Awesome Mitten: How 1 website gives Michigan a high 5

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If you’re even looking for a great example of how a website can celebrate and promote an entire region or state, you can point to AwesomeMitten.com. So with HighEdWeb Michigan (#hewebmi) coming up in a few short weeks, I wanted to delve into the site more and ask a few questions of Alex Beaton, who founded and leads the Awesome Mitten team.

1.) How did this site come about?
Alex Beaton

Alex Beaton

The Awesome Mitten was born when I moved back to Michigan after spending my first year post-college in Nashville. One of the reasons I moved back is that I felt so much was happening here. I saw the economy tank when I graduated, and while the unemployment rate wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I had hoped, people were doing things. The first month I was back, I attended TedxDetroit. I left the event feeling so inspired by these people who weren’t just sharing ideas, they were sharing actions. I went home that night, and bought the domain name AwesomeMitten.com with little or no idea what I was going to do with it. I set up social accounts immediately, and for the next few months I went through several different iterations of what The Awesome Mitten would be. Eventually, by a suggestion of someone I connected with on Twitter, it was decided that the first campaign would be called 365 Days of Awesome. We would feature one cool person, place, band, business, etc. in Michigan, every day for an entire year. The campaign launched on June 6, 2011 and things took off from there!

 
2) Where do the content/content ideas come from? 
Our content comes from a team of volunteer feature and contributing writers from around the state that are insanely enthusiastic about the state of Michigan! (We refer to them as “Team Awesome.”) I can’t even begin to express how amazing they are, and how The Awesome Mitten would cease to exist without them. We accept one-time submissions from contributing writers, or monthly columns. What does it take to be a part of Team Awesome? Send a pitch to our amazing Managing Content Editor, Erin Bernhard (erin@awesomemitten.com), with a few writing samples, and we’ll talk! Content ideas come from everywhere — writers pitch us with their ideas, and businesses and organizations are constantly letting us know what they are doing that is “awesome”! We welcome ideas through a variety of media (social media, email, etc), and encourage readers to let us know what is happening in their neck of the woods. (PS: We’re desperately seeking writers and ideas from the Flint, Midland and Bay City areas — our content from that area of the state is pretty meager.)
 
3) Many of us working in web and social media are trying to promote something, often on a more micro level. How does the Awesome Mitten team do such a great job of celebrating a whole state?
Thanks for thinking we do a great job! It definitely has its challenges. Like I said, we’re aware of some of the glaring holes in our coverage, and we’re doing our best to fill them. I think coming at it from such a broad angle as the entire state of Michigan has a lot of advantages, because we’re never lacking for content: There is always something going on somewhere. After two years, we’ve developed great contacts with people who keep us regularly updated on the happenings of their town or organization. We also go through phases; for example, in the summertime, we have double the content from Traverse City that we do during the winter months. Even though TC is a destination year-round, people REALLY want to read about it in the summer. Grand Rapids is another area where we have a lot of content from, and that is because that is where our largest readership is based. Now were they readers first, so we developed our content to GR — or did we have a lot of GR content, therefore attracting more West Michigan readers? I’m not sure. 
 
We really took a lot of flack in the beginning for not covering the UP (Upper Peninsula) very well, but quickly remedied that with a partnership with Things to Do in the UP. Jesse Land, founder of that site, reached out to me pretty early on, looking for ways for us to work together, and we’ve been promoting and supporting each other ever since. I think that is a crucial part of how The Awesome Mitten has reached where it is today: We want to work with other sites promoting Michigan, and other such sites supported us from day one. Occasionally, we run across people that are very competitive, and don’t want to work together, and while I can respect that, I don’t understand it. Our site is about promoting the great things that are happening in the state of Michigan, and the awesome things that Michiganders are doing; I want to share my experiences thus far, what worked and what didn’t. I want others to succeed, because by doing that, you’re helping make our state a little more awesome! But, I’m rambling. Bottom line: we are able to cover the whole state by partnering with awesome people and organizations!
 
4) Do you have any really awesome examples of successes or feedback with the site?
I think our greatest success, the one thing that really put us on the map, was “Mitten Gate.” Back in December 2011, Travel Wisconsin unveiled a logo that depicted their state as a mitten. *GASP* How dare they!? Naturally, when I happened upon this, I tweeted about it, and hilarity ensued. The Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive contacted me later that evening asking for quotes. The next day, (Dec. 7), the Associated Press picked it up, and I took the day off from my day job. The Awesome Mitten appeared in 400 online publications: everything from the Huffington Post, Gawker, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune even did an editorial on it. I was interviewed by several radio stations, including WGN Talk Radio out of Chicago. My little website went from 700 pageviews a day to 40,000 a day for a week straight. Pure Michigan jumped into the game, teaming up with Travel Wisconsin to determine what was “The Real Mitten State”. A website for voting was launched and a “mitten drive” began in both states to collect cold-weather clothing. It was insane. Almost a year later, on Aug. 29, 2012 (my birthday!), MLive ran another article detailing the debacle and how it won Pure Michigan a US Associate Travel Mercury Award. It was also estimated that the controversy earned $17 million in free media coverage. 
 
This past January, we ran a fun campaign to celebrate Michigan’s 176th Birthday. We kicked things off with a Bake Off where we encourage local bakeries to create a Michigan-themed dessert. We then asked our readers to vote on their favorite, and awarded the winning bakery a cash prize. We wrapped things up with “tweetups” that took place in seven cities around the state of Michigan: Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Metro Detroit, Traverse City, Marquette and Ann Arbor. We encouraged people to tweet their birthday wishes all day long using the hashtag #176YearsofAwesome. Overall, the campaign was picked up by several media outlets, and grew our social fan base by almost 20 percent. The campaign also won the public relations firm we worked with, Grand PR (a student-run organization from Grand Valley State University), a PRoof Award from the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America.
 
The Awesome Mitten is constantly evolving. Right now, we’re working on two programs to better engage our readers. One will focus on finding great resources, or experts, in different communities around the state, and the other will focus on bringing Michiganders who live out of state together. We’re not afraid to try something and fail (we’ve done that) — we want to do whatever is necessary to be a valuable resource for those looking for awesome things to do in the state of Michigan, and we want to do that in a fun, relateable way.

2 Comments

Filed under Web

2 responses to “Awesome Mitten: How 1 website gives Michigan a high 5

  1. Really great takeaways for promoting your cause, thank you both!

  2. Pingback: Interview: The Awesome Mitten - How 1 Website Gives Michigan a High 5 Alex Beaton

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