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.
5a) ACTION – AMPLIFY
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.
5b) ACTION – CUSTOMER SERVICE
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.
5c) ACTION – MITIGATE
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.
5d) ACTION – LEARN
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.
1) A blog trip IS NOT a press trip
I’ve seen too many blog trips miss the mark because the press trip was taken as the template for a blog trip. Most press trips follow a “standard” format by planning the trip in detail, hosting the writer/photographer/video crew for a certain amount of time and then wait for the piece to be published.
Bloggers have very different motivations than traditional travel writers. They also work with different schedules, deadlines, etc. Some don’t even have a home to go to. They live on the road. Some, maybe a lot, don’t even want to be hosted. They just want to do their own thing. Some publish fast, often in real time, some take longer to publish.
When planning a blog trip, think about your objectives. For example: do you want lots of content in the moment or would it be okay to wait for (better quality) content? This makes a difference. Do you want copy, photos, video? This makes a difference. What niches are you after? There’s a long tail of bloggers for pretty much every criteria. There’s a blogger who travels the world dancing. There’s a blogger who travels the world singing karaoke. You get my point.
2) Invest time to find the right bloggers
A lot of DMOs are passive about bloggers. They wait for a blogger to come to them, and deal with things as they come. There are hundreds of travel bloggers and more are starting new pages every day. Be strategic: it’s better to be pro-active and invite bloggers. Think about your objectives and use them to find bloggers that will best meet them. Even as requests come in from bloggers, have a checklist ready to quickly assess what you’re going to do with them.
We use 9 criteria we use when we select bloggers for blog trips we help clients with. It’s worth taking the time to find the right ones.
3) Don’t just focus on web traffic when selecting
My biggest pet peeve is the obsession with reach. It’s old-school thinking, ie “better to get my message to 10,000 people who don’t care, than 1,000 who do”. Web traffic is not completely irrelevant, of course, but it’s only one criteria out of nine.
Web traffic can also be misleading. For example, a blogger could get 20,000 visitors a month to their blog. But maybe 80% of those visitors are going to three past posts that rank high in Google because of good SEO. They’ll never see the content about your destination. More important is repeat visitation; these are people who are loyal readers.
4) Rethink your measures of success
If the objective isn’t to get a message in front of as many people as possible, what is it then?
A traditional travel writer will produce a piece and the DMO will measure the Ad Equivalency (which is B.S.). Bloggers can do a lot more. A lot of the campaigns we’ve done go way beyond the traditional way of working with travel media. I wrote a whole piece about this recently.
5) Build lasting relationships
This is social media. It’s meant to be social. Most bloggers like to meet people and make friends around the world. A lot of bloggers also like to meet other bloggers. If you or your socially savvy staff build relationships with bloggers, it’s better for everybody. And don’t limit it there. Connect bloggers with local influencers, especially if they operate in niches. Somebody passionate about skiing will probably stay in touch with somebody else who’s passionate about it.
If you have a good relationship with a blogger, they will also likely a) produce more content b) retweet your content when relevant c) come back for another visit d) refer other bloggers e) bring old content back to the front over time.
From personal experience I know Valencia is doing this really well.
6) Think outside the box; bloggers can offer much more value than a few posts
This is related to #4. A lot of bloggers are very talented content professionals. Many are looking for opportunities to fund their travels as well. Need destination photography? Make it social. Hire one of the awesome photography bloggers to do the shoot. They will do great work and share it with their own community as well. Why hire a writer or photographer who produces content in the dark?
In this case, you would pay the blogger – not for posting in their own channels but to produce content for your channels. Be transparent about it, though. And don’t make specific demands or have expectations about the content they post in their own channels.
7) WIFI everywhere, all the time
This one is very tactical and got applause in my session and it pains me this is still not a standard feature of every blog trip: bloggers Tweet, Vine, Instagram and blog in real time. Disconnecting them from the internet means this won’t happen. Such a missed opportunity. Some blog trips don’t even have good Wifi in the hotels.
8) Personalize and build in free time
Every blogger is different and most have a passion for travel and a background in writing. They’re used to being independent and the good ones know what their audience likes. Tailoring the trip to the individual is logical but a lot of DMOs resort to the “destination top 10″ for everybody. They don’t spend the time researching each blogger and their interest.
Free time is also very important. Bloggers like to do their own thing or take time to produce content. Some of the best feedback we received from our “Flanders is a Festival” project is the itineraries Flanders created. They were extremely short. Most of the trip was at the blogger’s discretion. They received (personalized) tips and ideas and a person to contact in case they did want a host. They loved it. We also gave them a portable WIFI hotspot.
Robyn wrote a great piece about TBEX on the Think! blog as well and here’s the full deck from my presentation.
In 2010 I wrote that Tripadvisor’s integration of Facebook connect offered a glimpse into the future. Well the future is here.
Graph Search, announced yesterday by Facebook, is a new way of searching. It’s using taking your social graph and the content shared on Facebook as the basis of relevancy. Graph Search will allow you to search for things based on your personal network of friends, your ‘friends-of-friends’ or Facebook users in general.
You can soon search on Facebook for “restaurants in San Francisco liked by people who live in San Francisco”.
Or ”restaurants in San Francisco my friends like”.
Or “restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends who live in San Francisco.”
Or “Restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends from India”
The possibilities are endless.
The travel decision process is going to be massively influenced when Facebook users adopt this kind of functionality. Because travel product is a heavy used item on Facebook. People check in, share photos and like places they’ve been all the time.
A whole new world of discovery and travel inspiration might open up. Imagine searching for ”Places people check-in who like scuba diving”
Or “Cities people check-in who like art”
Or “festivals people like who like Greenday”
Or “pictures from my friends in Berlin”
Yesterday I also read a nice post by a Techcrunch writer about a recent frustrating trip to the new MySpace. This part caught my attention and made me think.
A Techcrunch writer is obviously ahead of the curve. But what’s happening here is that people are starting to expect websites to personalize based on their previous behaviour and what they or their friends like on Facebook.
I remember being freaked out when Amazon recommended me books based on my previous purchases. Or when a laptop bag followed me around the internet thanks to remarketing. But that’s a long time ago. I don’t get freaked out anymore. We’ve gotten used to it. We even like it. We get mad when we see ads that aren’t relevant. And Facebook’s Graph Search might just deliver exactly the functionality at the right time. And travel and tourism marketing will never be the same. You better get ready.
Happy New Year everybody! Here are three things off the top of my head that are important things to consider for 2013. Do you have any more?
1) PUT SOCIAL AT THE CORE
I think it’s pretty clear by now that social media has a major impact on the travel decision making process. If your tourism business or DMO hasn’t realized this yet you better catch up. You should be at level 3 or higher by now.
Most marketers think of social media as an add-on to a traditional campaign, or at least start with traditional thinking. It’s time to flip it around. Start with a social idea and support it with traditional methods. Or do traditional things in a social way. For example, we recently worked with a DMO who let it’s Facebook community vote on what photos would be published in it’s visitor guide.
2) START USING SERVICE DESIGN
Mitigating a mediocre experience with brilliant marketing doesn’t cut it anymore. The experience IS your marketing and the stories your visitors tell each other is what it’s all about. You have two choices. First choice is to join the race to the bottom and keep offering specials, discounts and special offers. The second one is to create remarkable experiences people love and want to be part of, regardless of what it costs.
If your choice is the latter, you need to start thinking about service design. When you’re an operator you need to start thinking about the end-to-end experience you offer your guest. When you are a DMO you need to think about the end-to-end destination experience. Service design is gaining a lot of momentum in Europe, especially in Austria where destinations are starting to take an active role in the design of the destination experience.
3) MOBILE: THINK DEVICE PLUS CONTEXT
I was on a panel at a conference in Barcelona recently and somebody asked about mobile. Before I could even think about it I said “it’s not about mobile, it’s about device + context”. I probably heard it somewhere before but I have never really thought about it like that. But it’s true. Whether you build a desktop site, a mobile site, an adaptive site or an app, it’s not the device that’s important. It’s the context of use.
When you search google maps, it takes into account your device, where you are and what date and time it is. That’s the context of your usage and the information you get back takes that into account. You need to so the same thing. A consumer accessing your content at home is looking for very different things than a consumer walking down the street in your destination.
Now here’s the kicker. Often that means people use another website than yours. Somebody walking down the street looking for a restaurant is going to use Google Maps, Yelp or Tripadvisor, not a DMO website. Even a consumer planning as trip might never even make in onto your website (hello travel bloggers). Your content online strategy needs to include content on third party websites. From inspiration to transaction. Just like we used to do it in the 90s with travel guides and tour operator brochures.
Conferences are inherently social. People gather to learn and discuss topics that they are passionate about with people who care as much about it as they do. Yet the way conferences are created and promoted are incredibly traditional.
There’s a better way: bake social into the conference.
A good example is the Social Media Tourism Symposium Think!’s very own Dave Serino started in 2010. The mission statement describes what the conference is all about:
The symposium is a combination of destination marketing organizations, hotels, resorts, attractions and any other tourism related entities sharing ideas and learning more about how social media is effecting promotion within the travel industry.
What makes this conference unique is the involvement of attendees throughout the entire process. Attendees will have a voice in everything from the location to the session topics and presenters.
By involving the people who care about the subject matter in the planning process, Dave creates a conference that is more relevant and, therefore, more likely to be attended by the people who helped create it. Because all of this happens in social media, people who care are also promoters of the event.
For example, the destination selection process is driven by the SoMeT Facebook community. DMOs respond to an RFP and the Facebook community votes where the conference is going to be held. The 2012 selection process is entering the final stages.
In the process, people also get to know each other. They make friends online and want to attend the conference to meet those new friends.
This is what conferences are all about. Going to a cool place, learning relevant things and meeting new friends. By baking social media into the conference itself (instead of looking at it as an advertising vehicle) you make conferences more relevant with attendees who feel strongly connected and want to help make the event a success.
At Think! we believe consumers will do the marketing for you if you offer remarkable things. One way to generate awareness and consideration is by creating remarkable content that’s relevant to a specific niche. In Norway they have the concept down to perfection.
Innovation Norway’s gorgeous Geiranger birds-eye panorama view has generated over half a million visitors to their website through Stumbleupon alone. StumbleUpon is a community that recommends remarkable content with each other.
Innovation Norway has been at it again. This time with an amazing panorama video of a wingsuit flight. According to a recent blog post, the video has been viewed over 1 million times in just under one month. What’s also notable is that Red Bull shared the video on their Fanpage of 25M fans. For a Red Bull fan, a wing suit flight is relevant content and it was liked 2,350 times and re-shared 651 times. This is earned media in 2012.
Generating awareness doesn’t have to come through advertising. Norway is showing that producing remarkable content will get shared in the right social media communities.
You can’t. A destination brand is:
Ten years ago, your TV ads, brochures and other forms of marketing collateral contributed a sizeable portion of the stories people heard about a destination. Not anymore. People telling other people, aided by new forms of communication (including social media but not exclusively) is now dominant and has make brand advertising hopelessly inefficient.
Ensuring your destination has quality experiences, getting your operators up-to-speed in modern marketing and actively managing your destination’s reputation in social media, especially in niche communities is how you build and manage a destination brand.
Yes they do. But is it the most effective way for you to get your stories told?
I get it. It used to be so succesfull. You’re still proud of the results from 1998. And it’s really hard to stop doing something. Staff will be effected and change management in an organization is often messy.
But lets get real. Most people have moved on. The biggest bang for your buck lays elsewhere and we both know it.
Stop making excuses, take close and hard look at your activities (budget + people) and stop doing the things that have become inefficient or ineffective.
It probably won’t. And if it does, it’s going to take a lot of hard work against stiff competition.
I know it’s tempting. There’s the potential for extra revenue and your hotels are putting on the pressure to fill their rooms now instead of focussing on the long term. It’s also something tangible to measure and the technology is so easy now. And cheap.
But consumers just don’t think of a DMO website as a place to transact. They have a gazillion options to book. And usually at a much better rate than the DMO will ever be able to offer.
Making a booking system produce results is hard work.
When you choose to operate your own reservation system where your accommodation operators give you specific rates and inventory, you also need people to manage this process. That means chasing operators for rates and inventory, sending out commission cheques, chasing operators for money and dealing with customer service issues.
You’ll also need people who stay on top of your website and the conversion funnels. What advertising drives bookings? Where do people drop off in the funnel? What do you need to tweak to increase your conversion rate?
I’m not saying offering bookings is a bad idea, especially not if you’re a city DMO. An aggregator like JackRabbit is a good option add booking capabilities to your website without the operational overhead for example.
An even better option is if you have a way to differentiate yourself from online travel agents by creating value added packages online travel agents can’t offer and target these to niche audiences.
They don’t. The workplace of the 90′s was very much a leftover from the industrial age.
Let’s see what has changed over the last 15 years. Technology and the internet has turned travel planning and booking up-side-down. Everybody knows this, but most DMO’s just added some form of online unit or department in their structure and left it at that.
And there is more! Technology has also completely changed the way people work with new productivity and collaboration tools. Technology is becoming ubiquitous. Cloud computing allows you to outsource pretty much everything and access your data from anywhere. People stay connected through mobile devices and take work home on their laptops while Social Media has completely blurred the line between professional and private life.
The industrial age is over. All of the above has completely changed the way new generations think about the workplace. Corporate structures, hours of work, roles and responsibilities, staff retention all has to be re-thought. Just read Don Tapscott and Charlene Li.
It usually isn’t. More and more DMO’s are challenged with their agencies of record based on what I hear at conferences.
From my perspective, the reason why most traditional agencies are still having a hard time with digital and are often completely clueless about social is because their culture and business model is based on traditional advertising principles.
In traditional advertising, you only have one shot at getting it right. You buy the media, produce the communication pieces and let it ride. An outcome of that is getting the creative right the first time is really important. As a result, right brain creatives run traditional agencies.
In digital marketing, the creative is still important but you should spent more time after launch by looking at the data, and keep iterating the tactics to keep perfecting it. Data and real-time analysis is part of a digital agencies culture. That’s a fundamental difference.
In social media, on top of digital marketing principles, you also need to humanize the message and open up your brand for consumer input. That’s often just too much to ask.
The result is that in most cases, DMO’s need to go best-of-breed and hire multiple, specialized agencies and contractors. With the new collaboration tools, it’s much easier to manage these days. We experience this with the increased number of RFPs out there specific to social media. Maybe a new ‘agency of record’ model will emerge at some point but that will take some time.
A one-stop-shop is definitely easier to manage on an executive level. Only one RFP to run, it simplifies managing the relationship (only one person to have lunch with or yell at) and streamlines back-office accounting processes. If you still want to go one-stop-shop, look for a digital agency that also does traditional instead of a traditional agency that also does digital.
Note: I understand that especially the first and last point on this list can be perceived as a pitch for my company. The reality is that this is exactly why I joined Think! in the first place. To help DMOs innovate and break through some of the conventional wisdom out there.
Every year Google launches over 500 improvements to its search algorithm. There’s a lot to learn from this video for modern day marketers.
Focus on your end user
It all starts with a focus on the user. “Google has made a huge investment in understanding what works for users (3:25)” because “when you align Google’s interests with user interests, good things happen (3:17)“.
Aligning business objectives with user objectives should sit at the core of any online marketer principles. Without it, you’re sure to fail.
Keep improving what you have
Google is obsessed with improving their search product; “we get excited when we hit on an idea what helps a lot of users (3:37)“. Continuous improvements sits at the heart of their culture.
Traditional marketers spend almost all their efforts before they launch because it’s hard to change things after. Online marketers need to spend the majority of their effort post launch. You receive instant results and it’s easy to change things.
This includes websites, social media, search, email marketing, etc.
Base decisions on data, not opinion
In too many organization, decisions are made based on opinions. Usually a senior person doesn’t like something or receives pressure from a stakeholder with an agenda and want something changed. Or a real problem is being dismissed because it’s invisible (a technology upgrade for example). Rarely does anybody actually look at the data in detail.
At Google, “a problem identified and hypothesis created (0:35)” and subjected to “rigorous scientific testing (0:53)“, using a trained panel called raters (0:59), live experiments (1:14) and analyzed by a search analyst (1:14). The decission to make the change is then held in a “launch decision meeting (1:47) by the leadership, based on data with an unbiased view”.
Implementing this at your organization
These are some key elements of Google’s success. But even when you’re not Google with a large team, here’s what even the smallest organization can do:
What about all this BS that technology and social media stop people for having real and genuine relationships? Social Media is making my life, and my relationships with people better every day.
Here’s my story.
My wife and I adopted our daughter two weeks ago from Japan. It was an amazing experience. But hard as well. We had to wait for two weeks in Tokyo for paperwork to processs. Anybody who is a parent knows how weird those first few days are. Being in a strange city where you don’t know anybody without a real support system can be tough.
But it didn’t feel like that at all. Skype allowed us to have our family in Canada and the Netherlands share the moment when our daughter got placed with us live. It was like they were there with us.
And over the next two weeks, people checked in all the time, we never felt alone. There was always somebody to see and talk to.
All our friends made us feel very connected and supported with an outpouring of well wishes and excitement from our personal networks on Facebook.
Even my Twitter followers, some of whom I don’t even know in person, were amazing in their support.
This wouldn’t and couldn’t have happened 10 years ago. And it was all free.
Social Media and technology connects people and builds stronger relationships with more people over larger distances. Because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s artificial or incomplete.
It’s just different, and it’s awesome.
Every year I use the ‘quite time’ around the holidays to have a look at what other DMO’s around the world are doing. I love poking around to see what I can learn. I’m thinking of creating a giant presentation with my findings (let me know if you’re interested).
One of the things I’m looking at is what DMO’s are doing to incorporate real time information. This is a trend DMO’s can’t ignore. Brochureware websites are no longer acceptable and consumers expect content that is timely as well.
Florida has created a Florida Live section on their website. The page includes their Twitter feed, Flickr photo’s, YouTube videos etc. It also includes a Google Map with the Twitter feeds from local DMO’s, live webcams, YouTube videos and Fishing Reports.
The fishing reports are very cool. Every day the captains call in from their boats to give an update of the fishing conditions of their area. Users can listen to each captain reporting on the conditions.
Incorporating expert content from industry members or residents is something I’ve been pitching for a long time now. Most DMO’s do this with expert bloggers (some better than others). This is a very creative idea to make it timely, relevant and credible.
Great idea, good content, good execution. I love it.
Do you have examples of ‘live information’ incorporated into DMO or other tourism websites?