Monday, May 31, 2010

Internet Marketing for Tourism Operators

Internet Marketing For Tourism Operators Workshop
Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, Digby
May 27 2010

Why Social Media
Social media allows anyone and everyone to put information on the internet, sharing authentic experiences.  For the tourism industry, this means we need to do the same instead of building a campaign around an individual product.  While we all easily grasp and love the concept of word of mouth, social media allows for world of mouth.  25% of search results for the world’s top 20 brands are links to user-generated content and 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands.  We could say this means people are very opinionated, but there is also a market for this information.  78% of people trust peer reviews, while only 14% of people trust advertisements.

Look at the “United Breaks Guitars” phenomena.  A relatively unknown musician named Dave Carroll had his Taylor guitar broken by the baggage handlers, and when they refused to pay for its replacement he wrote a song about it and posted it on YouTube.  For whatever reason, the video went viral (caught like wildfire), and before long the traditional news media caught on and reported on how many thousands and millions of times the video had been viewed, interviewing Dave Carroll about his United Airlines experience.  Piggybacking on the song’s success, Taylor guitars posted a video response showing how their well-made their guitars are, suggesting that someone would have to work hard to break one.  Other people and companies posted similar responses.  Once all the dust had settled, United Airlines lost $180 million in shares.  That’s the power of world of mouth.

Succeeding in Social Media
The first step to success is selecting which social media platform will work best.  This decision can be made by determining what you want to say and what tools you like and are comfortable using.  The next step is to choose the right team member for the task.  This person should have a good understanding of the organization and its brand, and also be comfortable with the computer and tools needed to manage social media.  It is also important to learn about your online target – who they are, where they’re located, etc.  Finally, put some effort into the process so you can be innovative, fun, and interesting, and always play nice. 

Twitter allows users to quickly broadcast information to followers and get it pushed to followers of your followers, ever-expanding your reach and potential audience.  If one of your followers shares (re-tweets) your post, all of their contacts will see it as well, getting you some free marketing in the process.  51% of Twitter users use the site to follow brands.  You can also follow key terms such as museums, Nova Scotia, or heritage.  If you are using other social media sites such as Facebook, you can use tools like Tweetdeck, or to allow for cross-promotions and multiple users on one account.

Twitter works by building connections.  Once you have an account, you can follow other groups, people and associations, and make friends with comparable businesses.  When you first start, issue a challenge or have a contest to build followers, with real rewards for re-tweets.

On YouTube users share content with you, and if you’re lucky this will go viral and thousands of people will be checking out your videos.  Once you create an account you can create your own channel and accumulate subscribers.  If you want to follow someone else’s channel, you are their “friend”.  Once a video is posted, users can provide feedback through text or other video.  You can also embed videos on your own website, giving a simple site the illusion of complexity.  As with all social media, the key is to be interesting and unique.

Facebook is one of the more versatile social media tools, and while people won’t join just to see your page, people who are already on Facebook are expecting you to be there as well.  It allows you to create a more personal feel to your organization by adding photos and videos.  For more advanced users, you can create a customized html page for your organization.  As you get started, set targets for how many followers you want and how active you want the page to be.  Become “friends” with related businesses and organizations to broaden your audience base.

While the discussion component is a key piece of Facebook, it is important to make the page as visual as possible.  If you want to use photos that have people as the main subject, make sure you get the person/people to sign a release form that lets you use their image on social media sites.  This should be a simple one page document used exclusively as a social media release form.  If you later decided to use the image in other capacities, you can reconnect with the subject and ask them to sign a more extensive image release form.  If possible, video and photos should be added at least once a week.

Blogs are a way for users to share more in-depth content in a narrative way.  To be successful, find way s to create focused and interesting content with complementary images.  Use titles, locations and key words to make it search engine friendly, and link the blog to your website to drive traffic to it and vice versa.

An effective homepage of your website should connect visually, support verbally with appealing content, and tell the audience what to do next.  Writing for the web should be quick and factual since online readers tend to skim instead of read.  Navigation buttons should provide the visitor with a snapshot of the organization and be written in lower case for better readability.  Visitors should also be able to sign up for an e-newsletter, and there should be reasons provided for why they should do so.

Google Places
Google Places allows users to enter the location, contact information, hours, and other details about their organization that can be easily discovered by internet users.  Listings are given priority by Google, showing at the top of the search results page.  For mobile phones with GPS, users can find directions to or from the site with the click of a button.   

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