The photo that started it all

"That photo, where I crashed that cute Minnesotan couple’s timer camera setup out at Lake Minnewanka, had upwards of 500 million hits online so the IT nerds here tell me. That many eyes towards Banff is great, even if it’s a photo with a rodent in it. If you search ‘photobomb squirrel’ on Twitter, there is still pretty active posting of the pic, and it opens up the door for me to harass new Twitter folk and maybe put this magnificent national park on their travel radar."

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Let This Crazy Squirrel Show You How To Tweet Funny—And Why Your Company Should

In which Fast Company talks to everyone's favorite photo-bombing varmint about his role as the comic crack-up behind Banff Lake Louise Tourism's crowd-pleasing tweets.

Yesterday, we wrote about how brands successfully leverage Twitter laughs to land new customers. Today, we're focusing on one furry, funny test case--the Banff Squirrel, who rose to fame on the back of a meme that went viral in 2009. The photo-bombing rodent is now the mascot of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, regularly tweeting funny stuff from his idyllic environs in the park to the delight of over 13,000 followers.

The Squirrel’s close friend and the Tourism board’s social media manager Jeff Mitchell kindly interpreted the Squirrel’s high-pitched squeaks/tweets for a fast, nutty (sorry) chat.

FAST COMPANY: How did you decide to go funny for your Twitter?
 
BANFF SQUIRREL: Well, no one would want to read a bunch of serious tweets from a rodent, but there is some science behind it. Being a proud Canadian, I think the longer winters and our innate inability to criticize anything makes us look for the funny in most things. Also, if you look at the highest-profile rodents out there; Chip and Dale, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Mickey Mouse, whatever Elmo is-they are all looking for laughs. Even Mighty Mouse and Ricki-Tikki-Tavi were hysterical, off camera. So I think there could be some natural selection at play. Rodents are evolving funnier, and that is going to be a real problem for exterminators in a few million years.
 
How do you decide when something is funny enough to tweet? 
 
Well, what is funny to me is often not--so I have a small group of critics that I pal around with, a consortium of opinionated animals with a nice balance of senses of humor. I’ve got a moose who will laugh at anything, especially if it involves a bodily function. Then there is the wolverine who hasn’t laughed in four years, thinks that I am a complete idiot, and only participates with us so he can once again talk about the grizzly bear he fought off in '92. In between are some assorted characters that weigh in on the tweets, like the fox (who is an intellectual snob and a grammar queen) and a grizzly who insists every joke be alliterative. They all think they decide on whether it is funny or not, but basically if the wolverine hates the tweet we send it out.
 
How much time do you send tweeting every day? Does it take more time to be funny?
 
It varies quite a bit. I like to stream an '80s jam radio station while I catch up on the Twitter, so the songs kind of dictate how much tweeting is done then and it’s level of funnitude. For example, it is difficult  to make inane observations about the wildlife in Banff if you are listening to Journey’s "Open Arms."

But then Chaka Khan or Men Without Hats  will come on and all you can think of are funny things, like couples in matching outfits or what it would’ve sounded like to hear Kate Middleton screaming profanities at William while she was in labour.
 
What kind of feedback have you received, good and bad?
 
I love the conversations with my Twitter chums, and as far as I know it has all mostly been good. You would have to be pretty mean to be hating on a  ground squirrel, no? I have made some famous friends but by far my biggest accomplishment is getting a tweeted poem from Canada’s legendary author, Margaret Atwood. I have gotten many nice shout-outs from some social media experts. Flattering, but then I am not sure what a social media expert is? What are those qualifications? I picture some expert just screaming at a mentee, ‘You call that a hashtag? Get out of my office before I puke!’
 
Hypothetical scenario: Banff has gotten so popular thanks to your efforts, that there's no more need to promote. Would you ever consider giving up your social media gig to retire with a lifetime supply of acorns?
 
That is quite the conundrum you have presented. What sort of guarantee is on this "lifetime supply" of acorns? I once got a "lifetime membership" at a gym, and now that gym’s location is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop where they throw me out if I try to do even some light stretching in it.

If Banff got popular enough that the tweets weren’t needed for the tourism bureau, I think I would still tweet about the same amount and with the same stupid jokes. This thing is addictive, and the worst part is that I actually really care about a lot of my Twitter friends, even though many of them I only know by a 1” x 1” photo they took 29 years ago. So, no, I couldn’t give it up. Not for all the cashews collected close to Connecticut (that was for the bear, btw).

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