dinsdag 6 september 2011

Destination marketing and Facebook: the quest for solid ground

The past few weeks and months I kept reading about the ever faster growing potential of Facebook as a social media marketing tool. Having set up and run a DMO (Delft Marketing) in The Netherlands for the past eight years, we started using FB for this lovely historic city some years ago. The Delft FB page (http://www.facebook.com/VisitDelft) is in spite of the English name -for the moment- in Dutch and is used for engaging with a Dutch audience, has some lively conversations and moderate following, but there is still lots and lots of room for improvement.

Having left Delft Marketing a few months ago and having started as a freelance destination marketeer, I was curious as to how other tourist destinations had followed suit to the call of FB experts and how they are using their FB page for the promotion of their destination.

Looking for solid ground
FB and tourism in The Netherlands
A scan of the Dutch tourism markt learned that lots of destinations had indeed set up a page on FB. They too seemed to want to connect and engage with their audiences. But there were some things that troubled me. Why is it that so many destinations (cities, tourism promotion organisations, restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions,...) have set up a page on FB and have left it at that? The main purpose seems to have been 'claiming their name on FB', but not a lot more. The result: lots of almost empty pages, scarse news posts, limited numbers of photo's or video's, and worst of all: no reasons as to why you should like these destinations. At some point it even got funny: empty pages with 'still' 4 people liking it... Really, are people pleased that easily. Or is it just the marketeer, his wife, his mother-in-law and her dog liking the page...?

Twittering for answers
What's happening? Is it that destination marketeers don't yet see the possibilities of FB? I think not. Is the Dutch audience not ready for it? Again, no. The Dutch spend a lot of time online, and lots of them use social networks.
As I could not imagine this being a typical Dutch thing, I started asking around on twitter. Even though the number of my connections is still quite limited, I dared to ask some of the 'top tourism and online people' on my list.

I got some great response. It was the first time I actually tried sending out a question like this, but twitter again shows how great a social tool it is.

Multiple issues
Most people mentioned it has to do with 'knowledge'. The lack of knowledge and maybe even the fear of doing it wrong, seems to lead to a 'status quo': destinations claim their position and wait it out for the moment.
Other people mentioned the specific position in which many DMO's find themselves: they're working with a divers/complex tourism product, have a great number of shareholders, a divers clientgroup and great variety in type of visitors. The remark made was that this makes it a difficult proces to include FB into a marketingstrategy. In some ways this seems to have more to do with the role of the DMO and the space they are given, I think, than anything else.
Again others mentioned that it has to do with the lack of time and resources dedicated to make it effective.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Whatever the reason may be, personaly I think they are no excuse for (almost) empty pages. Using social media and being on FB requires you to be 'social' if you want to turn it into a successful way of connecting with others. For that you need to be authentic, be true, willing to listen (and not sell!) and have something to offer.
Just claiming your spot on FB and doing nothing with it, seems rather pointless. It offers none of the above. And in some ways it even looks rather silly: having nothing to share, nothing to say or nothing to offer.

So what now?
For DMO's: maybe it's a comforting thought that apparently you're not alone in the process of figuring out how to use FB. The hesitant behaviour seems to be the case of looking for guarantees of solid ground before stepping into unclear waters. But maybe it's just a case of having to realize that such guarantees are not possible. Social media and the use of FB for destination marketing purposes are still a very new terrain. The best option, in my opinion, is to start experimenting now and try to see what works and what does not. But take small, easy steps. For example by uploading some photo's and video's of your destination. And by engaging your audience with news about what you are passionate about and what's happening around you. If you feel uneasy making those first steps, get someone in who has experience in making these first few steps. But the bottomline is: start moving! Practise now and the information you will gain from this, will be of great value in your competition with other destinations later on.
For tourism destinations like hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, etc. the answer is the same. Just do it! No reason not to. Your position is less complex than that of the DMO. Think out what you wish to accomplish, decide what you wish to share and have something to offer in return for the 'likes' you are going to get.

Sharing some tourism-FB examples
The people I twittered to in search for answers also shared some examples with me of what they think are great tourism related FB pages (so not just DMO-pages). Let me share their examples with you, you can be the judge if they are any good and hopefully they may inspire to start doing something similar (or different), but at least start!

As my list of connections is limited, this is not a truely global search!!

I asked Simon Kemp (@eskimon) in Singapore and he directed me to Lesley John (@lesleyjohn) in Singapore. She shared the following examples:
Malaysia: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia
Singapore: http://www.facebook.com/yoursingapore
New Zealand: http://www.facebook.com/purenewzealand

She also sent me a link to a FanPage List ranking top tourism organisations on Facebook (although this list seems to be limited in some way as f.e. the Dutch National Tourism Boards FB-page (http://www.facebook.com/visitholland) with 136.300 followers does not show up in the list).

William Bakker (@wilhelmus), fellow Dutchman and Chief Strategist at Think!SocialMedia sent these examples:
Portland: http://www.facebook.com/travelportland
Victoria BC: http://www.facebook.com/pages/victoria-BC
Philadelphia: http://www.facebook.com/visitphilly
Savanna: http://www.facebook.com/VisitSavannahGA
Los Angeles: http://www.facebook.com/losangelesfan

Anne Hornyak (@WhosYourAnnie) tourism industry twitterer not only sent some great examples, she also involved her network by RT my question to them.
Anne's examples are:
Glacier National Park: http://www.facebook.com/GlacierNationalPark
Illinois Route 66: http://www.facebook.com/ILRoute66
County Line Orchard : http://www.facebook.com/pages/County-Line-Orchard (a local orchard)
Minnesota: http://www.facebook.com/ExploreMinnesota
Seattle Southside: http://www.facebook.com/SeattleSouthside
Seattle: http://www.facebook.com/visitseattle
Washington: http://www.facebook.com/ShareYourWA

Sarah Kat Shearin (@skatshearin) destination marketeer, shared the following example:
Historic Columbia: https://www.facebook.com/HistoricColumbia

Chuck Lennon (@mntourism) working for the Minnesota Office of Tourism, shared this example:
Brainerd: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Visit-Brainerd

The City of Tuscola (@cityoftuscola) likes to share it own FB page of which they are pretty pleased:

Glen Gilmore (@glengilmore) thinks the FB-page of Disney is the mother of them all: http://www.facebook.com/Disneyland

Martyn Collins (@iVisitorGuide) Social Media and Mobile Strategy Director at iVisitorGuide share this list with the top-30 Irish hotels on FB:

and shares two great FB pages:
Love UK: http://www.facebook.com/LoveUK
Best Loved Hotels: http://www.facebook.com/bestloved

Belgium (or at least the Flemish speaking part) seems to be quiet active on the internet with promoting its tourist attractions.

I asked Jeroen Bryon (@jeroenbryon) in Brussels and he directed me towards the following two people:

Heide Vandenbussche (@heidi_vdb) working at Toerisme Vlaanderen shares the following examples:
Ostend: http://www.facebook.com/Ostend
Antwerpse Kempen: http://nl-nl.facebook.com/antwerpsekempen
Lier: http://www.facebook.com/toerismelier
Vlaanderen: http://www.facebook.com/vlavak

Tomas Vanderplaetse (@tomas_vdp) working for Visit Flanders shares this example:
Brussels: http://www.facebook.com/visitbrussels

A lot of local tourism offices (VVV's) in The Netherlands seem to have just claimed their physical location by opening a FB page, but many are not yet using these pages to connect with visitors. Positive examples are:

Amsterdam: http://www.facebook.com/iamsterdam
Enschede: http://www.facebook.com/Enschede

Isabel Mosk (@isabelmosk) online marketing consultant with the Dutch National Tourism Board shares this example:

The future of travel media
Last, but not least I would like to link to one of the lastest posts of William Bakker on his blog. He describes how the Valencia Tourism Region organized a blog trip - William feels could set the standard for DMO's. They invited a mix of traditional journalists, travel bloggers, social media travel-, web technology- and web design professionals. Why this worked and why this smart move by Valencia DMO might als be a smart move for you - when it comes to investing in, learning from and working with social media (including how to use FB) - you can read in Williams blog.

Reactions to this article and more good examples of 'destination marketing and Facebook' are welcome! And of course a BIG THANK YOU to all the people above who helped me out by tweeting their favorites!

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