Turns out, social media is a pain in the ass for destinations

Okay, maybe not a total pain in the ass – perhaps massively confusing. ROI, influence, Pinterest, fans, followers, friends – where do we go from here?

The promise of free promotion, easy communication and masses of consumer advocates singing the limitless, yet carefully crafted message of your brand has not developed as planned.

Of course, no one said it would.

Instead, tourism destinations worldwide find themselves in a fight for social relevancy. Adding more fans is problematic, as is expanding to other social networks.

Seriously, I know someone said this was free!?!?

So what is the strategy? What is next? What should you do with all those fans? Let’s figure that out…

Sign-up and spit out

The typical social tactic looks something like this: join social network, build audience, send marketing messages, repeat. However, as many of our peers are discovering, this format is challenging to scale and even more difficult to leverage.

The idea that you can supplement marketing with social media is often cited, but rarely executed.

The very core of what social strategy means is starting to change, thanks in part to the development of two other trends. Namely, the creative newsroom and influencer marketing.

Trends that go beyond the basic sign-up and spit out strategy current employed by so many of our peers.

Creative newsroom

The idea of the creative newsroom has been talked about for months, but can be found in summary form thanks to Ian Schfer’s Ad Age piece.

Allow me to cut through the jargon for you:

A creative newsroom is a social tactic that produces a shit-load of time-sensitive, brand relevant content and pushes said content into social channels. Watch for trends, identify the most “viral” (ugh) content and promote further with paid placements (Facebook Promoted Posts).

Also see William Baker’s thoughtful Five Levels of Social Media Sophistication at the DMO, specifically level five.

A recent example of this creative newsroom approach to social media would be the recent royal naughty bits on display in Las Vegas. The LVCVA created time-senstive, social content and hit the share button. The result? Just as much chatter about the poster as well, um… alright, you get it.

The idea of the creative newsroom is simple. People want real-time content. If no one is producing real-time content about your brand, destination, city, then create it yourself.

A big shift from the social media intern. The challenge therefore for DMOs is ownership and frequency.

Without clear ownership of a specific product, determining what content to create is a constant cycle of the generic…already a common problem with destination social strategy.

Frequency is the other issue. Even a CVB such as Las Vegas would have trouble creating enough interesting content to sustain a social media newsroom.

The creative newsroom is an option, but not the easiest to execute for our tourism vertical.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is fairly straightforward. Find influencers within key subjects (travel, food, etc.) on social media and invite them to visit your destination.

Payment optional. Call it a social FAM trip, blogger hoedown or consumer convene, the idea is the same.

Recently, two destinations have experimented with this form of social marketing, our peers in Seattle and the Australian capital city of Canberra (I know, not Sydney).

The Seattle CVB / Klout campaign was covered in our article Seattle Has Klout, while the Canberra campaign is just beginning.

While the executions are slightly unique, both campaigns operate under the same influencer marketing theory: find social travelers, bring them to the destination and let them tweet, post and instragram their way across the city.

But look deeper, this is a shift in the way DMOs utilize social media.

In these cases, Seattle and Canberra are not creating the content…they are not the ones tweeting…but merely connecting influential social individuals with the product they represent.

One could argue that using this approach, the need for a DMO to have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest account is no longer necessary.

Delete them. Close them. You don’t need them.

Which answers the ownership question directly. No need to worry about who you are posting about because you are not posting anymore.

The destination itself does not have to be social, just the visitors.

Customer experience

Let’s add another option, another trend, to the potential evolutionary path for the DMO. A focus on the customer experience.

Now, let’s be clear, DMOs do not have direct customers. Rather the businesses represented have the relationship with the customer.

Again, the ownership issue.

But what if the DMO went deeper? What if the DMO provided the education and training desperately needed by local tourism operators, not just in terms of social media, but customer experience.

As mentioned by the very sharp Augie Ray, there is too great a focus on social marketing and not enough on a positive product / customer experience.

It is massively difficult to market, represent and speak for a product that you don’t own, to consumers you don’t have.

This is the challenge for most DMOs, understanding that their place in the social lifecycle is not marketing, but educating.

Ensuring, through training, education and support, that the local businesses relationship with the consumer represents the best of the city, region or country.

Without the need for direct social communication from the DMO.


We have reached the next stage in social media. Our grand experiment is coming to an end, forcing us to make a decision.

Do you move forward with a fierce focus on social media? Build a creative newsroom, hire a social media agency, hire more staff, claim more territory and destroy those in your way?

Or do you delete? Do you teach, educate and support? Becoming more Geek Squad and less Best Buy.

Do you place the focus on the customer experience, rather than marketing, to build the social chatter about your destination via the businesses within your destination?

You will be asked to make this choice. Social or support?

Evolution will not wait!!

NB: Kick ass image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Troy Thompson

Troy Thompson, a contributing Node to Tnooz, is an artist, consultant, and speaker who found a way to combine all three into creative leadership workshops.

He is the founder of Pattern, a strategy and service design consultancy. Troy believes in customer-centric innovation, simplicity, and short bios.



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  1. Petur J Petursson

    For some reason or other Dilbert comes to mind:

    For at least a start to measurement I can recommend the SEAV model proposed by Tourism Ireland: http://www.scribd.com/doc/85406652/A-new-simple-way-to-measure-social-media-Return-on-Investment-Social-Equivalent-Advertising-Value

  2. Andy

    From someone who is currently searching for the elusive ‘measured’ impact on socially created content for integration into one of our sites this is timely reading. Too many charlatans in the mix to make confident decisions on which bloggers to use….

    Still pondering….


  3. Gem Webb


    I work for a DMO in Bruce County, Ontario Canada, with a brand named ExploretheBruce ( http://www.explorethebruce.com ). We’ve been growing our social media accounts / communities for over 3.5 years now with great embracement and interaction from target markets.

    As the Web Content Creator (another name for Social Media Manager, Community Manager and Internet Marketer, etc), I have a constant conveyor belt of things to do every hour, day, week, month, quarter and year. This is a primary schedule schedule structure for content marketers as a base. Around this scheduled axis rotates all the forms of content to be created then propelled into the orbits of various Social Network planets – for consumption of course. This must be an organized job with specialized understandings of a multitude of multi-media software to create and then share online. Yet, you hire the right person and you have a front line gunner to cut down the competition. Sounds kinda aggressive, yet its more strategic advantage in my opinion.

    This article hits at the heart of a trend I see in the Travel and Tourism sector. So many are having “Travel Writer Campaigns”, where they assign1 to 20 travel writers for the year to visit their locations and interpret their vacation destinations. This takes some serious money to fund, so should we also look at the bottom line investment and compare which is more cost effective in the long run? What have we been calling this sort of marketing for years in the tourism arena are “Media Tours”. In essence Media Tours have become a link to influencer reach that helps give exposure to their massive followers = IE: database of contacts online through social networks. I love having travel writers come to the area as they give us so much exposure on the sites they write for. For example, we had an asian writer this year that featured us to their culture based audience.

    I think just as Social Media Marketing shouldn’t be a replacement for Traditional Marketing. Nor should Digital Travel Writers be a replacement for Social Media account nurturing. They all support one and other within the Marketing Mix. The investment for an internal staff member is indispensable; and I’m not just saying this to keep my job. Our over 12,000 Facebook page sends us some of the top traffic. I cringe at the thought of having to pay travel writers constantly to support this traffic monthly and be a stakeholder all year long – even when their not getting paid. This to me is partly a solution of “just throwing money at it”. This investment will never end and social media network building is something that becomes more and more value add over the years. Plus, you will not be able to assist local Operators when the need arrises. I mention this because weekly I get local businesses sending me photos, blog posts and other content to get their message out there. Become the controller of your marketing messages to reach your target markets!

    Furthermore, there are so many day to day needs to get the Tourism Message out there. Waiting for an external agency, travel writer or, other department to help sometimes misses the mark for the real time need of marketing in the moment. I say Travel & Tourism Orgs need to step up to where the marketing is happening these days online and create jobs in their Departments for the rising wave of digital marketing needs. With a single tweet or Facebook post, day by day, week by week, year by year, you’ll have an audience that helps you reach their networks. I like to use the analogy of having a store where your customers never leave.

    TIP: Most Travel and Tourism Organizations have 10 years of content laying around that can be scanned and re-purposed around a social media marketing schedule. Try this for a few years then integrate travel writers if your budget allows it. Both are beneficial and have a use in the marketing mix.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Gem,

      Thanks for the comment and the background, always nice to get a direct DMO perspective in the comments.

      A couple of thoughts based on your comment:

      As our social evolution continues, I see less of a need for a single ‘Social Media Manager’ and more of an integration between social and every job description. Just like everyone knows how to work the copy machine, everyone will know how to be social.

      As for paying others to support traffic, I think our interpretation is slightly different. I am saying that you don’t need that Facebook page any longer. The DMO is simply providing the access to the destination, let the travel blogger, media person or Joe Traveler create and share the message with their own audience.

      Far too often our peers get fooled by stats like “52% of Facebook users say friend vacation photos influenced their travel plans” ( http://ow.ly/edS6N ).

      That stat leads to an immediate reaction of “let’s put up more photos!” Or “Aha, proof that more photos will get people to visit.”


      My question for our peers is why be the content creator? Who said that was the only path to social media success?

      Unfortunately, most of our peers use the ‘copy and paste’ approach to strategy.

      I am sure that vacation photos on Facebook influence friends, but I am not sure that the DMO should be creating those photos.

      Rather create the opportunities for others to create the photos.

      Good comment, continuing a great conversation.

      – Troy

  4. Karen Bryan

    Troy thanks for an interesting article. A a travel blogger, I wanted to raise two points.

    How would destinations identify the most appropriate social infuencers? Some metrics like Klout score aren’t very reliable. The destination would be better served by selecting social influencers who have a significant number of members of the travelling public among their audience, versus loads of other travel bloggers.

    What’s your opnion regarding payment (or not) of social influencers? I’d like to be paid for the time spent on the trip. doing the write-ups and access to my social network. Back to my mantra of “free trips don’t pay the bills”.You can label that payment whatever you like e.g. participation fee. However I’d need to retain fully editorial control of my output.

    • Matthew Barker

      Good questions Karen. Measuring “true” influence is a difficult one, especially for marketers. It’s all very well telling us what your Klout score, Twitter follower count, etc but what we really want to know is what your access is to specific audiences & markets. You make a good point: a LOT of “top” travel bloggers have amazing engagement metrics on paper but when you look in more detail, it turns out it’s 99% with other travel bloggers. This can be useful, but we also want to know what your influence is on our target markets.

      Some bloggers are aware of this and provide audience/demographic information, from Quantcast or similar. This is a good step in the right direction. You could also get some Facebook Insights data on your audience.

      The campaigns that I build for my clients pay our influencers pretty decent rates for their contributions, and it varies significantly on things like quality & size of audiences, engagement rates, etc.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Karen,

      Of course, thanks for the comment.

      That ‘influencer marketing’ topic requires more ink then the brief mention in this piece. Such a huge topic…blogger v. visitor, paid v. unpaid, etc.

      There are a couple of ways to look at it:

      1. If you truly want to pay or reward visitors / bloggers for their social content about your destination, then yes, you need some sort of mechanism to measure the reach of the participant and the potential impact. That is the biggest hurdle for Canberra…can they realize $1m+ in ROI?

      Yes, yes, Klout can be gamed, blah, blah. But it is the best we have right now. Use it as a starting point and then supplement with research.

      2. In theory, the destination does not have to pay or reward anyone. Just make the destination socially friendly. For example, Kodak use to (might still) sponsor photo spots in Disneyland…you would see a little sign, example photo and instructions. It would be easy for a DMO to replicate that experience, include an Instagram hashtag and pound that sign into the ground.

      No payments, no contest, no Instagram account required for the DMO.

      They are simply supporting the social opportunities within their destination.

      I could go on, but you get the idea.

      To the second question, it really depends on the influencer. Professional travel bloggers need to be compensated in some way, while Joe Tourist (the Canberra example) is happy with just having travel costs covered.

      Not opposed to the idea of paying for content, but it needs to be transparent and beneficial for both sides.

      Interesting to think about that second question. In the article above, the DMO is not paying you to use your content (remember, they deleted their social accounts), but rather for you to come to their destination and share your content with your followers.

      Its almost a silent endorsement, which feels like a new idea.

      Great comment, really making me think.

      – Troy

  5. Matthew Barker

    Hi Troy, thanks for this very timely & astute article that echoes a lot of what we’re saying at the moment.

    A lot of brands – particularly smaller ones – have found it incredibly hard to use social media in the way that all those countless “social evangelists” tell us we should be doing. For smaller brands without an audience critical mass it can take years and years of spending precious time & money to get the follower counts & engagement levels up to the point where you start to see real ROI. That’s $ that’s much better spent on PPC or even SEO. I was saying so back when it wasn’t fashionable: http://www.travelmole.com/news_feature.php?id=1148382

    The development of social media marketing towards influencer marketing is starting to change that. If a brand can “borrow” someone else’s social audience & influence without having to front up all the investment in creating it in the first place, that’s an arrangement that can work out well for both the brand and the content creator/influencer.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Matthew,

      Good comment, thanks for adding to the discussion.

      I still think social media is critical for the individual employee of any organization, as is supporting fans and stakeholders who support your brand / message.

      But does a tourism destination brand *have* to be social?

      Perhaps not.

      – Troy

  6. Troy Thompson

    Honestly, you would not think clipart existed for getting kicked in the ass, but there you go.

    – Troy

  7. Joe Bühler

    Traditionally DMO’s have had dual marketing roles, one focused on the demand, the other on the supply side. For various reasons many have focused more on creating demand which is usually the more glamorous activity.. What’s more fun, going to some big international trade show or promotion tour, or run instructional meetings with your local suppliers to raise their level of professionalism and build a stronger destination brand? I’ve long advocated a stronger focus on the supply side and made a number of enemies back in the days for that stance. Today, I remain more convinced than ever that for many DMOs this should be their main role to play.

    • Peggy LEE

      So true, Joe. It’s the total destination that effects the demand side…not simply the hotels. The in destination experience that must include more participation in the DMO by the ancillary suppliers. That would help in the social marketing more than most things.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Joe,

      Well said.

      I don’t think DMOs, NTOs or tourism organizations were wrong to experiment with Facebook or Flickr, but as our social media evolution continues it is becoming more and more obvious that the destination marketing organization can play a larger, and arguably more effective role, behind-the-scenes via training and support.

      Will it be the answer for everyone? Of course not.

      But I think it will work well for a good number of our peers.

      – Troy

      • Joe Bühler

        What DMOs have to realize is that they can’t be everything to everyone at all times with the limited financial and human resources they have available. Prioritize! From personal experience, I know how hard that can be with pressure from all sides to be present everywhere and use every new and shiny marketing tool that comes on the scene.

        When it comes to setting these priorities decide where you can best be substituted by others, be that your in destination suppliers, or, yes, in today’s world even your visitors. Let them toot the horn for you, even more effectively tha you can yourself. What makes these visitors do that, is a top in destination experience and not in response to your glossy print ad or oh so we’ll designed, expensive trade show booth.

        Also, pool resources with your “competitors” who in some markets are actually your allies, and with your state, regional or national DMO for getting long haul visitors. With this approach, resources suddenly become available where none were thought to exist. Despite all the new social and mobile tools, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to formulating a smart, effective overall destination marketing strategy. The fundamentals remain the same.

  8. Petur J Petursson

    Thank you Troy, excellent article. As a matter of sharing on the topic, we have integrated Instagram on our site and simply asked people to share their pictures of Norway with the #visitnorway. We have not spent one cent on marketing of this and have this far “recieved” 13.500 pictures, wonderful shots actually, of Norway. No promotion, we post a reminder to facebook and twitter perhaps once a week, no rewards, no contest, no bells and whistles. And it keeps on coming. It achieves goals on many levels as you can imagine, for the contributor getting published in a bigger setting, self expression and all that but also the fact that from our point of view the picture material (all DMO’s will always bitch about their photobank) is unique for each individual bringing Norway much closer to the viewer and bringing the people of Norway closer to our visitors.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Petur,

      Thanks for the kudos and adding to the article, love that example.

      Read that comment again peers and friends. Visit Norway is simply using their stature / reach to promote others. No contest. No content building. Just highlighting what is already happening in the social space.

      If you are a DMO / NTO / CVB and wondering what you social media strategy should look like, I would give Petur a call.

      Great stuff.

      – Troy

  9. Martin

    Excllent: The promise of free promotion, easy communication and masses of consumer advocates singing the limitless, yet carefully crafted message of your brand has not developed as planned. Great post 🙂

  10. Rana Walker

    Very thoughtful and insightful article!


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