Innovative social media campaign from Audubon takes birding online

The competition was fierce as virtual birders pursued animated orioles, puffins, cranes and more throughout the web in Audubon’s Birding the Net. In all, more than 9,500 participated in the ambitious social media campaign that stretched across Facebook, Twitter, and over 100 websites. The winners are now collecting their prizes, which include a trip for two to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions.

The game brought the thrill of the chase found in real-world birding to the Internet, challenging players to spot dozens of species between Oct. 14 and Nov. 7. Millions of web surfers observed virtual birds doing the same things that birds do outdoors; as animated birds flew across homepages, perched on mastheads, and flocked to birdhouses that hundreds of individuals and companies had installed on their websites and blogs. By clicking on the birds, players linked to the Audubon Facebook page to collect and trade “bird cards,” which featured recordings of birdsongs, bird facts, and video.

Jessica Harrison of Boston, Mass. was the first participant to identify all 34 birds, and as the grand prize winner will enjoy a voyage for two to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions. "I didn't start playing Birding the Net because I know a lot about birds or conservation. I just thought the graphics were phenomenal and it was a cool idea," said Harrison. "Now here I am downloading books about birds and the Galapagos! I can't wait to see it for myself, and am so grateful to Audubon and Lindblad for the opportunity."

“How amazing is it that the winner wasn't a birder -- and that now she is?" said Audubon President David Yarnold. "From the start, the goal of Birding the Net was to make birding cool – and to tempt virtual birders to take their interest outside."

Other winners will receive prizes such as Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich and downloads of the Audubon Birds – A Field Guide to North American Birds mobile app from Green Mountain Digital. Each of the 200 winners will also receive a one-year membership to Audubon.

In all, millions of web surfers saw birds online, and players “collected” more than 84,563 birds. Audubon’s Facebook Likes increased by 56 percent, and traffic to the nonprofit’s website skyrocketed by 87 percent during the campaign.

AdWeek called Birding the Net “elegant and light, charming, addictive and fun,” while Treehugger said: “Of course, catching birds and putting them into little cages isn't what this is about. The campaign is about getting more people interested in birding through a game that matters, as opposed to one that just wastes your time. Mafia Wars, anyone?”

And then there was the great feedback from players via Facebook and Twitter:

“I'm enjoying the opportunity to meet new like-minded folks and being exposed to new birding Web sites.”

“#birdingthenet has my 3 sons excited about birds. They watch the videos and read their profiles while collecting bird cards.”

“Just stepped outside for a break. Red-bellied woodpecker on tree. Mouse finger twitched. #birdingthenet”

“The #birdingthenet Whooping Crane inspired me to see the real thing at the @NationalZoo. A spectacular animal...amazing to see one so close.”

 Birding the Net gained traction thanks to the generosity of partnering websites — including AOL, Slate, and Discovery Channel — that donated 91 million media impressions, a value of more than $1.7 million. Lindblad Expeditions, Nikon, Canon, Woolrich and Green Mountain Digital donated more than $25,000 in prizes. And Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, creators of the campaign, generously waived all of its agency time for the seven months it took to develop and launch Birding the Net.

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