The Town of Front Royal is showcasing its “undiscovered gems” by working with social media influencers throughout the region and beyond.

Todd Jones, the town’s director of information technology, and other town staff have been working on drawing in visitors to the town, both from nearby towns and the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. area.

In conjunction with those efforts, the town hosted 10 social media influencers on the weekend of Oct. 10 to show them what Front Royal has to offer, and Jones said the returns have been great.

“We’ve gotten tons of support on social media,” Jones said. “What it comes down to is how does it translate into businesses and exposure. The exposure so far has been incredible.”

The group of out-of-town influencers came in on a Friday night, visited some local businesses, stayed overnight and then toured the town on a Saturday while splitting up to try out small businesses and local restaurants before returning home on a Sunday.

The goal was to provide the influencers with enough knowledge and information about the town and its attractions and businesses as possible so they could in turn relay that to their followers.

As of Monday, Jones said Front Royal had been featured in 183 Instagram stories and 40 Instagram posts by influencers, who total over 136,9000 followers. He also said they’ve since been featured in three blogs and have gained 144 new followers to the Discover Front Royal’s Instagram page. Additionally, two “highlights” on Instagram were filled to capacity with images, totaling over 200 Instagram “highlights, which are Instagram stories that stay permanently on your page rather than expire after 24 hours like a normal “story.”

Those figures were collected about a week after the influencers visited the town, and Jones said he expects the numbers to continue to grow.

Additionally, content is shared on other social media platforms such as Twitter, where blog posts can gain traction. One example is a story that was written on the town that was featured in Alexandria Living Magazine.

Posts typically link back to Discover Front Royal using the hashtag #DiscoverFrontRoyal, where anyone can see a collection of posts on various sites if you search for it.

The idea to host a group of influencers was born over the summer months in preparation for what is typically known as a peak season around the Shenandoah Valley.

It was spearheaded by the team at Strategic Solutions by Tricia, which is run by Tricia Hudson. Hudson’s company has been contracted to work with the town through December on promotions and marketing regiments.

“Her team kind of spearheaded the (influencer event) effort and they’ve done a great job communicating with businesses to make sure their voices are heard,” Jones said.

Those efforts include making sure an events calendar is maintained and promoted, in addition to other aspects of marketing.

The town also produces its own blogs and social media content on various platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and now TikTok, the popular video-sharing app.

Jones said the positivity around the town has been great to see in the midst of a global pandemic. He said little things like shutting down Main Street on the weekends to allow folks to take advantage of outdoor seating has gone a long way, but he’s credited the town’s business owners for their efforts more than anything.

“I had a business person recently relay back to me that it’s been their biggest year ever. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s been one of their best years,” he said. “We’d love to say that falls on the town, but we’ve got smart business people who learned how to adjust their business during difficult times. And those of us on the town staff are coming alongside them to do what we can to help with that.”

Hearing success stories like that around town, Jones said, has been uplifting to the community and helps others realize they, too, can be positive and keep their businesses going.

“A couple things have come together to create a successful environment for us. First, we’re ramping up social media. The other things that have come into play is that businesses are pivoting and finding ways to stay positive and open. They’re learning how to branch out from the norm of what they’ve done, and that’s attractive. And it’s leaf season, so it’s a perfect time to invite people into town,” Jones said. “People that have been in their homes working remotely for months now are looking for safe ways to get out. And Front Royal is the perfect place to come.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com