The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) had just hired a new director of public affairs, social media expert Jon Minners, and was seeking to expand its visibility in the community. The department thought it would be hard to develop social media channels for its target market, because "no one finds seniors sexy."
Minners thought differently. Coming from a newspaper background, he knew three things on the front page sold community papers: babies, puppies and older people. With that in mind, he began developing the DFTA's social media channels.
Around that time, the DFTA had also hired Richard Henry, a Title V worker and former photographer, who was a senior citizen looking to re-enter the workforce. Henry was quickly assigned to visit senior centers and take high-quality photos of people and events for rich user-generated content to share on social media.
Henry's images were the opposite of what one might expect from a senior center. They made it clear that you don't have to look or feel old to go there. With Henry's photographs as the centerpiece, a marketing campaign was born. They called it Stylin' Seniors.
The photos would predominantly be featured on Facebook, but would also be the catalyst for the launch of DFTA Instagram and Tumblr channels, because some of the campaign's blog posts were long and needed a place to live outside of Facebook.
But the branding effort needed something more. The DFTA took note of the wildly successful Humans of New York series by Brandon Stanton, which profiles the personalities and daily lives of New Yorkers. Minners thought it would be great to have a writer go with Henry to capture stories from the seniors, so Gail Evans began accompanying him to write short blog posts to go with some of the photos.
The photos, stories and personalities would receive hundreds to thousands of social shares and comments, generating publicity for the department. In fact, Stylin' Seniors would end up getting more high-profile coverage from media outlets like CNN, Upworthy and The Observer, than many of the DFTA's more serious issues, such as elder abuse, caretaker rights and poverty.
But the Stylin' Seniors stories worked to highlight those problems, too, by shining a new spotlight on seniors for a casual audience made up of people who had never thought to help them before. The series morphed into an opportunity to combat ageism and highlight the rich vibrant lives of New York City's elderly population. In an era where seniors aren't sexy unless they're the victims of cuts in funding or services, Stylin' Seniors became a new tool for promoting the DFTA to the press.
What made Stylin' Seniors so successful?
Three factors contributed to the success of the Stylin' Seniors campaign: It was a team effort, it involved social engagement and it feature compelling content that was updated regularly.
Conception and execution contributed equally to making Stylin' Seniors a successful statewide campaign. It took a real team effort to complete the task. Minners built a strategy around the strength of his team and their talents — Henry's photography and Evans' writing. In addition, the project would have never gotten off the ground without buy-in from chief stakeholders at the department.
Social media campaigns won't succeed without engagement. The DFTA's stories about New York City seniors touched Facebook users all over the world. The tipping point approached when New York City's main government social media administrators started taking notice of the series and began sharing the photos on their own feeds. Soon, Stylin' Seniors was reaching an immense following every Wednesday.
Keeping things fresh
To keep a social media campaign going requires a consistent supply of fresh, compelling, user-generated content. Minners and his team provided compelling content for the remainder of each week by focusing on senior issues, DFTA-related events and news coverage of aging matters, and by offering photos of DFTA personnel in action. The success of Stylin' Seniors would trickle down throughout the week, giving users a complete picture of what it was like to age in New York City.