It’s not every day that you open your phone in the morning and laugh at a tweet from one of your city’s Twitter accounts. Discover Durham, however, is determined to make you do just that.
With about 25,400 followers and 12,800 tweets as of March 30, the Twitter account @DurhamNC, run by Discover Durham, has made a name for itself as the official visitor account of Durham. The main role of the account is to provide information about events in Durham and to promote business and leisure to those outside the city.
“With each tweet, post, guide and conversation, we share a bit of ourselves with visitors,” the Discover Durham website reads. “We’re the unapologetic, passionate advocates of all Durham has to offer.”
Beyond just information, their Twitter account regularly features funny comments and sarcastic observations.
When the daily high temperature was 72 degrees March 9, one tweet read, “When the weather is so nice you’re actually suspicious of it,” followed by a GIF of Steve Urkel from “Family Matters” making faces at the camera.
Other notable recent tweets include: “The sky orb has returned”; a list of North Carolina’s 14 seasons declaring that it was currently “Spring of Deception”; and a photo from the movie “Bull Durham” in response to ESPN’s tweet, “What’s a sports photo you’ll remember forever?”
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Who’s behind all these tweets? Meet Craig Carter, the social media manager for Discover Durham. Inspired by the boldness of Twitter accounts such as MoonPie, New Jersey and the Durham Bulls, he decided to add comedy to his own account’s feed.
“I’m envious of what they can get away with,” Carter wrote in an email of the other accounts. “But they’ve made it okay for brands and even quasi-governmental organizations like ourselves to be funny and have personality.”
The Discover Durham website states that it is “Durham’s marketing agency” and is “entrusted by state and local governments to lead the strategic economic and cultural development” of both North Carolina and Durham. Discover Durham is part of the Durham Tourism Development Authority, which was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly and is funded by visitors’ payment of tourism development taxes.
Carter wrote that being in isolation for a year was a factor in his decision to make his tweets more funny. The extended isolation made people, including himself, “start to unravel a little bit.”
“My recent tweets have reflected the idea that we’re starting to emerge from our hermit-esque lifestyles and trying to re-understand the world around us,” he wrote.
According to Carter, the @DurhamNC Twitter account has a “fairly robust content calendar” that is created weeks in advance for specific anticipated days, such as July 4. However, he does not schedule his own humorous tweets more than a couple days ahead, as 2020 was a lesson for many brands that “something momentous can happen at any moment.”
“You have to be ready to scrap your plan and decide to participate or put your phone down and walk away,” he wrote.
In terms of coming up with the tweets, Carter writes whatever pops into his head. Having a background in standup and improv, he wrote that he tries to “inject as much personality as possible” into his content, as people tend to pay more attention to what is funny.
“When you practice seeing the humor in things, you develop a comedic muscle memory,” Carter wrote. “Not all of it lands, but that’s okay. You can’t hit a home run every time.”
There are a few tweets Carter is most proud of. One is the “Can Opener fancam,” which features a video of multiple trucks damaged while trying to fit under a famous low bridge in Durham. Carter described the tweet as “a love letter to the quirkiness of Durham.”
He also loves a tweet about the North Carolina earthquake Aug. 9, 2020, which was modelled after the popular internet joke, “Hold my beer.” Carter wrote that he published this tweet from bed as soon as he woke up and saw the news, and it became one of the account’s highest-performing tweets, with 1.6k likes as of March 30.
Carter made sure to note that “humor should never dilute the message,” and a person writing a funny tweet should not sound completely out of touch with reality. His dedication to this balance between seriousness and comedy is seen in the account’s coverage of people, events, businesses and diversity in Durham, as well as entertainment.
“There’s the content that people keep coming back for,” Carter wrote. “It’s like going to see your favorite band. You appreciate their creativity and you want to see something you’ve never seen before. But you also want to see them play the hits. For us that’s amazing restaurants, lemurs, sunsets, and weather memes (among other things).”
Carter wrote that the unapologetic boldness of the account “reflects the personality of Durham.” He hopes that the account will remind people of why the Bull City is such a wonderful place.
“We try to tap into the pride most residents have—and hopefully that inspires them to invite their friends and family to visit Durham,” Carter wrote.
Carter also said that he is looking forward to when he can start tweeting around other people in-person and attending live events like festivals and large gatherings.
“The people are what make Durham special,” he wrote. “Hopefully I’ll be able to capture that energy again soon.”
Looking to the future of the account, Carter said that Discover Durham’s creative team of content producers has been “watching trends” and is “eager to try new things.” He hopes the account will continue to “reflect more forward-thinking practices—not just for the travel and tourism industry, but compared to all brands on social media.”