‘Social media gone bad:' How the Internet played a role in Bikefest 2014 and the event’s future

A video on YouTube scrolls the words “In a world where -----s can’t do ---- without being arrested, one city agrees to let them do whatever the hell they want for one weekend.”

The weekend: Memorial Day. The city: Myrtle Beach.

The video, with more than 156,000 views on YouTube and published by online personality Tre Hood, was launched before the deadly Memorial Day Bikefest this year. Though no one has pointed to the video as the reason for the shootings or the group fighting before the shootings, it’s that type of social media officials are grappling with as they try to use the clout of social media to promote a positive image for the Grand Strand.

“Memorial Day Bikefest and surrounding activities are a large, unorganized, organic event that are widely promoted by social media,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “In fact, I would go as far to say that Bikefest and surrounding activities are examples of social media gone bad with the message that you can come to the Myrtle Beach area and you can do whatever you want. That message has to change.”

Dean said countering the unorganized social media campaign, which has thus far included videos of the aftermath of the shootings, can be a difficult task to address.

“There’s not one single entity running an advertising campaign promoting this stuff,” Dean said. “In fact, what we know from history is that the promotion of Bikefest activities is mostly viral based on previous events. We know that’s a very dangerous promotional tactic that only hurts the Grand Strand.”

Social media has exploded in recent years through companies like Facebook, which went from 1 million users in 2004 to 350 million users in 2009 and now hosts 1.15 billion users, according to sociallystacked.com, a subsidiary of ShortStack, a social media engagement company.

As for Google, which owns YouTube, there were 400 million reported users in 2011, and that number now exceeds 1 billion, according to the sociallystacked.com.

Videos and their images

The videos, which have been bouncing across the internet since the end-of-May shooting, include a clear shot of a large group of people who helped contribute to the mid-afternoon shut down of Ocean Boulevard at 500 North as they listen to music from a car’s loudspeaker. There is one where pops of gun shots are heard after a mob of people engage in a fight. Another video shows two covered bodies laying on the second floor balcony of an area hotel as police aim their guns at two men with their hands up.

Finally, there’s a video of a man’s body being carried to the back of a car as those nearby wanted to rush him to a hospital after being shot.

“Much of the promotion surrounding this activity, particularly after the 2014 event is both disgraceful and distasteful,” Dean said. “We’ve had literally no success to date in persuading those who seek only to publicize this out-of-control event.We would like to have the videos and the unflattering publicity removed, the fact is that some of it is real and, sadly, pretty accurate. Those who promote terrible activities that occur and tragic occurrences from Memorial Day 2014 aren’t eager to work with us.”

Tre Hood, who has said he made the video for his YouTube channel “ItsHoodTV,” did not respond to The Sun News’ request for comment.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said he had not seen any of the videos, but he’s heard of them. Evans has stood up for the Bikefest, refusing to cancel it, saying the majority of visitors are law-abiding citizens.

“Unfortunately there’s not a lot that we can do or anybody can do about those,” Evans said of the online videos. “We just actually maybe have to create a website of our own to let them know if you think you’re coming down here to break laws on the Grand Strand, we’re not having it and you will pay the price.”

Dean agrees, which is why the chamber has pledged up to $4 million for salaries and lodging of added law enforcement. He hopes further actions include establishing a plan of action that ensures our residents and visitors are safe.

“I don’t know if we’ve been given that role [of conveying the safety message] or just assumed that role, but we believe that it’s going to be very important that we proactively and aggressively convey the message that if you’re coming here for Memorial Day weekend 2015, we expect you to obey our laws,” Dean said. “If so, you’re welcome. If you’re coming here with the expectation that you don’t have to obey our laws, we just assume you stay home or go somewhere else.”

Dean said the chamber will combat those who rile up visitors with messages of a lawless weekend along the Grand Strand with messages of stricter law enforcement on social media.

“Plans are not yet finalized but we anticipate using digital promotion, social media messaging, [the chamber’s] online videos and media publicity to target likely attendees with a clear message of what to expect next year, especially with regards to changes in laws and ordinances,” Dean said. “We use these same tactics in our core promotional strategy throughout the year, so this is not a new approach but we intend to deliver a message that will specifically discourage lawlessness.

“Social media is the main promotional tool for Bikefest and surrounding activities, and we anticipate to use social media to convey a different message,” he said. “I can message safety a lot easier than I can message murder and mayhem. For us, going out and telling people that we have a problem and we’re putting in a new plan to solve that problem is a very positive message for the millions of visitors who come here and simply want to enjoy a safe, welcoming vacation.”

Dean said the chamber is not aiming its message at those who are “afraid to come here now.”

“We have heard from many visitors who vow never to return until we can ensure their safety, and that’s perfectly understandable,” Dean said. “We look forward to the day when we can persuade those lost customers to return, but the first priority must be to assist local governments and law enforcement by promoting the changes that will be made in 2015.”

Hire a specialist?

Rich Harrill is the acting director and research professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. He is the author of three volumes of “Guide to Best Practices in Tourism and Destination Management” as well as “Fundamentals of Destination Management and Marketing.”

Harrill said Myrtle Beach is a worldwide destination, so a government entity or organization should step up and hire a social media expert to handle reputation management, whether it’s monitoring online chatter after a major storm or engaging tourists considering a visit to the Grand Strand after an unusual crime weekend like Memorial Day 2014.

He said the specialist would “monitor, maintain and manage images and messages about Myrtle Beach.

“It’s just going to go round and round until we know for sure who will assume that responsibility,” Harrill said.

Dean said although the chamber monitors online chatter and engages potential visitors on a more regular basis than before, he thinks it may be too early to take the leap to hire a social media specialist.

“If we sense the story continues to be a distraction and continues to attract additional unfavorable attention to our market, we may consider strategic advertising or employing additional resources,” Dean said. “But for now, the damage is done and the extent of that damage is somewhat contained.”

“Our primary focus now is to re-enforce the positive, welcoming message that people have come to expect from Myrtle Beach the rest of the year.”

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