The North Carolina State Fair opens tomorrow and runs for the next 11 days. From deep fried candy bars and corndogs to the latest kid character giant stuffed animals, the Fair is an exciting time in Raleigh and for everyone attending.

Everyone has their Fair memories and stories. I have to state that the Fair grew on me since I did not grow up in NC. I moved here when I was 16 years old and was puzzled when my high school classmates were upset when the school did not have a “State Fair” day. My previous experience with the Alabama State Fair was not that great and prior to that I’m not sure if I had ever been to a state fair.

I can’t remember the first time I went. I think it was a few years later when I was attending NC State that I first went to the Fair. Looking back I’m amazed that it took me so long to go to the Fair. Now I get excited and enjoy taking my kids and sharing their future memories of going to the Fair.

This year I’m even more excited to go to the Fair due to the Fair’s social media presence over the past several months. The Fair is run by the State of North Carolina Dept of Agriculture and has a team of professionals to manage their marketing, promotions and communications and now social media. Some of their titles even have the word “Officer” in them which is way cool for a PR/Marketing geeks like me.

The social media team has done a brilliant job using Twitter to generate interest for the Fair. There have been contests, trivia, links to blog posts and other great chatter leading up to the Fair. Also this year the first Fair Triangle Tweetup will be held on Thursday Oct 22 from 7 to 9 pm. I even drove by the Fairgrounds last week to see how strong the Wi-Fi network was and was happy to see two strong network signals on my iPhone.

Other marketing efforts have included the Deep Fried Blog where staff members assumed pen names like Bearded Lady and Cotton Candy to personify the Fair experience online. Other social network sites include Flickr, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. I especially liked the deep fried food previews posted on YouTube the past few weeks, where the latest Deep Fried goodness is tested.

From a design standpoint I think the team hit a home run on their web site. The look and feel of the site has an old fashioned, feel to it to capture the history and heritage of this 150+ year event. The use of historical photos from the fair combined with the links to social media really worked well. The ragged edge brown paper and old wood barn background makes you feel like this is posted on the outside of a barn.  The Playbill font and antiquing of the social media logos complement the design and serve their purpose to draw attention.

From a content standpoint the site has all the info you need when attending the Fair and that’s no small tasks. The event has over 800,000 visitors each year and it seems like there are over 100 different events going on each day including livestock judging, concerts and tractor pulls!  If I had to manage an event like this I would probably go crazy about 15 minutes before it started.  That’s if I survived the planning and setup.  There are many things that go wrong or are unexpected when managing live events. I could probably have Ken Burns do a whole documentary on these stories alone over the years.

I plan on attending the Tweetup and will post about the event. Also I am working on interviewing some of the NC Dept of Agriculture staff that worked on the social media program after the fair is over to find out how well their planning and hard work paid off. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to see how it unfolds. If you’re going to the Tweetup and we have not met say hello and let’s connect!

Here’s my first Fair tip: if you have small children and want to avoid crowds, go first thing in the morning after you eat breakfast and get to the Fair by 9 am.  You can get in a good 4-5 hours before it gets really crowded and be home for an afternoon nap.

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.