If you live in the Twin Cities, chances are, by now you’ve probably heard 2017 is the Mall of America’s 25th birthday. They just had a huge celebration for the actual birthday a couple weeks ago–and the coverage was everywhere (nice work Sarah Grap!).
MOA has actually been a fairly big part of my life–especially for the last 13 years. When we moved to south Minneapolis in 2004, our new home was less than five miles from the mall. And, when we had our first child, MOA provided endless hours of “entertainment”–we spent many Saturday and Sunday mornings walking around the mall with our son and daughter and drinking our coffees.
So, the 25th anniversary piqued my curiousity. I wonder what MOA had been up to on the social front? Historically, they’ve been an enveloper-pusher, especially back when people like Lisa Grimm and Bridget Jewell were helping out.
Turns out, MOA is doing some interesting things with its (relatively newly revamped) blog, 55425.
So, I sat down with Timothy Pate, digital project manager at MOA and talked about the blog and how MOA is using it to drive awareness and interest for the popular international destination.
First, when did you change from the former blog format to the new version? Why?
Tim: My first project was relaunching the 55425 blog. With the former blog, the content was almost strictly promotional–it just wasn’t very engaging and featured mostly deals and events. So, we had a great opportunity to redesign and go in with a fresh approach to content. We chose to focus on three verticals for content: Culture, Entertainment, and Style.
Why the name 55425?
Tim: It’s the zip code the mall resides in. And, it highlights the impact the mall has in our own backyard. The mall is so large and has so much to offer that it often times is compared to a small city, so we thought it would be fun way to symbolize the vast majority of topics one can read about in our blog
Who is the team in charge of managing the blog?
Tim: I’m the primary editor of the blog, but we have a number of employees that contribute articles to the blog on a regular basis. We actually have a lot of good writers on staff, but writing isn’t their primary job. We ask everyone from interns to VPs to contribute. In total, we have 16 writers and we ask them to contribute one post a month. We give them a lot of rope to develop stories. For example, Amy Struve is our entertainment editor. But, she’s also a huge sports fan, so she’s written stories about sports as well. One of our previous interns, Lisa, has been dying to write something around plus-size fashion so we gave her that opportunity.
What’s been your content strategy to date?
We try to organize our content around our major campaigns throughout the year (back to school, holiday, spring break, etc.). We try to integrate our posts with these major themes. On the other hand, we are pretty nimble, too. For example, we wrote this post around Pokemon stops at the mall last year–it’s maybe our most popular post so far.
How do you go about brainstorming content ideas?
The editor for each section of the blog holds their own brainstorm meetings–usually monthly. At the same time, we also hold a larger brainstorming with everyone involved once a month.
You also mentioned you share a “Blog Handbook” with authors before they contribute content–can you talk more about that?
The blog handbook simply introduces authors to the certain types of content we write about. It also touches on our voice, the MOA style guide, the process for requesting photos, and story ideas. Basically, it’s our reference menu for people who want to write for the blog. The 10-page handbook also includes a post template–title, subhead, how to link to stories, how to use WordPress.
What has worked so far, and what hasn’t?
Our more “in the moment” posts have worked well so far. Any posts that focus on food at the mall usually perform pretty well, too (like this recent post discussing chocolates at MOA).
On the other hand, the Q&A posts with celebrities that are visiting the mall have performed decent, but they just haven’t been worth the effort (and they require a lot of time, as you might imagine). Also, our “this month on Instagram” posts have been a lot of work, too. Not sure those have been worth the time either.
Then, we have one series we’re still evaluating: Our partnership with MSP Communications. We contracted with MSP to write one post a week for 25-weeks–25 stories approaching the lead up to our actual birthday (August 11). The idea? To get an outsider’s perspective and voice on the mall. So far, it’s worked pretty well, but we’ll explore guest posting more in the months ahead.
What’s been the one post that’s surprised you, in terms of audience reaction?
Our 25th anniversary stories–those talking about how people have connected with the mall over the years (like this post about people who have been married at MOA over the years)–surprised us. People have such an emotional and nostalgic connection with the mall. And, a lot of times, they want to share those memories on social media. We didn’t necessarily anticipate that.
How do you measure results? How often do you measure/share?
Traffic has increased month over month since we relaunched the blog two years ago. We also look at where traffic comes from. We’re an international destination, so what people from Germany and China are reading on the blog matters a lot to us. We also review how long people are staying on the blog.
Anything to add?
A big part of the purpose of the blog is to bring the human part of the mall to life. As has been widely reported, malls are dying. But we’re thriving! That’s because we’re more than just a mall–we’re a destination and a culmination of the best in retail, food, and entertainment.