The Buzz: Heather Whaling Serves as Outback Social Media CorrespondentJanuary 1, 2012 7:00 am Melanie McIntyre
Excited about the Outback Bowl game on Monday? Then you should acquaint yourself with Heather Whaling.
Since Wednesday, Whaling, president of Columbus-based Geben Communication, has been serving as one of three social media correspondents chosen by the game’s sponsor, Outback Steakhouse.
“Outback held a national search, soliciting nominations through their Facebook page,” she said. “I submitted my name, not thinking I’d actually win. Then, I had to submit a one-paragraph description of how I’d help Outback connect with my online network.”
In it, she explained that one of her agency’s clients is the Columbus Marathon and that on race day her duties include providing real time updates from the course to share the marathon experience with online fans and followers− and she could use that background to deliver the Outback experience to her considerable social media network.
“Of course, I’m honored to be chosen,” she said. Being here with the Outback team, I’m getting special access and exclusive experiences, like going on the field prior to the game and watching the game from the pressbox. As a sports fan, I’m really excited for that part!”
There’s also a learning aspect.
“Outback’s social media team has been really generous and more than willing to answer questions about how they approach and manage social media,” she said. “Actually, if any CU readers want to ask the Outback team a question, they can leave a comment on my blog. The best five questions will receive a $45 Outback gift certificate and I’ll get the answers from Outback.”
During her stint in Tampa, she’s using Twitter, Instagram, Tout, and Facebook to share her experience online.
“This actually aligns with a shift that I think we’re going to see in social media in 2012,” she said. “Brands will try to find ways connect the ‘real world’ and ‘digital world’ by bridging the divide between their online and offline experiences. That’s exactly what I’m doing at the Outback Bowl: giving people who aren’t physically here a chance to experience the fun and festivities along with me.”
So far, she’s eaten lunch at the original Outback Steakhouse, attended an exclusive taste testing at the company’s research and development facility (where she tasted some existing menu items, as well as some in the testing phase), and attended Players Night at Splittsville.
“We still have beach day, a gala and the parade to attend, as well as the game, of course!” she said.
Whaling returns to Columbus after the game and if you happen to run into her, it could be worthwhile to introduce yourself.
“They’re giving me a stack of free Bloomin’ Onion coupons to hand out, so if you see my around town let me know and I’ll hook you up with a free appetizer!” she said.
For several years, Whaling has resided in German Village and with that comes what she calls “a bit of chain restaurant snobbery.”
“I always prefer a local place over chain food,” she continued. “However, after spending a few hours with Outback’s vp of R&D, I’m incredibly impressed with the thought and care that goes into each menu item. While I won’t be abandoning my local restaurants, I’ll be more open and receptive to eating at an Outback going forward.”
Her opinion shifted because Outback was so willing to throw back the proverbial curtain.
“Thanks to social media, all brands have the opportunity to offer a similar behind-the-scenes peak into their businesses,” she said. “You don’t have to be a huge company like Outback or offer an all-expenses-paid trip to connect with bloggers and online influencers. If small brands take the time to invest in social media, they too can influence opinions, change behaviors, and acquire new users/customers/clients.”