The BronxZoosCobra IS Dead

Okay, not really. But even if the Bronx Zoo’s cobra isn’t actually dead, the buzz about her is.

If you work in the NYC area or read the news, chances are you’ve heard about of the escape and capture of the Bronx Zoo’s Cobra. If you have, it’s as likely that you’ve also heard her voice as @BronxZoosCobra when she slithered onto the social networks. Not only did the “snake who tweets” become a hot topic and easy news peg for major news sites such as The Wall Street Journal and NYTimes, but she sparked many a conversation about social media in our own circles, including raising the question of whether the person behind the reptile would make a good communications hire.

But is obtaining 240K Twitter followers in seven days a tell-tale sign of social media prowess? No, it’s not and here’s why:

Being witty is fun and engaging, I’ll give you that. What it’s not is sustainable. In order to stay relevant, strategies and tactics must  be used to accomplish specific goals. Examples of properly focused strategies run the gamut from something as complex as creating on-the-fly videos to engage with your followers à la Old Spice or as simple as holding a Twitter contest to increase your engagement. In the end, the voice behind the Cobra was just doing what everyone already knows (or should know) to do: be conversational, tap into relevant topics and engage. Tweeting isn’t brain surgery, folks.

When it’s all said and done, the voice behind @BronxZoosCobra got a lucky break because of good timing. But now that the real cobra is back in captivity, her time has run out. It’s only a matter of time before @BronxZoosCobra starts auditioning for reality TV shows along with the rest of the washed up starlets and one-hit wonders.

But this tail (pun intended) has a happy ending: the Bronx Zoo got free publicity and the chance to capitalize on the buzz, the person behind the @bronxzooscobra got their 15 minutes of fame and the rest of us got a few cheap chuckles for a few weeks.

However, here’s the real take-away that makes this billable time:

1) Just because you know how to type 140 characters doesn’t make you qualified for a salary + benefits gig at any organization.

Too many self-proclaimed “social media professionals” think that just because they open or manage a Twitter account makes them qualified to conduct a social media campaign for a brand. News flash: it’s not. Tweeting is easy. But marketing? Now that’s the real slippery stuff.  Before you claim to have digital expertise, be honest with yourself: Do you have an understanding of major communications platforms? Have you ever been involved in the creative thinking and strategic planning processes for a brand? Have you demonstrated problem solving skills? And the million dollar questi0n: Can you show it on paper?

2) If anything, the novel lesson here is not how to engage or get tons of followers, but rather how to take advantage of a situation when opportunity strikes.

In the case of @BronxZoosCobra, it was the escapee’s news hook. In reality, it really doesn’t take much skill to open a Twitter account. But the real genius? That lies with the Bronx Zoo’s marketing team. They let @BronxZoosCobra bask in the glow and do the heavy lifting for them while they sat back and waited. When the opportunity was right and the cobra was found, they struck by giving their actual audience – the people in the greater NYC area – the chance to name the celebrity serpent for continued buzz. A sly move which garnering more than 33,000 nominations. Not too shabby for a plain, old marketing team, eh?

Would YOU hire the person behind @BronxZoosCobra? Why or why not?

Mikinzie Stuart is a Midwesterner turned fast-walking New Yorker who works at Peppercom specializing in digital communications for B2B and B2C clients. When she’s not tweeting from @Mikinzie about social media, music and her future kitten, she enjoys exploring her new city in good company. You can read more of her stuff at, PR Geek Speak, her personal blog, and apparently win her heart with a good ol’ NYC bagel.

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  • http://prbreakfastclub.com Nathan Burgess (aka/fka PRCog)

    It’s worthwhile to remember and note, for anyone who might begin to compare 240K followers to a “mere” 33K nominations, that a follow is completely passive engagement.

    There’s no way to actually reach out the touch that consumer. A nomination of a name for the cobra, on the other hand, requires that the consumer put forth effort to reach the company (a far greater effort), and also comes with contact information and therefore a way to keep that consumer engaged.

    As a marketer we’d need to ask: which would you rather have – knowledge that 240K people looked at your brand once, or a way to personally reach 33K of them who have already demonstrated real interest? I think the answer’s pretty obvious.

  • http://twitter.com/JasMollica Jason Mollica

    Love the first point, Mikinzie, and I think that is one that most forget… just because you can type it doesn’t qualify you for a big gig. Strategic thinking comes into tweeting at times, especially if it is for an organization or brand. You can’t just spew stuff out there.
    The BronxZoosCobra was funny, but the person who started it? His 140 characters of fame are over.

    • Mikinzie Stuart

      Thanks for the comment, Jason. As you mentioned, strategic thinking comes into play even while tweeting. There’s much more that goes on behind each 140 characters: how many tweets a day, what time of day to tweet, how to engage with positive and negative replies, what topics to tweet about, how to spur engagement, etc. It’s fine to be willy-nilly with your own Twitter account and while I realize @BronxZoosCobra was technically its own Twitter account and not affiliated with the Bronx Zoo’s marketing efforts, the question being asked is based only on what we know of @BronxZoosCobra (that being limited to it’s tweets and “interviews”). IMHO, @BronxZoosCobra didn’t exhibit those strategic skills that go into managing a brand’s Twitter identity during its lifespan and therefore would not be a good Comms hire based only on its tweets alone. Of course, if he or she had a killer resume and managed successful Twitter campaigns in the past, that would be a different scenario entirely.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/steveolenski/ steveolenski

    Hi Mikinzie,

    Dont want to make a big deal out of this but I completely disagree with a lot of what you wrote… in particular this “the voice behind the Cobra was just doing what everyone already knows (or should know) to do: be conversational, tap into relevant topics and engage. Tweeting isn’t brain surgery, folks.”

    No, no, no… that’s the whole idea… everyone does NOT how to do “social media” in this case Twitter. Everyone does NOT know how to be conversational.

    And maybe I’m just caffeine-deficient, but are you contradicting yourself by saying on one hand, Tweeting isn’t brain surgery and Tweeting is easy and on the other hand saying “Just because you know how to type 140 characters doesn’t make you qualified…” ???

    If Twitter/Tweeting is as easy as you say, then yes, just because someone knows how to type 140 characters DOES make them qualified” does it not?

    I of course dont believe that and I’m sure you dont, either.

    There is obviously, you point out, much more to it than just Tweeting but as one who sees many a Tweet during the course of a given day, Tweeting is not easy for if it were so many people wouldn’t be doing it wrong.

    Great post for sure.. if nothing else it got me engaged :)

    Thanks!
    Steve O

    • http://prgeekspeak.com Mikinzie Stuart

      Thanks for your comment, Steve. You’re right: not everyone knows how to engage at a professional level i.e. for a client That’s the first point I was making — just because you have a Twitter account and send out a few tweets occasionally doesn’t necessarily mean you have the social media chops to gain employment.

      Tweeting is just a tool that communication pros keep in their toolbox. Merely knowing how to pick it up, hold it, use it at its most basic is not the same thing as being able to use it to craft a message.

      The second point I made was that the @BronxZoosCobra Twitter handle did nothing new or out of the ordinary in terms of engagement – it just got lucky with a popular news peg. There was no strategy behind what @bronxzooscobra did (besides “Be Topical” which PR Pros have been saying for decades) that I could recommend to a client.

      As far as the contradiction – sorry, I don’t see any at all. By saying, as you put it, on the one hand:

      * that tweeting isn’t brain surgery (i.e. that it’s not difficult) and
      * that “just because you know how to type 140 characters doesn’t make you qualified [for a job]” (i.e. that it’s not difficult (and you need more skills to gain employment))

      to me both statements convey that the act itself of tweeting itself is simple and that more, much more, is needed for a candidate to be a real asset to a company.

      Thanks again for your POV and glad you enjoyed reading the post.

  • http://twitter.com/cbaumgarten Carolyn Baumgarten

    I’d love to have a chat with the person behind @BronxZoosCobra, because frankly I think it’s genius. Capitalizing on a non-serious regional news story by turning it into a witty and sarcastic twitter account allegedly written by a snake? It’s great!

    People were captivated, they were laughing, but above all? They were engaged. Isn’t that what most PR hopes to do? I have to agree with what Steve says below. You say that “Tweeting isn’t brain surgery, folks”, which may be true for the thousands that only use Twitter to talk about what they ate for lunch that day. But effectively tweeting about a relevant issue, and garnering thousands of followers in just a few hours IS impressive and takes skill. Whoever the mysterious person behind @BronxZoosCobra is, they’ve realized how to be conversational, and have used the account in a strategic way. Whether or not that was the intention, it shows a natural knack for timing, humor, and facilitating engagement. This person may not be an ideal employee for every PR client, but they certainly have skills that most agencies are looking for.

    • http://prgeekspeak.com Mikinzie Stuart

      Thanks for your comment, Carolyn. However, we may have to disagree on this one: the @bronxzooscobra was not facilitating enagagment or conversation with its followers. If you run the TweetStats on the @BronxZoosCobra Twitter feed, you’ll see that it @-replied a grand total of two times in March (that’s 3.17%) to big names like NBC news coordespondent @peternbcnews and Hollywood director @Jon_Favreau and 14.29% of it’s tweets were RTs, the majority of them being of the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, Sesame Street, Bergdorfs, etc. To further prove my point, @BronxZoosCobra has zero @-replies in April and only 12% of its tweets were RTs, again to the likes of the US Army, Seth Meyers and Twitter. No focus, no strategy and definitely no engagement.

      As I mentioned in the article and my other comments, a lot more goes into building a brand in a digital space than opening a Twitter account and witty tweets. So no, @BronxZoosCobra did not display the skills that most agencies are looking for. “Being funny” can be a tactic (and even then, it depends on the client), but it’s not the end all and be all of what goes into representing a brand online. After all, look what “being funny” on Twitter did for Gilbert Gottfried: it cost him his job as the voice of Aflac. Little things like strategy, measurement, legal approval, etc tend to be a little more important.

      I’m curious to know, since you state they used the account in a strategic way — a) what do you think that strategy’s goal was (a strategy without a goal is called recess in my book) and b) how would you summarize such a strategy for a client? Mere popularity doesn’t get you very far — http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/whats-the-point-of-popular.html

  • http://www.ajlounyinjurylaw.com Ajlounyinjurylaw

    I agree with Carolyn, it was a great approach and completely captivating.

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  • http://twitter.com/alexetism alexetism

    Disagree with this article. I, along many others, continue reading the Bronx Zoo Cobra twitter page. The reason why she’s great is because she is genuinely funny and clever. Many people open parody accounts, but only the clever ones can keep the magic alive after a while.

    The person behind the Bronx Zoo Cobra SHOULD be hired. They are far more clever than the agency/person who does the official zoo’s twitter account at the moment.

  • MediaStudent

    Interesting. You make a comment “@BronxZoosCobra didn’t exhibit those strategic skills that go into
    managing a brand’s Twitter identity during its lifespan and therefore
    would not be a good Comms hire based only on its tweets alone. Of
    course, if he or she had a killer resume and managed successful Twitter
    campaigns in the past, that would be a different scenario entirely” but admit you know nothing about the snakes background. The cobra created a media buzz and garnished 250,000 followers in 6 days. The reports of the tweets went international. Legitimate news coverage was interrupted for reports on the snakes tweets. When was the last time a Coke campaign had that effect. I think from a PR standpoint, the cobra was extremely effective. Perhaps not according to the rules of conventional PR, but this is a brave new world where a rogue campaign is capable of overturning the PR giants. 
    Read more: The BronxZoosCobra IS Dead | PRBreakfastClub http://prbreakfastclub.com/2011/05/02/the-bronxzooscobra-is-dead/#ixzz1dKtcWDF6