10 Questions with Fiona the baby hippo

What we learned about social media from a hippo and the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo has been blowing up Instagram thanks to a dedicated team of caretakers and social media mavens. Their account is filled with pictures of cute baby animals majestic exotic animals.

Most notably, Fiona the baby hippo, has taken the public’s heart with her sassy attitude and photogenic looks. We spoke to the social media team at the Cincinnati Zoo to learn how they made their zoo trending across social.

Day One strategist, Sway Benns, connected with Angela Hatke from the Cincinnati Zoo to learn more about how they think.

Fiona posing for her admiring fans. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

What does your social media team look like?

The Cincinnati Zoo’s social media team consists of three people and a videographer.

What’s your process for content creation? Who pitches in?

Cincinnati Zoo’s social media team gathers and shares content from every department at the zoo. That includes animals, events, educational programs and classes, horticulture, conservation news, scientific breakthroughs and everyday things going on around the Zoo. Since we can’t be everywhere at once, especially in the animal areas, we rely on staff members to let us know what’s happening in their departments and/or send us photos and videos that we can use.

How does your team determine which animals are featured on social media and when?

We try to feature a variety of animals from large mammals to insects! We feature content that is newsworthy or makes people want to visit, like special enrichment an animal receives or great images that our volunteer photographers have shared with us.

Fiona posing for a Facebook Live video with her handlers. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

Fiona was born six weeks early and her early-life prospects were precarious for some time. With those considerations in mind, what was the initial thought-process behind sharing her story?

The Cincinnati Zoo decided from day 1 that we needed to tell Fiona’s story and be transparent no matter the outcome. We wanted people to see our dedicated animal staff in action and show them the hard work that goes into caring for animals. We were open and honest in both the good times and the scarier times during Fiona’s journey.

When did you realize audiences were responding to Fiona in a unique way? How did that change your approach to your social media strategy?

We noticed early on that people were really standing behind Fiona and rooting for her. It surprises us more that they’re still talking about her! When we did a post mentioning that we were going to stop doing daily Fiona updates we got thousands of responses asking to continue them, so we did.

Fiona working on her swimming skills. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

What have you learned from the public’s reaction to Fiona’s social media presence?

I think that the public really wanted something to be inspired by and hope and root for. It’s more than an underdog story, she’s really connected with our followers. It also seems like people felt connected to Fiona and her care team, as they were able to root for her through the good and the bad. She also provides a bright spot in people’s day when there is so much negativity out there.

Your voice on social media is often really fun on Fiona posts. How does your audience’s interaction with content impact your social media captions?

We always try to keep our posts fun, but also educational. Fiona is personable and sassy in her photos so it’s easy to have fun captions. But we also sneak in educational & conservation-related posts throughout the day.

Does working with live animals require any special considerations or equipment?

I do have a waterproof case for my phone. We’ve also used a Go-Pro. Two of us have personal cameras that we bring to work to use. Our videographer also has rain gear for his equipment. We recently got a wireless mic set that can be used with a cell phone for when we do Facebook Live.

Fiona and her family. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo)

What’s something about Fiona audiences might not know?

Fiona feels like a slimy avocado. She is also trying to contact call back to her parents now and a member of her care team has heard her try twice — but apparently, she isn’t very good at it yet! The noise comes out a like a squeaky grunt.

What’s something about the Cincinnati Zoo team that audiences might not know?

Some members of the Cincinnati Zoo Marketing team were also able to help with the round the clock care of Fiona by recording her every move, watching her sleep, and putting lotion on her.

Special thanks to the Cincinnati Zoo. Follow them on Instagram for more.


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