Travel website Tnooz and the European Travel Commission recently ran an article with a laundry list of social media recommendations for travel destinations. They scored the top travel locations and found that, in aggregate, they stink at social media. This is surprising since most people love to holiday in exotic and exciting locations, have a good time when they’re there, and like to tell others how great their vacation was. The list is a good start, but provides nothing in the way of how to do it. So BloomThink has picked up the ball and has the recommendations AND some ideas of how travel destinations, boards of tourism, chambers of commerce and attractions can get started today.
There are some examples of companies doing it right. Carnival Cruises is one example. They are very engaged with their customers (and wanna-be-customers). BloomThink has outlined what they have done right in our report “Wish You Were Here: Social Consumer Engagement in the Cruise Industry” (Free PDF Download)
1) Concentrate on the inspire-before-during-after phases of travel for consumers
People love to share their positive experiences. We love to share photos of ourselves in amazing locations. These inspire and recommend locations to others in our social networks. So if all that content is out there and already being created, tap into it! If travelers are already posting photos at your locations, help them connect that content to your social presence while they’re there! We are people who are willing to take an action if it is immediate and convenient. So Invite them to upload their photos on your Pinterest board while they’re at the beach. Tell them the Twitter hash tag to use and invite them to post or tag you on Facebook while at your hotel or restaurant or city! This focus on the easy transaction during travel builds up content that will inspire others before they travel. Additional capabilities like searching for and repinning/reposting/retweeting photos and videos of others at your location help to amplify the experiences of your customers. For some additional investment, create time bound microsites where visitors (especially leisure travelers) can view professional photos your staff takes of them. This brings them back to your social “properties” and adds another opportunity for engagement and maybe purchase.
2) Create more interactivity
Interactivity is vital. Each opportunity to interact is also an opportunity to transact. Invite people at your location to comment, rate, upload funny photos of themselves, vote on the photos of others. Gamify experiences at locations by providing items like badges or coupons or collectibles at each room or area on a property. Don’t tie everything to a purchase. Deliver some value and fun just for being there.
3) Include trip planners and itineraries and make them more visible for users
If you want people to explore everything your destination has to offer, create a trip planner for your travelers. You know your location the best so you know what kinds of food, drinks, entertainment and conveniences go together. Invite people to explore and participate by creating lists of items that go together. These can be as simple as downloadable PDFs or as sophisticated as apps. But definitely keep it mobile. People will keep their phones and tablets with them, not their laptops. Plus it creates more opportunity for interactivity and that all-important engagement during their stay with you.
4) Support SMEs and “manage by jealousy” by encouraging the best to do better.
Do you have “regulars”? Promote them. Ask them to create some of those trip planner lists. Get their testimonials and views. If they’re regular, they like your location, brand and experience. Help them spread their own word. New customers and travelers are more likely to believe and trust them than you.
5) Create clusters of innovative users and support them
Similar to number 4 above, tap into groups of super users for insight and advocacy. Host a “regulars only” event. Give them specials and thank-yous over and above loyalty points or a free drink. Make their experience remarkable and they will remark about it. But don’t pander. If users feel you are pandering to them their good will can quickly change into displeasure in a group setting. People don’t like being manipulated. They like feeling important and having their needs and desires met. So do it. Create a custom Twitter hashtag for groups at your location. Encourage them to tweet about it with their own hash tag. Then aggregate the tweets for them on a custom micro-site. You deliver a special value to them for almost no cost. They get a memorable experience that is tied to you. Does your destination have a special family section or event? Make sure families know about it and then ensure that their entire experience is tailored to that need. Remember, businesses look at line items. Groups look at the whole experience. Adjust your perspective accordingly.
6) Produce themed microsites and use social media to address niche markets
We’ve already talked about social media. Microsites are one page sites that are about one topic. There are a ton of free micro site creation utilities available. It’s also not difficult to create and host one yourself. From about.me and check this to tumblr to wordpress and blogger there are many ways to quickly and easily set up one-topic sites that are easy-up, easy-down. Just like a restaurant has a “specials” menu to showcase seasonal, special occasion or promoted items, your destination’s social and web presence can do the same.
7) Implement news feed of social media channels
The importance of social “listening” is huge. Social listening is the intentional paying attention to the constant stream of updates, status reports, images and feedback that is happening all around you. Key listening techniques include looking for your brand name, hash tags (even the <your name>FAIL tag!) and location. But it also means listening to items related to your destination. Cruise companies need to be looking not just for their brand name but also for people talking about sailing, cruising or even vacation. Got a club in downtown? Look for people tweeting about going out tonight in your town area. Tweet them back with an incentive to come to your club. When people do talk about your location, make sure that you amplify their message. If it is positive, include it in an automatic feed on your website, or on a big screen at your location. If it’s negative, respond with a “we’re on it!” style message and then make sure you get on it! There are a ton of free and pay tools that can help automate this process. But remember that automation alone is not the answer.
8) Integrate strategic marketing/online marketing/social media/PR
Too many organizations think that social marketing and traditional marketing are separate entities. Not only must social practice be coordinated with traditional MarCom but when done intentionally, they can mutually reinforce each other. Nothing is worse than a social marketing group completely missing the boat when it comes to traditional marketing. From disasters like the Quantas PR Twitter nightmare not too long ago to the tragic social media missteps during the Aurora shootings, your destination cannot afford to mess this up.
9) Utilize user generated content as a major strategy to inspire prospective travelers
We’ve already mentioned how to make it easier for current travelers to share their experiences of your destination via images, instagram, videos, ratings and reviews. But the reason this is so important doesn’t stop at creating a memorable experience for your traveler. Prospective travelers are researching your destination (and competitive ones like it). Study after study shows that people trust the comments and ratings and images of other customers much more than they trust the word of your brand. They even trust the word of a stranger over your word. This is because of the perception that, no matter what, you’re going to spin and airbrush everything to your favor. Other consumers, they reason, would be a bit more honest if something isn’t quite up to par. So when you enable and empower current users to tweet, like, check in, explore, collect and share you are providing more and more credible evidence of your desirability.
10) Take advantage of geo-tagging and prepare for location based services
Honestly, it’s to late to “prepare for location based services.” They’re here. Nearly all cell phone cameras (and certainly all higher end digital cameras) embed geo tagging information into photos. The ubiquity of cell phone navigation means that whether through GPS or tower triangulation, consumers can tell where they are and where they want to go and how to get there at any given moment. If your destination is not listed, then your customers are missing out on your location. If there is one area for investment it is interpretation and understanding of location based content. It can be as simple as “where is the nearest bathroom” in your giant arena or “how to get back to the exact place on the beach in Cancun where you first proposed”. At least start by listing your destination – at an appropriate level of detail – in popular services like Google, Foursquare and Yelp.
11) Develop video and multimedia content and drive websites with visually attractive multimedia
Multimedia is where the interaction is at. Right now pictures are prime. According to Factbrowser, “people are most likely to engage with branded content on social media that contains pictures (44%), status updates (40%) and videos (37%) source” The hyper ubiquity of cell phone cameras means not only does everyone have a digital camera / video recorder, but also they probably have one with them right now. The popularity of YouTube (nearly 20% of allhttp traffic) means that we simply love to look. We love pictures and videos that show WINs as much as FAILs. The extreme popularity of Pinterest demonstrates the power of the picture. So spend some of that marketing budget on some professionally produced but whimsical photo and video collateral. Many good pros charge about $1000 per finished minute of video. Think of that as 2 high quality video spots. Then amplify this rich content through social and traditional channels. Listen to the social feedback. Ask people what they think. Track their feelings then use that as input for your next rich media spend.
12) Integrate virtual reality applications, 360-degree tours or webcams to increase transparency of tourism product
This is a corollary of number 11 above. While VR applications are in their infancy, you can go a long way to answer the “What Would It Be Like If I Was There” question with applications like these. 360 degree tours are important because they are more honest than a one shot picture. They show all the corners rather than only the best angle. Augment traditional marketing collateral with QR codes. These codes are scanned by mobile devices and augment the current experience. They show the beach at sunset, or during a party. They bring up a picture of the item on the menu with wine pairing ideas as well. In all, these kinds of applications will take a little more time and money to develop but not much. But they will deliver a much deeper and richer experience for your current and prospective customers.
13) Improve current technologies and applications constantly to maintain standard
Technology is always changing and developing. It is true that in order to achieve an ROI on one technology investment, you must stick with that platform for a little while. But also realize that the market and the consumer doesn’t care about your ROI. They don’t care at all. So if you have 1 year left on your Garmin platform before it pays for itself, but you’re losing audience and market share because they’ve all moved to iPhones and Android phones with their free mapping. It simply doesn’t matter. You must be where your audience is. Don’t let IT forget that all important point. Make the best out of what you have but do not try and force your audience into an old or clunky interaction simply because you’re too tight. It will be much harder to rebuild your audience after they’ve left you than it is to maintain and grow your audience because you’re meeting their expectations.
14) Develop consumers as advocates/ambassadors of a destination brand
Remember that customers and travelers are all interested in positive experiences. When an experience is positive they like to share it. But make it easy to share. Sure, we’ll all share our experiences with our immediate family and maybe friends. But if you want them to really get out there and share it, do some of the work for them! Make it click button easy. To this extent, a must have book is The Conversation Company by Steven Van Belleghem. I’m still reviewing it but so far it is the best, most practical guide to building advocates and ambassadors of a brand that I have ever read.
So there you have it. 14 social recommendations with practical how-to steps to achieve them. Engage BloomThink in the form here for help creating this strategy for YOUR business.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.