Witty Snake on the Loose: Crisis Creatively Averted

It was early morning and I was on day seven (or eight) of a nine-day, 24-hour shoot. Leaving my ridiculously comfortable hotel bed in Tulare, CA, I threw on some clothes and walked downstairs to get myself breakfast before heading into the final moments of a grueling shoot.

Beyond the point of exhaustion, I made a waffle, poured a glass of OJ, and settled in to a chair near the CNN broadcast.

The ticker read, “Poisonous Snake on the Loose.”

Blearily aware of my surroundings, I smiled at the oddity of the news broadcast, and happily returned to smothering my waffle in syrup.

“MOM. I AM NEVER GOING TO THE ZOO AGAIN,” a pajama’d six-year-old girl near me exclaimed.

“Allison,” replied her mom calmly, “the cobra is in New York City. That’s nowhere near the zoo we visit.”

“Oh,” sweet Allison said as she processed exactly what this new twist meant for her future zoo attendance. “Well, I’m NEVER GOING TO NEW YORK CITY.”

“Okay sweetie,” sighed her mom. “Eat your breakfast.”

It was then, in my state of delirium that I realized a few things. First, this sweet little girl and I shared a name. Secondly, I was tired and this waffle was hitting the spot.

Thirdly, and more to the point, I began to think of the crisis communications plan necessary for this “zoo pas.” My obsession with strategic communications kicked into high gear and I began to follow the unfolding “crisis.”

It was within the next few hours (and countless articles later) that I stumbled across the Bronx Zoo’s Twitter. Nothing fancy here, in fact, there were just a few thousand followers. However, just one day later a new voice was attached to the zoo’s Twitter — The Bronx Zoo’s Cobra.

I clicked on the cobra’s account to see that there were already 11,000 followers. Not only that, but the snake was already entertaining the masses. The first tweet read, “I want to thank those animals from the movie “Madagascar.” They were a real inspiration.”

Brilliant.

The tweets that followed remained entertaining and jokey. Perfect for quelling any child’s “I’m NEVER GOING TO ____.” Perfect for avoiding the “How could this happen?” from hyperbolic reporters. This witty snake’s tweets were going to save the Bronx Zoo’s reputation from any potential patron fallout.

In fact, these tweets were going to affect the zoo’s public image positively.

Now, I know that there are a few popular creatures on Twitter (like Sockington, who has 1,482,735 followers or Fluffy with 14,516). However, did any of these other creatures have a story quite as unique as the Bronx Zoo Cobra? Did any of these other creatures instill a sense of doom in the heart of a six-year-old?

No, the Bronx Zoo’s Cobra was making a name for herself. Tweeting as a jester of sorts, the venomous snake was living the high life in the Big Apple, toying with the potential hyper-doom and gloom reporting from the cable news.

Within a few days of the cobra’s inaugural Tweet, her following exceeded 200,000, the New York Daily News and the Bronx Zoo launched a “Name the Cobra” campaign, and, oh, the sneaky snake was caught.

I wish I could tell you that the Twitter account and the Name the Snake promotion came from a crisis plan already in existence. Something tells me that they were born out of “let’s follow our motto of ‘connecting people to wild nature’” instead of “please refer to page 4 of our crisis communications plan.” Regardless, it turned a potential disaster into a bit of a pop culture game.

The innovative, clever thinking and dry tweets entertained this Allison. I’m sure if little Allison’s mom was a Twitterer, she, too, would find the snake’s tweets fun and witty. Little Allison may have voted to name the cobra, Mia, and would probably amend her “I’m never going to New York City” to “When can we visit the Bronx Zoo?” This once deadly threat to zoos and streets everywhere, became a cartoonish, humanized character, full of venom, yes, but also vim.

Hats off to the creative crews that personalized this slithery crisis before it was too late.

Mia, (@bronxzooscobra), I look forward to hearing the latest from your cage, and even more so, I look forward to visiting the Bronx Zoo someday. Your escape (and sadly, for you, return) has done a good deed for the zoo.

For the latest from Mia, please visit her Twitter. Mia will be making her debut at the Bronx Zoo this Saturday, April 9.

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