That’s #sogso: Campaign targets millennials

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Vaughan holding a Natty Greene’s beer in a post promoting #sogso.

by Eric Ginsburg

A joint marketing campaign between the city and several organizations aims to spread the good word about the city and its components using social media.

Greensboro has long suffered from the perception, particularly among young people, that there isn’t a whole lot going on. While the Gate City may not be as jammed with events and culture as hipster meccas across the nation, it turns out Greensboro’s younger demographic may also just be terribly misinformed.

Various organizations, including city council, have devoted a decent amount of time discussing what to do about millennials. Everyone seems to agree that the city’s future, in part, depends on retention and attraction of young professionals and recent college grads. Two components of the equation are creating new jobs and supporting a vibrant culture, but leaders found that much of what younger residents want already exists in Greensboro.

After several discussions with young people in the city, including conversations about retention facilitated by Opportunity Greensboro, Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that it became “really obvious that there is an awful lot going on” that people just didn’t know about.

Action Greensboro Director Cecelia Thompson, who is 31, has found the same thing to be true, saying that her peers are “not always aware of what’s going on.” With those conversations in mind, several organizations paired up to launch a new initiative to spread the word.

Action Greensboro, the city, the Greensboro Partnership, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Greensboro Inc., Pace Communications and ArtsGreensboro hope to create a central hashtag, categorizing and aggregating social media posts to promote the city through “#sogso.” Posts by individuals and organizations on Instagram with the #sogso tag will feed into a website, sogso.tumblr.com, and some will be featured on an affiliated Facebook page as well.

A #sogso post from Thompson's Instagram.
A #sogso post from Thompson’s Instagram.

“The best thing about this community is the people and we’re trying to showcase that and the diversity of the city,” Thompson said. “Anybody can contribute.”

Other cities including Winston-Salem, Greenville, SC and Cleveland have already undertaken similar initiatives, Thompson said, adding that it is part of a “continued effort to brand the city.”

The marketing campaign had a soft launch recently and the Facebook page went up last week, but none of the organizations involved have made an official announcement yet. It’s been in the works for months and has no connection to viral Facebook posts reading “I’m so [insert city] that….” If anything the unrelated trend may bolster the popularity or ease of use for #sogso, Vaughan said.

Vaughan added that it’s only natural to try and reach young people where they already are to be most effective.

“We’ve been having a lot of meetings around what we can do for young professionals and younger people and how to get them more engaged, and one thing that came up is that social media is so important,” Vaughan said. “It sounds kind of silly because we kind of know that. We realized that the city does have what people want; we’re just not doing a good job marketing it.”

Rather than inventing a new hashtag such as #mygso or #gsonc that would closely mirror Winston-Salem’s #myws and #wsnc, Thompson said they opted for a witty term that was already in use by young people in the city.

Almost a year and a half ago, Guilford College graduate Saron Smith-Hardin launched sogreensboro.tumblr.com, a collection of photos that embody the city. The most recent one pokes fun at a sign for Club Rumba Latina that says, “Where the fun never ends,” with a caption clarifying, “The fun actually ended in 2008.”

Others celebrate the city’s international fare — including Villa del Mar, Rearn Thai and Pho Hien Vuong — or the ease of security lines at the airport. The first post features a photo of a sign reading “God loves you” and “hot dog.”

Smith-Hardin and her friends adopted the #sogso hashtag on Instagram more than two years ago. Her friends tagged pictures of Suds & Duds, “new age drinks” at Harris Teeter, the Edible Schoolyard, a mural in a parking deck stairwell and a dilapidated building downtown. Smith-Hardin added shots of fashion seen at the Green Bean, housing disparities in the historic Aycock neighborhood where she lived and old photos of White Oak Mill.

With Smith-Hardin’s permission, Thompson said the organizations adopted the hashtag after a few months of meetings. The tag is in use on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. People can either search the term directly on each site or visit the Tumblr page or “That’s So Greensboro” Facebook page.

“I like the way it sounds,” Vaughan said. “‘So Greensboro’ is nice because it’s short and concise.”

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A picture from the city of the Bog Garden that is tagged #sogso.

Now, there are almost 450 posts tagged with #sogso on Instagram, the primary forum the marketing campaign is targeting. The city has posted photos from Lake Brandt and @visitgreensboronc recently added one of someone putting toppings on hot dogs. Hipper businesses — including Civic Threads, Greensboro Community Yoga, Madmonk Interactive, Crafted and Oscar Oglethorpe — have glommed onto the trend, too.

Individuals have too, contributing pictures from the recent North Carolina Tomato Festival, an apple martini at Undercurrent, a kickball charity tournament and a mural unveiling in Glenwood.

People still own the rights to their photographs, Thompson said, but can tag them to be part of promoting events, businesses or other aspects of the city.  With minimal startup funds — totaling under $500 each — from the lead organizations, the website is live and there may be a few additional promotional efforts such as sidewalk decals or a projected slideshow of tagged photos at a downtown event, Thompson said.

Either way, Vaughan said #sogso is just one component of a broader plan.

“There will be other levels to this but I think this is a good first step,” she said.