I just spent four days at the Social Media Symposium for Tourism in Huntsville, AL. Four days with some of the world’s brightest minds in social media and tourism. Four days of meeting fellow colleagues in the tourism industry. Four days of Huntsville Hospitality - and I only learned one thing.
Normally when I go to conferences, I aim to walk away with 3-5 new ideas that I can implement in my or my co-worker’s daily performance, but not this time. This time I came with one thing, and here it is…
Brands need to give up control and give it to their communities.
As a marketer by day, I can attest to the fact that we as brands no longer own our brand identity. Despite all the research we do as a destination, our visitors are what define us as a destination. Our brand is no longer what we’ve manufactured behind our boardroom doors, but it is now what the visitor has either heard about us or experienced with us, no more no less.
While relinquishing control of the brand can be scary, allowing visitors (fans) to control your brand actually arms you with a large sales force. A sales force that you don’t have to pay. A sales force that works nights and weekends. A sales force that is honest and shares insight into aspects of your brand that you haven’t even thought of. A sales force that is viewed as more reliable than you - the brand itself.
So, while I walked with one thing, it was a big one thing. I’m going to challenge myself to develop marketing concepts that put our visitors in control of our destination, and then we as the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) move from marketing our destination to managing our destination.
Here’s to the challenge!
Right on time to kick-off 2013, I made a list of 13 things that I think destinations need to be prepared for. DISCLAIMER: These are not sure-fire predictions. Think of these more as tiny morsels of information to keep in your brain.
1. The evolving role of communications/marketing staff. Press releases, story pitches and travel writers are no longer the main focus of marketing communications departments. Now we’ve got social media, website management, in-house graphic design and creative direction, just to name a few, that our communications departments are responsible for. In this ever-changing media world look for more staff members to become chameleons.
2. Consumer confidence increase. By all reports I’m reading, everyone is predicting that 2013 could be a record travel year. Consumers are feeling more confident now, and are willing to make that trip. Whether that trip is out of town or a staycation, the good thing here, is that they are spending money again – money that you want spent in your destination.
3. Government meetings decrease. Despite other market segments of travel seeing a rise, the government market segment is heavily scrutinized for its spending. Expect to see lesser government meetings in your neck of the woods. This now opens the door for you to pursue another market segment that you may have been neglecting.
4. Mobile takes over the travel experience. If you can remember one thing, it’s this, “Mobile is the needle. Social is the thread.” Our lives, in particular our travel experiences, are woven together by the use of social media, and mobile is the tool that starts and ends the process. Mobile usage is on the rise, and will continue to be so in 2013.
5. Your website is your life and blood. How many times are we going to experience the wrath of Edgerank on Facebook, privacy setting changes or the complete shutdown of a social network site to understand that we don’t own that land. Don’t allow outside networks to influence your marketing success - it’s only rented property. Build up the assets that you do own, and that is your website.
6. iPads are the new black. We live in a time-strapped society, where our sales people only have a small window to influence a planner or tour operator to book the destination. iPads have breathed new life into sales presentations, that don’t require Wi-Fi, plugs or a screen. Make sure you’ve got your sales materials loaded on the iPads in an easy-to-use interface for your staff so that they can effectively sell the destination.
7. Get personal with your visitors. In the marketing world, we are so inundated with mass communications, that no one takes the time to write us a personal note. Ditch the mass e-blasts and try one-on-one communications again – we’ve seen great success in it, with the ability to connect to our potential visitors in a more personal way.
8. RTOs are worth a shot. Regional Tourism Organizations are a great way to bring a collective group of people together to promote a niche market that everyone can benefit from. Look around and see what you share with other communities within your state/region and develop a plan to capitalize on that experience so that you can dominate that segment of the market.
9. DMOs need to be the expert. While we are the tourism expert for our respective destinations, DMOs need to go one step further, and become the expert in particular fields. Our hospitality partners need our support and providing them with expertise in terms of marketing, planning or some other business aspect will result a team-wide effort to win business for the destination.
10. Don’t create, curate. Social media has opened the door to allow anyone to become a content creator, so odds are, what destinations want to create someone else has already beaten you to it. Just because DMOs are the authority on the destination, doesn’t make them the authority on destination content. Some of the best stories are told by those who have no affiliation to the DMO, so reach out to those people and use what they have instead of reinventing the wheel.
11. Local bloggers are the new media. If your local bloggers are not on your media list, then you are missing the boat. Bloggers are just as credible, if not more credible, than your traditional journalists nowadays. And given the importance of reach and social media, bloggers have wide networks that allow for your message to be seen by more than just the local media.
12. Direct mail is not a bad thing. Snail mail is back on the rise I tell ya! Because of the increased number of digital communications options consumers have a hard time sifting through which emails to read and delete. Take the time and craft a direct mail campaign that allows the end user to touch and interact with your message for your destination. Go one step further and make it personal, and I guarantee you it’ll be a great sales lead.
13. Niche can make you rich. Every destination has a story, and every destination has something unique. A niche marketing strategy is specific to one product. As the DMO, your goal is to uncover that one thing and market the hell out of it. In turn, that niche market can lead you to rich content that makes you a “top places to visit”.
Are any of these things are your list to do for 2013?
One thing I love about my job, is that I get to do what I love everyday in an industry that is ever-changing. I love marketing, period. I also love to observe situations and provide tips on how to turn problems into solutions. All businesses have problems…especially when it comes to social media, and here are three mistakes that I see businesses making on social media:
1. Not knowing your story. Every business has a story, and every business has a customer. Know who you are and who you are for. Knowing your story goes hand-in-hand with your social strategy and your plan to get your name out to the world. Blanketing the masses is very expensive, so it’s vital that you know how to tell your story in such a way that people are compelled to listen, share and react.
2. Hogging the conversation. No one wants to be in a one-sided conversation. The best businesses are those that can get people talking about them, so they don’t have to do it themselves. The greatest compliment a business can get is to have someone refer another potential customer to them. Arm your social fans and followers with content that is share-able so you don’t have to do the heavy-lifting.
3. Not responding in a timely manner. I am blown away at the amount of comments and responses that businesses ignore on their social networks. All comments, both positive and negative, should be taken seriously – after all, they lead to further conversations. And conversations lead to relationships, and relationships lead to conversions…THE ULTIMATE GOAL!
The good thing about social media, is that no one is perfect at it - there are just others who are doing it better. Think about what you are doing wrong, and then come up with a plan to fix it. All of us who have done great things, have fixed a problem.
How are you gauging your brand presence on social media? I’m not talking about the likes, followers, fans, etc, but more about your actions on social media – actions that are broad enough for us to understand, but yet narrow enough for us to focus on.
Let’s look at a pyramid real quick. Pyramids are triangular in shape, with sides that converge to a single point at the top, with the majority of the weight at the base, which is the foundation. Strong foundations are the main reason why pyramids are still standing today, and have lasted since ancient civilization.
We can take this same pyramid, and use it as an analogy for social media. There are three action levels in the social media pyramid for brands, and quite frankly there are three social networks that align perfectly with each of these strategies. While some of us are at different levels, we should all strive to be doing all three – to get us to the top.
LEVEL 1 = INFORMATION.
This is your base, and probably the greatest strength of social media. Information is key, right? We already know what a simple internet search will provide us with, but social media is now giving us that same information without having to search for it. We can open up any number of social networks now and get breaking news, current affairs and other updates. Consumers are spending so much time on social networks that brands need to understand the importance of sharing information as opposed to waiting for a consumer to search for it. So at a minimum, you should be sharing information.
BEST TOOL: Facebook
LEVEL 2 = CONVERSATION.
What brands like the most about social media is using it as a way to converse with consumers – and by all means, they are correct. It’s one thing for you to share information, but it’s another thing for you to have conversation. At level two is where most brands fail, as they forget how to communicate with people. How many times do brands forget to respond to comments – both positive and negative? That is a killer. Conversations lead to prospects, prospects lead to purchases, and purchases make them customers. I always tell people to follow the 80:20 rule, 80 percent communication, 20 percent information. If you follow it, it forces you to have conversation.
BEST TOOL: Twitter
LEVEL 3 = INSPIRATION.
Now we are at the top, and this is the newest phase of social media – one that is taking off rather quickly. If you’ve figured out the art of sharing information, and mastered the craft of conversation, then inspiration is where you can get consumers to make that purchase. Social purchases are still not widely adopted, as consumers still make that final purchase in the store or at another time on an e-commerce website. But, I believe those times are changing with the rapid adoption of sites like Pinterest and Gentlemint that are built around inspiration – which in turn can easily link to a transaction page on your website. The group-buying sites Groupon and Living Social are good at this, and pretty soon brands will figure out a way to do it too.
BEST TOOL: Pinterest
Where are you at in the pyramid of social media?
In my line of work, I am fortunate enough to travel all over the U.S., and with that luxury, I am always looking for new ways to enhance my travel experiences. One of the ways I like to do that is through apps, whether they be on my iPad or my iPhone. Seeing as though I am in the travel industry and I am a marketer, this falls right into my alley. And since I like to share stuff, thought I’d share these with you. Here are four travel apps that I use frequently, and urge you to download and use on your next trip or vacation:
Taxi Magic (https://taximagic.com/)
When I am out traveling, I don’t always feel 100% comfortable catching public transportation in some cities, so I take a taxi. But nothing is more burdensome, than finishing a meal or event somewhere, and then having to walk and find a taxi. In comes Taxi Magic, which will bring the taxi to you. It’s not available everywhere yet, only in your bigger cities. However, if they don’t have the electronic booking system available, they’ll publish the phone number of the local taxi company for you to call yourself. So back to the app – I used it in Seattle last month, and here’s how it works: (1) Enter in your pick-up location, of which you can ask them to come now or pick you up later. (2) It will then tell you where the taxi is coming from, who the driver is and provide you with a Google map so you can track the taxi’s progress. (3) You can pay in advance or when you get dropped off (4) It will give you an e-receipt for all you “go green” people and (5) you never have to walk anywhere.
Gate Guru (http://gateguruapp.com/)
I refer to Gate Guru as the Foursquare of airports. It offers check-in capabilities to where you can check-in to airports and gates. But that’s not the real benefit. Gate Guru has a comprehensive list of all of the airport amenities in each gate, sortable by shops, food and services. So now when you’re in the airport and trying to find something to eat, which is what I use it for, Gate Guru will tell you what food options are in which gate for any airport that you are in. How’s that for customer service?!?
Flex-Fuel Station Locator (iPhone and Android) My truck runs on flex-fuel, so it’s cheaper that gas…but the problem lies in the fact that there are not many flex-fuel stations around. This app lists all of the flex-fuel stations across the U.S. and I can sort by finding the closest ones to me when I’m traveling, and I can plan my stops accordingly. The list also includes prices at each station, so I can choose the best, and the app integrates with Google maps to provide me with turn-by-turn directions.
Yelp (http://www.yelp.com) Most people are already using Yelp and other food locations services, but what I love about Yelp, is the ability to make reservations for where you want to eat. If you’re the type of person who likes to plan their meals, then this is perfect for you. How many times have you been at a conference starving, and all you could think about was food? Well, Yelp will occupy your time with photos of food from the various establishments, and allow you to make reservations, thus cutting down on your waiting time – which is key to me, because you never know how crowded places are when you are not a local.
What other apps are out there that you are using for travel, I’m always open to try to something new.
We’re two months into the new year, and many of us are two months into our social media strategies, or we are two months into planning our social media strategies. Whatever side you are working on, I’ve got 12 tips that may help you in changing, organizing and planning your social media strategies. I like to call it my “12 for 12” plan, 12 things you can do to improve your social media in 2012.
DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY. If you or your company are in the social space, and do not have a social media policy, you are setting yourself and your brand up for a whole heap of trouble. Your policy should provide guidelines on how to use the various social media networks, how to interact on these networks and address the use of what you should share on these networks. The policy protects you and anyone else who uses social media on your brand’s behalf.
DO NOT LINK FACEBOOK TO TWITTER. I see many people who make the mistake of linking what they share on Facebook to Twitter, or vice versa. While both of these communities are the most popular, the audiences are totally different, the way you interact on these sites is totally different, so your messaging should be totally different. The activity stream on Twitter is very active, and the average tweet lasts about 30 seconds. Utilize shorter and concise messages here, and save your richer content for Facebook.
START USING FACEBOOK INSIGHTS. Most people have heard of Facebook Insights, but most of us are not using it right. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, and it is FREE. Use the insights to gain an understanding of the engagement of your posts to see what works and what doesn’t work, and adjust your strategies accordingly.
DO NOT TWEET LONGER THAN 140 CHARACTERS. Twitter has a limit of 140 characters for a reason…don’t go beyond that. Matter of fact, try and keep your tweets to about 100 characters if you can. This will allow for someone to share your tweets with something more than the normal RT. Nothing drives me more crazy than to see the that “tl” at the end of a tweet, I never click on that link to finish reading a tweet.
DEVELOP A CONTENT SCHEDULE. Ever been sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs wondering about what earth-shattering news you can share to drive up likes or RTs? STOP DOING THAT! Take some time and plan out a content schedule. Look at three months out and break it down month by month, then week by week and then day by day. This schedule will allow you to post relevant content and keep you from wasting time trying to find irrelevant things to post.
HIRE A COMMUNITY MANAGER. If your brand is really struggling on tackling social media, then you should explore hiring a community manager. Having a knowledgeable person to take the lead on the social media efforts for your brand is pivotal to its success. Don’t put the fate of your brand in the hands of the IT department or an intern.
DEVELOP A SOCIAL MEDIA TEAM. No one person can do it all. Create a social media team from colleagues across various departments. The social media team can help “divide and conquer” on various tasks to implement in the social media plan. This type of team will also aid in the company buy-in process to using social media.
START A BLOG. Because of the popularity of Facebook and Twitter and other social media networks, blogging can sometimes take a back seat. If you don’t have one, develop a blog. It will allow you to develop some very rich content, while also creating web traffic for your brand website and social media sites. Your blog allows for long-form content that cannot be expressed correctly on social media sites.
PROVE THE ROI TO MANAGEMENT. Everybody wants to know what the ROI is on social media. And my answer is always the same, “I don’t know”. What I do know is that if we’ve got a social presence, then we’ve got followers/fans that represent potential buyers. If I engage with them, and get them to view my content and drive them to my website, odds are, I have a shot at making a conversion. Management loves e-mail, but probably doesn’t question its ROI. Social media should be viewed the same way, as they are both electronic messages that give content and provide links back to your website. What’s the ROI on that e-mail you sent out last month?
TIE IN YOUR OFFLINE MARKETING EFFORTS. Bridging your online and offline marketing efforts is essential to the success of any overall marketing campaign. It extends the life of your message and provides other avenues in which to share content and drive web traffic. Use your social sites to deliver behind-the-scenes content as an extension of your print, radio or TV advertising.
STAY RELEVANT AND ON TOPIC. Nothing is more of a turn-off than when the brand or person you are following drifts on topic and doesn’t focus on the core message. I’m not saying that you cannot talk about current affairs, but find a way to tie them back into your brand so that your followers are consistently hit with your message.
DON’T BE EVERYWHERE. New social media sites are popping up all the time, but just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you need to go sign-up. When new sites arise, sign-up with a dummy account and test it out before you put your brand on there. If the new site doesn’t bring any additional value to your brand that your other sites are already delivering, then don’t wast your time.
We are now in the times where the social space has taken over our daily lives, everybody is doing it! But not all of us are doing it right. Now before you read any further, I am no social media guru, I simply like to share my honest view and opinions on the subject.
So back to what I was saying – I see many companies, organizations and people not utilizing their social spaces effectively. Let’s talk about these athletes for a second. I’m a huge sports fan, but I am blown away by the amount of information that athletes wish to share on their social pages. Taking videos of themselves saying inappropriate things or tweeting out “secret” or proprietary information? Where Dey Do Dat At? Most people are quick to blame Facebook, Twitter or any other social site for the downfall, but I don’t think that’s the issue. People have been doing and saying dumb things for years; however, our mediums have changed and expanded across the years, thus making it easier and more accessible to publish information.
So to answer the question, what is more important, the “social” or the “media”?
Well, my profound answer is, they are both equal. Some people may say one is bigger than the other, but I say they have to live together. I think everyone knows what it means to be social, although most of us don’t use it correctly in our social media plans and strategies. I think we tend to downplay the word media and not fully understand its importance. I count all media, i.e. TV, radio, print, social networking, etc. as equals. Now granted each of these forms has a different reach, but they are all still forms of media available to the public. Treat your social media pages just as you would an advertisement and/or news interview. If you wouldn’t put it in an advertisement or say it in an interview, then don’t publish it to the world.
So I’m in on vacation this week in Destin, FL, experiencing sunshine, the beach, the family and a little sunburn. One of my biggest joys about vacation and traveling, is getting out and exploring my surroundings. So when I was looking for places to eat and things to do, I ditched the visitors guide, and went straight to Foursquare!
Because I work in marketing at a tourism organization, my goal of introducing Foursquare to our social media mix was to be an extension of our visitors guide. Being able to connect and communicate with people exploring our city in real time is key, and being able to give them recommendations and tips makes the experience even better.
So back to Destin… I’ve been to several new restaurants and attractions in my week here all based solely on what I found through Foursquare. I will admit that I used Twitter and Urbanspoon to reinforce my decisions, but Foursquare is where it all began.
The new updates in Foursquare, under the ‘explore’ tab have a wealth of information. From places offering specials to food and nightlife, Foursquare became my mobile visitors guide. And to make the experience even better, when I checked in to places and posted it via Twitter, surrounding businesses decided to strike up a conversation with me.
So I guess to answer my own question, yes, Foursquare is the new visitors guide…at least that’s my opinion, what do you think?
Most recently, I read that LinkedIn reports having over 100 million registered users! In that same article, I read that Twitter reports having over 200 million registered users!
So I got to thinking and asked the question, ”Why is it that most business professionals will choose a LinkedIn account over a Twitter account?”Do they think it’s pointless, useless and a waste of time? Do they just not want to learn about it? What is it?
I have both an active LinkedIn and Twitter account, along with other social networking accounts, and I have my own personal issues with all of these services. However, I strongly believe that in this day of open-communication, my time spent on Twitter is more valuable than my time spent on LinkedIn.
Let me show you what I’m talking about:
The three cardinal rules of social networking are to (1) Be open, (2) Be personal and (3) Be social. When I’m using a particular social networking site, I want to get conversation as well as information. With so much information being spewed out, and so many brands talking “at” us instead of “with” us, I enjoy hearing and reading personal points of view on a variety of subjects.
I talked to a handful of my professional friends about this, and what I learned (which is what I already assumed and thought) was most people just use LinkedIn as an electronic resume, and gather as many connections as possible. Once those connections are made, rarely do people re-connect with you via comments and messages. While they do join groups of interest, their participation levels in those group conversations are minimal. Are these actions our own faults, the faults of LinkedIn or a combination of both?
In my opinion, the environment of LinkedIn, says nothing about being open, personal or social. It reminds me of those dreaded pre-luncheon 30-minute networking sessions, in which you see people and say, “How’s everything going over at your job?” or “What are you guys working on for the new fiscal year?” – stuff like that. Now because LinkedIn has this stigma of being very corporate and professional, users are not as likely to post information or share their views on current affairs, thus taking away the fun aspects of social networking.
Now Twitter on the other hand, has its flaws too. But what I love about Twitter is the ability to search categories and conversations, create lists of influential users and the wealth of information sharing - and the fact that the information-sharing is real-time is a huge plus. Organized online chats within Twitter are great for networking and discussions, and are all real-time too. When connections are made on Twitter, I’ve noticed that people are more likely to connect with you, share information and introduce you to others in the Twitterverse!
Now, I’m in no way suggesting that you leave LinkedIn for Twitter, I encourage people to have both. I’m merely stating reasons why I prefer Twitter, and maybe my reasons will make you think about giving it a chance and not be so quick to label it as “stupid” or “dumb” or “it’s only for Millennials”. After all, we heard that same argument when the Internet came around, but now look how far we’ve come!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about LinkedIn too. REMEMBER, the key to social networking is exercise and execution. What works for some, doesn’t work for others. Happy Tweeting!
As companies continue to explore ways to capitalize on the use of social media, especially location-based social networking sites, other companies have already figured it out. I’m an avid social media user, borderline “social media junkie”, and I play around with several location-based social networking sites, i.e. Foursquare, Gowalla and Whrrl. On my recent trip to Chicago, I experienced something I’ve never experienced before.
And it went a little something like this:
Gathan D. Borden (@GathanDBorden)
4/14/11 12:56 PM
Pretty fancy rooms now, they’ve upgraded since I was here last time. (@ Hyatt Regency Chicago, Chicago) whrrl.com/e/jzkAs
Hyatt Reg Chicago (@HyattChicago)
4/14/11 1:40 PM
@GathanDBorden good call on the upgrade! We just completed a $90M guestroom renovation revinate.me/3AR Welcome to the hotel Gathan.
Look at that! Within 45 minutes, I had a response from the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Not only did they respond and acknowledge my tweet, but they also added a link via YouTube, which was a video of the hotel renovation process that included the Hotel General Manager talking about the renovation. And what they did was simple…follow the basic rules of social media.
Be responsive. Join in the conversation folks. Half the battle with social media is just listening. Don’t allow your brand to be discussed and you not have any say. Be it positive or negative, you should be monitoring what others are saying about you. Respond in a timely and positive manner, and bring something of value to the conversation.
Be personal. Cut the corporate speak. Make sure that your social media tone matches your brand voice. Talk to people as if you were at a party, and discussing your brand over drinks. The less formal, the better. Know who you’re talking to by calling them by their name, it adds more of a personal touch.
Be open. Allow people who are talking about your brand to really know what’s going on. Bring them into your world and make them feel a part of your social circle. Ask questions, post videos and showcase photos. Be comfortable enough, to leave the social door open, so that people can make suggestions and comments to you.
That about covers it. Next time you’re in Chicago, I recommend you stay at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Along with the newly upgraded rooms, when you check-in (socially, that is) you’ll get a friendly welcome.
Remember, there is no such thing as a social media guru…my thoughts are simply that, MY THOUGHTS! What works for some, doesn’t work for others. It’s all about exercise and execution.