workshop about yoga as self-care.
Rolf Sovik Workshop at Himalayan Institute, Yoga as Self-Care

A few of us residents and our distinguished guests who were staying for the week were all basking in the afterglow, visiting in the cafe over steaming chai and warm cookies, and reminiscing over all the gems that Rolf had been laying down, like these.

Buzzing with goodwill, chai spices, and sugar, we were taking turns waxing poetic about what yoga meant to each of us.

It’s like we spoke the hashtag into existence.

Not trying to be too “woo woo,” but as we tried to outdo each other and wordsmith grander, deeper, more profound sentiments, they began to acquiesce into this singular bite-sized form.

  • Yoga is the broadening of my perspective. And my hamstrings.
  • Yoga is everything.
  • Yoga is more than a mat.
  • Yoga is blah di blah blah.

Sidebar: Just so we’re clear, Patanjali got there first.

Patanjali is considered a saint of the yoga tradition. He scribed the seminal Yoga Sutras a long time ago. Scholars differ on exactly when, between 500 BCE to 300 CE. He did not invent yoga.

Rather he pulled together all of the wisdom from the epic ancient sources and sages, and he codified it into an easily transmissible series of 196 sutras, or aphorisms. Sutra means thread in Sanskrit.

You can think of them as proto-tweets. If you must.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.2

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥
yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ ||2||

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
~ Patanjali,
as translated by Rolf Sovik, PsyD

Back to the Contest

We ran off some color-printed cards, with 140 text characters counted out, and stacked them next to an empty fishbowl on a table in the cafe.
In-Real-Life Hashtag Contest Submissions
Next to that, we posted contest rules and prizes.
In-House Hashtag Contest, Rules, & Prizes
Say, if you had ever sipped a cuppa chai at the Himalayan Institute, you’d get in on this contest, too!

We tweeted each of our in-house resident and guest submissions to our online audience before we opened the contest up to them.

But first, we announced it on Facebook. Two reasons — give the “official contest rules” a place to live and encourage cross-over from that community to our Twittersphere.

Social Media Yogais Hashtag Contest

As you may recall, Facebook used to be a lot touchier about running contests on their platform. That’s why we didn’t.


What we did do is use the Facebook announcement as our Hashtag Contest landing page and then announced it to some of yoga influencers.

Plus, our sister org shared the contest announcement.

#Yogais Contest Results

Clearly, the #Yogais hashtag was a strong one from the get go. It’s easy enough to search in Twitter for all tweets that include the phrase “yoga is.” Retweet the best ones and append the new hashtag. That’s how we started plugging the tag before we even announced the contest.

Generated Momentum for Institute’s Social Properties

By the time there was free chai and gift shop merch up for grabs, the hashtag was powered by its own steam. (It’s as if we caught our own wind in our sails.)

Fostered Goodwill and Positive Sentiment Among Our Communities

We got so many submissions, in-house and online and for months after. Such good vibes.

Or as the kids say now, “So many feels.”

Garnered Attention of and Traction with Industry Influencers

Not just Bob Weisenberg, the former Yoga Editor at Elephant Journal, got in on our game.

Anna Guest-Jelley, founder of the very popular Curvy Yoga movement, shared one of the lovely and accepting gems for which the yoga community embraces her.

Donna Freeman, popular teacher of yoga for kids and teens in the school setting, shared the fun with her followers.

Other influencers who dropped their #Yogais wisdom on our community were journalists, yoga teachers, mommy bloggers, and more.

Bevan Bird


MomMostTraveled


WalkingMomtra

Some high-profile accounts may not have known they were “getting in” on anything, like journalist Ron Hogan.

For sure, our contest winner, the vivacious chronicler of all things yoga, the tireless and witty blogger YogaDork, didn’t know she was participating in anything other than a trending topic.

And yet when you tweet to tens of thousands of engaged followers, you’re going to win a retweet contest. That’s just physics, folks.

Strategic Relationship Development

Since she didn’t know it was a contest, she donated her winnings to our humanitarian campaign, Trees for Tibet. [NOTE: Be sure to watch the stop-motion video about Doje at the link. You’ll thank me.]

Even better, YogaDork made it a point to meet up with our executive team on the conference circuit. I think they may have extended an invite to come visit us in those verdant rolling hills of the Poconos.

Todd Wolfenberg Yoga International CEO Testimonial

So, for the cost of printing up some color business cards for submissions, half a dozen cups of chai, and under $100 in merchandise credits, the hashtag contest improved and increased sentiment, reputation, reach, and relationships.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how you can extrapolate from this campaign to your own business in your own niche and get similar results.


Graphic and image credits:

Himalayan Institute campus view and blue trail creek — author’s own

Rolf Sovik’s weekend blurb — Himalayan Institute Program Guide Spring 2011, published with permission in this author’s portfolio as copyeditor

Yoga Sutra 1.2, Devanāgarī script and Sanskrit transliteration — Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s translation and commentary on the Yoga Sutras on YogaInternational.com
Contest submission cards and rules sheet — author’s own
Contest flier — posted in-house, around campus, and on Facebook — Artwork & design by Crystal Ketterhagen. You can still see the vanity link at http://on.fb.me/Yogais.