Gathan D. Borden

Marketing guy working in the tourism industry, disguised under the title of "Director, Brand Marketing & Advertising" - I share my thoughts on a myriad of topics.

THE SOCIAL MEDIA PYRAMID: Three (tions) of social media

The Social Media Pyramid

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?

12 WAYS TO CHANGE YOUR SOCIAL STRATEGY IN 2012

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.

WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT, THE “SOCIAL” OR THE “MEDIA”?

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.

10 TIPS ON RUNNING AN EFFECTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA CONTEST

I got asked this question earlier today, and have been asked multiple times about running effective contests via a social networking site. Now I do them often for our destination for the Bourbon Country brand through two of our primary social networking pages (Twitter - @justaddbourbon and Facebook - Bourbon Country: Just Add Bourbon, shameless plug there.)

I think there is this myth that it is a complicated strategy, of which it’s not. But I also want to dispell the notion that it’s not as easy as a hit-it-and-quit-it post.

Running contests provide great opportunities for live feedback between you and consumers and dramatically increases the engagement you will see on your various social networking pages. Allow me to share with you my 10 tips on running an effective social media contest.

TIP #1. Let your followers know that a contest is coming, with build-up messages the day before. Telling them to get ready and asking them to invite people to join in the fun.

TIP #2. Let your followers know when you will announce the winner, sharing with them the dates and times.

TIP #3. Always include a photo of the actual prize that is being given away in your post.

TIP #4. Tag people on the photo or post to help increase awareness and ask them to help spread the word.

TIP #5. Let the contest run all day, with the 1st post around 9a. Then send reminder posts about the contest at 12noon, 3p and 6pm.

TIP #6. Randomly go back and check on the comments and respond in the comments section on Facebook about what people are posting or share people’s comments on Twitter. On Facebook, I find it easier to keep track of entries as opposed to Twitter. I use a “comment to win” strategy, where they must put their answers to the contest or whatever it is in the comments section below the post.

TIP #7. I normally don’t do trivia contests, because all of the posts that come after the 1st person who answers the question right, are the exact same. I prefer contests where I’ll post a prize photo and simply ask “Do you want this?” (Generally speaking of course) or I ask people to share their stories with me and I’ll pick the best story. You get some very random and funny posts, but it keeps the conversation going.

TIP #8. Use Facebook and Twitter to cross-promote the contest. I think we are getting to the point where most people are on both sites, but may not check each of them equally. If anything else, this just adds awareness.

TIP #9. When the winner is selected, that should be a status update, all by itself.

TIP #10. The prize should be packaged and mailed, along with a handwritten note from YOU. Simply thanking them for following, and asking them when they receive their package to post back to your wall. If the prize is something that can be worn, then ask them to take a photo and share with you as well.

So there you have it folks, pretty simple and to the point. 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

5 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR VISITORS CENTER A “COOL” SPOT

During your vacations and travels, when is the last time that you have actually been to a Visitors Center? If you work at a CVB/DMO like me, then probably you’ve been to one, to check out the competition and see what others are doing. But for the general leisure visitor, and even locals for that matter, the number of them visiting your Visitors Center is probably a lot slimmer.

We know that our Visitors Centers are there to primarily serve the tourists by giving out brochures, city information and discount tickets, but how do Visitors Centers make their locations cool? How can Visitors Centers get people in their doors and keep them engaged before they run off to explore the city?

Well, I thought I’d share with you some great ideas and tips on how to make your Visitors Center a “cool” spot to visit:

1. PROVIDE PHOTOGRAPHIC OPPORTUNITIES. Each destination across this world is known for something, so why not replicate that “something” you are known for in the Visitors Center. Let me give you an example: At the Louisville Visitors Center, there is a life-size statue of Colonel Sanders holding a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now he is not directly related to tourism, but he is iconic in these parts of the world, and people love to come in and get their photo taken with THE COLONEL. And while they are in our Visitors Center, our goal is to get them interested in what else we have to offer in the city. (SIDE NOTE: We also have a Kentucky Bourbon display too.)

2. HOST EVENTS. Most cities have plenty of activities and events, and for those activities and events that have a broader appeal, why not host an event at the Visitors Center to capitalize?  In Louisville, Abbey Road on the River - the largest Beatles tribute festival in the world - comes annually. But here’s what we do that’s cool, We host a Rooftop Concert,  complete with bands, live music and lunch, that is a re-creation of the Beatles’ last concert held on the rooftop of the Apple Building in London on January 30, 1969. People in town for the festival and locals heading out for lunch will hang out at the Visitors Center and watch the concert while enjoying lunch and friends. We combine that with specials on merchandise inside our Visitors Center for those in attendance.

3. OFFER SPECIALS TO PIGGYBACK OFF LOCAL EVENTS. One of the newer things we are doing at our Visitors Center is capitalizing on the downtown foot traffic on the days of college basketball games, thanks to our brand-new downtown waterfront arena, the KFC Yum! Center. We have a sandwich board that sits outside on game days, and simply says “Show your UL Basketball ticket and get 25% off”. And you know what, people actually come in! We’ve done these for other events in the city as well, just as a way to drive foot traffic.

4. PROVIDE INTERACTIVE DISPLAYS. Nothing keeps people entertained more than videos. Give visitors inside your Visitors Center the opportunity to watch your commercials, podcasts, and videos or even send electronic postcards to family and friends. You could go as far as to offer a touch-screen computer that will allow visitors to drag and drop attractions, hotels and restaurants that they want to see, and then give them the ability to print it off.

5. USE SOCIAL MEDIA. Our Visitors Center offers a Foursquare special to anyone on their 1st check-in. We’ve got the decal in the window and everything! On their 1st check-in, they 25% off all merchandise, except for sales items. We also have an Urban Bourbon Trail trek in SCVNGR – a tour of 9 world-class bars and restaurants in Louisville - and the last challenge is in our Visitors Center. But maybe you are not on Foursquare or SCVNGR. Ever do contest giveaways on Facebook or Twitter? Why not have the people who win come by the Visitors Center to pick up their prizes?

Remember, there is no such thing as a marketing guru…my thoughts are simply that, MY THOUGHTS! Make your Visitors Center appealing to both visitors and locals alike, the visitors will come back and the locals will be your brand ambassadors!

5 SOCIAL MEDIA THINGS THE TOURISM COMMUNITY SHOULD BE EXECUTING

“Facebook Me.” “Tweet Me.” “Did you YouTube it?” How many of us have said those words? It wasn’t too long ago that these words didn’t exist – these days, they are a part of daily dialogue and discussion.

The social media space has forever altered the way in which we connect with family, friends and businesses. Furthermore, it has forever changed the way in which we let someone in on our everyday experiences. How many times have we found ourselves sharing photos, stories and videos of our travels or the travels of our family and friends? These photos, stories and videos allow us to visualize ourselves in those locations. They create memories. They create conversations. They engage. And I think that is the key word in all of this social media stuff – ENGAGEMENT.

Engagement establishes a relationship with the future traveler that makes their decision to come visit your destination simple. Engagement allows the traveler to be that online mouthpiece that all destination brands covet. Online engagement spreads directly to offline conversations, which all leads to increased word-of-mouth marketing. And we all know that word-of-mouth recommendations weigh heavily in the decision-making process.

If you are a CVB or DMO, I think it’s quite obvious that you need to have a presence in the social media space. Given that there are hundreds of social networking sites, many ponder “What sites should I be on?” So, here is my list of the 5 social media recommendations that the tourism community should be actively participating in (alphabetical order):  

Facebook: The premiere social networking site to date. It’s a no-brainer. Be sure that you have a fan page set-up and that you don’t over-share. Keep your posts interesting and engaging.

Flickr: Flickr is a great place to stock images of your destination for sharing purposes. It is a great resource to find professional images of various attractions, events and restaurants that you can use for content-sharing purposes on your various social media sites. And a little secret too…it is also a great resource to find new imagery for marketing collateral, without the fee of professional photographers.

Podcasting: Podcasting is a great way to highlight your destinations in episodic form, which can create repeat viewers. Nothing can sell a destination like a video, so make it entertaining and informal. Here’s a tip…use a service like Tube Mogul, in which you upload your video once and push it out to over 20+ video-sharing sites.

Twitter: Twitter is a great place to see what people are saying about your destination. You have the ability to search tweets directly and respond to the conversations that are taking place.  Use the search Twitter function or the hashtags to find those conversations. Here’s a tip…act as a concierge on Twitter. You don’t have to sell, just be there as a resource of information.

YouTube: YouTube is a great place to store your video library, to include commercials and promotional videos. It is also a great place for user-generated content by the people who love your destination.  Be sure to set-up a specific channel for your destination.

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.