In a Q&A, Tourism Australia reveals the secrets of its Facebook dominance
In 2012 alone, it grew its fan base from 1.2 million to 4.1 million and launched social media campaigns that elicited 1 million views a day.
Australia does well on other social media platforms, too, but Facebook still delivers “the best reach, engagement, and conversion,” says the country’s tourism agency.
Aussie dominance on Facebook is all the more impressive given that the travel sector as a whole is behind other sectors when it comes to social marketing.
Here’s the backstory behind Tourism Australia’s social media prowess.
Pivoting its Facebook strategy
In early 2010, managing director Andrew McEvoy, then relatively new with the organziation, decided to prioritize social media. Experimentation began to be encouraged from the top down.
A key moment came on May 22, 2010, when Tourism Australia invited fans to submit their snapshots informally for its first Friday Fan Photos album.
It wasn’t a formalized concept. Instead, it was an organic, viral hit. Fans responded eagerly when they saw other fans’ images being showcased, and then they shared their own photos via the site’s wall.
Asking followers to share their photos may have been a commonplace tactic at the time, but Tourism Australia looked at the concept’s popularity and drew unique conclusions from it.
Scaling social by enlisting residents
In October 2010, McEvoy created the national tourism agency’s first position for an employee tasked full time to overseeing social media and advocacy. To fill the job, he hired away Jesse Desjardins from a Paris marketing firm.
Desjardins was a vital architect in Tourism Australia’s leap to social media greatness.
In summer 2011, Tourism Australia shifted its focus to engaging its citizens first.
It enlisted residents as national brand advocates. This strategy helped produce more content and amplify sharing.
This strategy broke away from the conventional wisdom among national tourism agencies, which was to broadcast marketing messages to foreigners who hadn’t yet visited.
Exhibit A: In September 2011, Facebook rolled out Timeline for pages, a feature that chronologically lists highlights from a user’s “life.”
Most companies used the Timeline to list corporate milestones, such as their founding dates (as, for example, American Express still does).
In early April 2012, Tourism Australia turned over its Timeline to its users. Scroll back to the 1990s or 1890s, and you’ll see photos of Australians themselves and what they were doing on those dates.
To be sure, other travel companies have also been creative with their Timelines. But Tourism Australia’s tactic stands out because it dovetails nicely with its overall strategy.
Today, Australia’s Facebook and Instagram fan pages are much more user-focused than the ones managed by other tourism boards. Australians may be the only people who don’t plaster the logo of their tourism marketing company everywhere.
The user-generated content is often outstanding, and resonates well with fans. Just this past Monday, a user submitted a photo of koalas. This week, more than 70,000 people “liked” it.
Investing in people
In early 2012, the organization doubled down on social by bringing on a second full time staffer for social media. It also began enlisting contributions from its entire staff, including digital and PR managers in its regional offices.
In January, it hired a third full-timer for social.
It’s notable that all of this investment has been in people, not equipment.
While some organizations outsource their social media operations to third parties, Tourism Australia keeps its own one in-house. While other groups rely on expensive, enterprise software solutions for running social, Tourism Australia gets things done on the Facebook and Instagram platforms themselves, without shortcuts.
To find out more, Tnooz did a Q&A with Desjardins via e-mail. His responses were edited for publication.
What metrics do you use to judge return on investment (ROI)?
Reach: how much of our target demographic we are reaching.
Engagement: how people are interacting with and sharing our content.
Conversion: How many people we can move to the next phase of the travel purchase cycle.
We also work quite closely with industry partners that we feature on our profiles to figure out which activities lead to actual bookings. But we’ll keep this method top secret for now.
What’s the payoff?
International spend and arrivals are up this year. Although it’s impossible to attribute all of this to our social activities, we do know that online advocacy plays an important part in any travel decision.
What’s are your priorities in 2013?
First, mobile. Well over 50% of our social content is viewed on a mobile device on our platforms. So the content we post on Tourism Australia’s social profiles is always created with mobile in mind.
As I’ve said elsewhere, mobile demands short, intelligent, focussed, and massively relevant content.
Just have a look at how people consume information on their smartphones. They scroll very fast. You literally have a fraction of a second to capture their attention.
One of our responses has been to riff off of breaking news and trending conversations online, whenever there’s a way to put a positive Aussie spin on the conversation. We did this with the “end of the world/Mayan calendar” story last December 21.
Tourism Australia now receives more images through Instagram than Facebook, and that’s a growth area we’re focusing on developing in 2013.
How does Tourism Australia handle the legal rights issues of user-submitted photography?
We don’t claim ownership of any photos that are posted on our profiles.
Our terms and conditions (T&Cs) state that by posting on our Facebook wall or hashtagging your Instagram photos with #SeeAustralia you give Tourism Australia permission to repost on its social media profiles exclusively and at any time you can ask for your photo to be removed.
Increasingly professional photographers are using our platforms to showcase their work, gain a following, and then onsell more work.
We’ll also often purchase photos featured on our page and then hire some of our more active photographers to cover events and festivals for us.
How does your team stay focused on what matters?
You have to be very clear of what the objectives are. A big part of success in this space is not just being good at the social media part, but also at managing stakeholders.
In terms of managing the flow of content coming in, yes it’s pretty crazy. Most days it feels like you’re drinking from a fire hose.
But, we’re very focused on systems and consistent, methodical workflows.
The volume of content coming in is not going slow down. We’re just going to need to become better and more efficient at dealing with it. But it’s a good problem to have.
Using “the Force”
Fitting with Australia’s characteristic hands-on, direct approach, Tourism Australia dispenses with business speak and motivational babble when it attempts to get all of its team members to sing from the same hymnal about social.
To communicate with everyone and to stay on message, the social media team at Tourism Australia has posted an unusual photo of Luke Skywalker and Yoda standing together. Desjardins explains its purpose this way:
This photo reminds us to make our fans the hero every day. When we look at what other brands are doing in the social space, it’s still all about them, they are the hero, they are Luke Skywalker.
In Star Wars, Yoda is the wise one, he’s the one who has a deep understanding of where Luke should go and whispers this path in his ear. But throughout the film the hero is always Luke.
This is our approach in social. When we make our fans Luke Skywalker, they will pick up our stories and take them to places where it could never go on their own.
This mantra is always front and centre in everything that we do in social media. It’s very clear to our fans that the platforms are about them first.
The results speak for themselves.
Today, 95% of Tourism Australia’s social media content is user-generated.
To learn more about Tourism Australia’s success, see its Slideshare presentation (below), which has already been viewed more than 110,000 times: “The World’s Biggest Social Media Team.”
Sean O’Neill is Editor-in-Chief of Tnooz.
Before joining us, Sean was the future of travel columnist at BBC Travel, senior editor of BudgetTravel.com, and an associate editor at Kiplinger’s. He now lives in New Jersey, after having worked in London for four years. He's on Twitter and is excited for #Rio2016.