West Virginians — and everyone who loves West Virginia — I have a small but very important favor to ask: This month, take a few minutes to tell the world what it is you love about our state.
West Virginia's birthday is June 20 (birthday number 154, if you're counting). The West Virginia Division of Tourism is celebrating West Virginia’s birthday with a list of reasons West Virginia is #AlmostHeaven to us. For the two weeks leading up to the birthday, we'll post every day — on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — a reason the Mountain State is an amazing place to live and travel with the hashtag #AlmostHeaven.
The idea is to get out the word about what makes West Virginia special. And while our list will be a nice start, it isn't going to finish the job. So we need your help.
Starting Tuesday, get on your favorite social media sites and talk about West Virginia — loudly, proudly, and often. Whatever #AlmostHeaven means to you, share it with everyone you know. Post that great selfie in front of fog-covered mountaintops, or the one with the bass you caught last summer, or the family at a Mountaineer or Herd football game. Post all of them. And don't stop there. Overwhelm your friends and followers with West Virginia pride for the next two weeks.
Think of it as a competition. The person with the most and best #AlmostHeaven posts by June 20th is the one who loves West Virginia most of all. And that, dear reader, should be you. Not to mention that we’ll be giving away great West Virginia vacations to our favorite posts each day.
This is fun, but it's also serious business. West Virginia has an image problem. Those of us who love her know how marvelous she is. But much of the world is blinded by ugly stereotypes perpetuated by folks who've never set foot within our borders.
Those stereotypes have held us back for years. They drag down our tourism industry. They hinder us from recruiting new businesses. They deter talented people from moving here. All of this is enormously frustrating to those of us who want our state to prosper.
Today, though, social media gives all us a way to fight back. In modern America, social media networks are powerful shapers of public perception. In the tourism industry, for example, research shows people now decide where to vacation based on what others are saying on social media. It's a major factor in travel planning.
The upshot: Your #AlmostHeaven posts will do more than just convey your love for your state. They will grow our tourism industry. Most tangibly, they will create jobs for your fellow West Virginians – and maybe even you. If everyone who loves this state spends just a little bit of time during the next couple weeks posting, tweeting, Instagramming, liking, and sharing how great West Virginia is, the message will reach people across the country, even the world, to tell our story in an authentic, personal way. Your social posts will dramatically multiply the impact of our paid advertising.
So this year, give wild, wonderful West Virginia a birthday gift she can really use: the gift of grassroots marketing. Flex your social media muscle and let the rest of the world see the West Virginia you know. You can change minds and start breaking down stereotypes just by doing something you already do every day. Use #AlmostHeaven, and visit gotowv.com to see the very best posts and pics from your fellow West Virginians.
For more information and to download campaign graphics and photos, visit www.gotowv.com/almostheaven.
Ruby is West Virginia's tourism commissioner.