Internet, leadership, Management, Marketing, Travel & Tourism

Building the social destination brand

By William Bakker | 09.16.13 | 3 Comments


The Iamsterdam sign is an invitation to take a picture and share it

Building a destination brand is done primarily through the stories people tell each other. And social media has only accelerated that process. Getting more of the right stories told is a massive opportunity but how do you go about it?

Here’s a 5 step strategy for this.


A destination is the stage where memories are made and stories are created. People ignore or forget the ordinary and remember and share what’s remarkable. These remarkable experiences often turn into the primary motivators for others to visit a place. In order to get more stories told in social media, you need to make sure things are worth talking about. The IAmsterdam sign in Amsterdam (above) is always surrounded by tourists taking photos. Not only is it a cool piece of art, it’s also the perfect way to tell your (Facebook/Instagram/etc) friends where you are.

For a tourism business it’s important to build in moments that motivate people to share in the overall experience. For a DMO it’s important to increase the number of things worth talking about overall.  Educating your operators about this principle is the low hanging fruit. Every tourism business should have at least one reason for people to talk about them. Often it’s just a matter of making a few tweaks to get people talking. Getting involved in city planning might be more difficult but can pay-off with massive dividend.


When there’s something worth sharing, people need to be able to share it right away. For international visitors, data roaming is often an obstacle and the availability of free Wifi will increase social sharing. It’s not just the responsibility of operators. Viewpoints, beaches, mountaintops, buildings of great architecture typically don’t have a tourism operator associated and Wifi is nowhere to be found. This is where the DMO can step in. Taiwan gets it, they offer free nationwide Wifi to tourists.

But there are other obstacles. Some businesses don’t allow pictures to be taken while others don’t have the proper lighting to make photos or to make them look good. It’s a missed opportunity, you have to give people the opportunity to share, even if it’s in a limited capacity.


People will share an experience when they find it remarkable. For people on the fence it’s easy to pull them over the line by encouraging them. This can be achieved by things from signage to incentives. Disney identifies places in their theme parks with photo opp signs. Some DMO’s are starting to do the same. We worked with a ski resort last year to do put signage up to encourage sharing combined with and a contest for the best photos shared.

At an operator level it’s often a matter of reminding and asking people. Remind people on checkout to give a review on Tripadvisor for example, or follow up with an email. Others take it a step further. When I was in Wollongong, Australia, the Skydiving operator filmed and photographed the experience and gave me a link where I could download the images with an easy way to share them through my social channels.


When people share stories, it’s important to find them. Social Media is like a world-wide, real-time, always-on focus group. You’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of it. You need to find them the relevant stories about your destination, good or bad.

A lot of other opportunities and insights can be gained from the massive amount of stories out there. Brands like KLM, Gatorade, Nascar and many others have dedicated social media team that monitor social media for a variety of purposes. These programs separates signal from noise by curating the content and processing it for specific purposes. Some data might need to actioned on while other data serves specific research purposes.


Some of the best stories told in social media are worth incorporating in your own marketing. People share stories with great emotional appeal and the quality, creativity and authenticity often rivals what a DMO and their agencies produce. Use the best content you find to enhance your own activities of amplify them through your own channels.

Visit Britain started sourcing the majority of the photos on its website from Flickr back in 2009. Tourism Australia only posts photos on Facebook submitted to them by their community. Many DMOs find the best photos on Instagram and reshare them while Pinterest is probably the best example of content curation with the best photos people find online.

But why stop there? You might want to give some quality content even more exposure. You can use some SEM budget to amplify a great blog post from an influencer for example. Some amplification can go even further. The Canadian Tourism Commission turned some of the best YouTube videos they found about Canada into TV commercials and recently crowd-sourced another. It doesn’t matter who created the story or where it’s located. What matters is that it moves a person down the funnel.


Social Media will identify customer service challenges and opportunities. DMOs are already in the customer service business but have often limited themselves to a box called a visitor centre. Step outside the box and start assisting visitors in real time by responding to people in social media. Customer service challenges can be resolved quickly before they turn into negative stories.

In the meantime, the overall visitor experience will benefit from assisting travellers through social media. KLM will respond to any social media question within an hour. Most tourism operators don’t have the luxury to set-up these kind of services but the DMO can fulfill that role on behalf of their industry.


Listening can also help to find information about a destination on the internet that’s incorrect (yes, there is incorrect information on the interwebs). This information could be viewed by many potential visitors who could make the wrong decision as a result. Often it’s just a matter of contacting the owner of the source to correct the error. Start by asking nicely!

If something slips through the cracks and negative stories start to emerge it’s important to mitigate these as soon as possible. There are also specific events that could cause a social media crisis. Think about a natural disaster, a call for a boycott or an influencer will a horrible experience. Being prepared and having a social media response plan in place will streamline communication before things escalate far and wide and cause considerable damage. Don’t rely on old corporate communication strategies, they don’t apply to social media. Just ask United.


People will take pictures of things they find remarkable. And when they put themselves in the photo it’s even more remarkable. The things people find remarkable might surprise you. Insights gained from a curation program can provide you with all kinds of new marketing ideas or even identify potential target audiences. You will also identify the challenges visitors might have with the destination experience overall, sometimes in places you might not expect. Addressing these challenges in a fundamental way through service design will allow you to create a more favourable perception of the destination overall. You can measure these things over time, segment them by audience, experience and other parameters. It’s a massive opportunity and part of the future of destination marketing.



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