Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Help is just a #KC tweet away during All-Star Week.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Joe Cox

You can give Siri a short summer vacation during All-Star Week. Got a question? Just tweet #KC. Or ask @VisitKC. A dedicated group of Kansas Citians is standing by to answer.

Kansas City's first social-media command center is being set up to answer queries in real time during the five days of festivities. Need to know where to park? No problem. Looking for a hotel reservation? They know where you can sleep. Hungry? Here's your open-table data.

Joe Cox, the outgoing president of Social Media Club Kansas City and Barkley's director of social media, likens the command center's volunteers to old-school switchboard operators. The goal is to improve not just the All-Star Week experience but also the Kansas City experience.

"We are going to be the ears and mouthpiece for Kansas City," Cox says. "This is not about the All-Star Game. The Royals have that covered. This is about the experience coming in and visiting."

Social-media sultans Cox, Aaron Thacker and Matthew Staub took the lead in organizing the command center (a collaboration of Barkley, SMCKC, the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, H&R Block and Mayor Sly James' office) after James tweeted that he wanted to showcase the city's technical power base. The command center's home base is inside H&R Block's downtown Kansas City headquarters, which overlooks the fan events at KC Live in the Power & Light District.

Cox says 50 volunteers have signed up to work two-hour shifts, operating stations devoted to hospitality, transportation, general comments and more, while monitoring #KC, #ASG2012 and "Kansas City" through social media. At any time, there could be from 10 to 20 people working the command center, with numbers increasing as the July 10 game approaches.

"We just want to be all-hands-on-deck," Cox says. "I want Kansas City experts manning this, people who are from this city, know how to navigate it, know where the speed traps are and the shortcuts and everything, know how to hack the town."

The volunteers won't rely on their own knowledge alone. The command center has built a list of experts - foodies, sports fans, etc. - who have agreed to be just a phone call away. A street team is also ready to deploy, offering in-person help while functioning as the command center's eyes on the streets.

From the moment someone checks in at Kansas City International Airport on Foursquare or tweets about having All-Star Game tickets, the conversation begins. Anyone who has flown into KCI and tried to hire a taxi knows the challenges visitors face. Cox and the volunteers mean to alleviate that frustration with this virtual visitors' center, which has been modeled on how social media was used during the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

"We can reach out to them automatically and say, 'Hey, guys, thanks for visiting the town. If there's anything you need, hit us at #KC or follow us @VisitKC,' " he says. "They don't need to come to us. We can come to them, as long as they're letting us know where they are and that they're coming to the All-Star Game. And they will - that's something you want to socially brag about, you want to tell people where you're at."

From there, the conversation can evolve.

"The game is only part of your trip into Kansas City," Cox says. "This is a great way to improve those people's experience online."
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