View from the stage at the Indiana Department of Tourism’s New Media Workshop

As one of the travel bloggers for the Indiana Department of Tourism’s VisitIndiana website, I occasionally get to speak at their industry events. On Wednesday, I got to speak at the New Media Workshop on the blogging panel. This is the view from my seat (before everyone showed up) and then with my fellow panelists and moderator Jeremy Williams.

Four Blogging Tips for Travel and Tourism Destinations

One of the best things travel and tourism destinations can use for social media marketing is blogging. It’s a way to share content that:

  • is easy to update. Writing a blog post is as easy as writing an email.
  • helps with search engine ranking. Search engines love blog content.
  • will last for years. Your content can be found years later by interested visitors.

So here are the four things you can do with your blog to help market your tourism destination to your visitors.Screen shot of the Indiana Insider blog from VisitIndiana.com

1. Tell stories about the stuff your guests are doing.

Rather than just describe the activities that are available at your destination, talk about the things your guests have been doing. Write it more like one of the old weekly newspaper columns that used to tell us when the town’s citizens had visited each other.

The stories should talk about some of the stuff the guests are doing. Do a quick interview with them, find out the favorite part of their activity, and write a brief synopsis of what they did. Include some photos if possible (see #2).

We just heard from David and Sharon A. about the round of golf they played this morning. Sharon is a fair golfer and scored a 91, although David (89) is still recovering from a back injury. David said that while the course was a little challenging, he still couldn’t make it out of the water trap on the 13th hole.

Meanwhile, the Robins just returned from their horseback ride, on Morgan and Shadow. Morgan is always a gentle horse, which is good, because David Robins has never ridden before. They spent the morning out on the trail and stopped for a picnic lunch out on Oak Lookout.

It’s just a short post, and people may not really care about what the families are doing (more on that in a minute), but the people who have gotten caught in the 13th hole water trap, ridden Morgan, or had a picnic lunch on Oak Lookout are going to have their own memories of the place, and will remember the great times they had. (However, the families who are mentioned in your post may also tell their friends about your blog entry, and they’ll get to read about your place as well.

2. Post your photos and videos.

We talked in a previous post about why travel and tourism destinations should use photo and video sharing sites. The only issue is that you can’t always get people to go to those photo and video sites, especially if you’re uploading hundreds and thousands of photos.

But your blog is also an easy place to share those photos and videos. Choose the embed code for your album or video, and paste it into a blog post. You can use this content to reinforce the text you’re writing about, and increase the impact of your posts. Plus, videos and photos embedded on your blog will help your search engine rankings

3. Talk about behind-the-scenes stuff.

Think about your good friends, the ones you really like. How much do you know about their lives, the stuff they don’t tell just everyone? Probably quite a bit. And it’s that non-public knowledge that probably makes you feel closer. You can do the same thing on your blog.

Inn-Bedded Resorter Martin Earley is spending two months at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel as their social media guy. He’s been enjoying all the amenities the guests get to use, but he’s also giving people a behind-the-scenes look at The Balsams. You can see a video of the kitchen during a dinner rush, but he has also spent time with the cleaning staff, and will also spend one night working security.

He’s showing regular and potential guests how things work around the place, so people will understand a little better how their favorite New England resort works, but also so they feel a little closer to it, and will want to return again and again.

4. Write it as a letter.

The biggest mistake beginning bloggers make is writing for posterity. They imagine thousands of readers, book editors, and critics, all poring over their blog. As a result, the posts sound stilted and forced, the language is wooden, and the whole thing sounds like it was written by a marketing committee.

Don’t write it for those people, write it for one person. Pick your favorite guest, your best friend from high school, or your mom. Write it in the same friendly tone as if this was only being read by that one person. In fact, start your post out with “Dear Sharon” or “Dear Mom.” Then, write the post to Sharon or your mom. When you’re finished, go back and delete the salutation. The tone of the post will come across as casual, friendly, and personal. The net result is more people will enjoy reading it, and they’ll want to come back every time you publish a new post.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Disclosure: I am a travel writer for the Indiana Tourism Department’s Blog, Indiana Insider.)

4 Ideas for Travel & Tourism Destinations to Get Started in Social Media

This week, I’ve been focusing on how travel and tourism destinations can get started in social media.

(See “5 Reasons Why Travel & Tourism Destinations Need Social Media” and “5 Photo & Video Sharing Sites Travel Destinations Should Use.”)

I probably jumped the gun a little bit by diving into the photo and video sharing sites before I told you how to actually use social media, but that’s okay. For one thing, social networks are created to be soooo easy for everyone to use that you don’t need me to tell you how to get started. Second, you can start these all in a matter of a couple hours, and then start working to integrate them all together. (We’ll discuss that in a future post.)

Vevay, IN Facebook page

Facebook

What it is: It’s the largest social network in the world with 500 million members. If it was a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world, behind China and India. Basically, if there is an online place where your guests and customers gather, this is it.
Get started: Start out by setting up your own personal profile, and connect with friends and family. Keep this separate from your business or organization. You don’t want to combine your business with your personal life on here.
Strategy: Once you’re comfortable with Facebook, set up a separate business page (what used to be called a “Fan Page”) for your business or destination, and then upload your business email database — you have been saving your guests’ emails, haven’t you? — to build your network. Ask these people to “Like” your page. Start communicating with your page’s network about things going on at your place through status updates, telling people about new photos and videos, new blog posts, and new specials.
Why? The whole foundation of social media is building relationships with people. You want to evoke a positive emotional response in people when the visit your place, and you want to remind them of that emotional response when they see the latest news or photos. If you remind them of the good feelings they had while they were there, they’ll want to experience them again, and will return again.

Twitter

What it is: It’s a 140 character message that is sent out to your followers (people who have started “following” your messages, because they want to see what you have to say). Twitter is like Facebook’s “Status Updates” but without everything else.
Get started: Go to Twitter.com and sign up for an account, and add your customer list (see Gmail below). Next, download TweetDeck from TweetDeck.com.
Strategy: Communicate the same information you send out on Facebook and your blog by tweeting your headlines and links to events or new posts.
Why? Because not everyone is on Facebook at the same time. Because some people prefer Twitter over Facebook. Because with TweetDeck you can update both Twitter and Facebook at the same time. Because there are a lot of other reasons I will cover in a future post.

Blogging

What it is: Blogging is a way to publish information, like articles and stories, for other people to read and for search engines to find. It’s a way to share photos and videos, without sending people off to Picasa and YouTube (see yesterday’s post, “5 Photo & Video Sharing Sites Travel Destinations Should Use.”)
Get started: Visit Blogger.com or WordPress.com and follow the instructions. You won’t need to upload an address book to find connections.
Strategy: Blog on a regular basis — at least once a week, but preferably more — about what’s going on at your destination or business. Show photos and videos of the fun stuff other people are doing. Talk about any special events or festivals, both before and after they take place. Share testimonials from your guests.
Why? For two reasons: 1) you can rank high in the search engines with a lot of interesting content like this, and 2) it helps your guests feel more connected if they can visit your site and feel like they’re visiting your location. (See the Facebook section above.)

Gmail

What it is: A free email network owned by the folks at Google.
Get started: Set up an account at Gmail.com, and import all of your addresses from your different email profiles, whether it’s Yahoo, Hotmail, your local cable provider, or the address book on your computer. Next, clean it up by eliminating duplicates, deleting out of date entries, and adding missing information.
Strategy: You won’t use this for social networking. You’ll use it for uploading all the addresses of your guests to the other networks. Any new social network you join will let you “see if your friends are on here!” And every social network will plug into Gmail with ease, so this makes it so much easier to build your network in just a couple minutes.
Why? Because you want to have a master list of all your email addresses somewhere other than your computer, in case your computer breaks down.

I was recently in a contest to become the “Inn-Bedded Resorter” at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire, and had a chance to be their social media specialist for two months. This was a novel approach, because the Resorter was going to be a guest, do all the guest activities, and then report it via social media. They were starting to use all of these technologies to communicate with their fans and guests, and have seen some great success with these technologies. You ought to give them a try and see what you can do with it.

5 Photo & Video Sharing Sites Travel Destinations Should Use

Yesterday, I talked about the 5 Reasons Why Travel & Tourism Destinations Need Social Media, and how social media is being used by more and more people than you may have realized.

Social media helps people share news about their lives with their friends and family. Not only are they telling people they went on vacation, they’re able to show them where they went, what they did, and all the good times they had. They’re especially doing it on the photo and video sharing sites. Here are fives sites you should use to promote your own travel and tourism destination.

YouTube (VIDEO)

What it is: This is the website everyone knows when it comes to video sharing. According to one source, there are 1,500 years worth of videos on YouTube right now. But that’s because they make it so easy.
Get started:Go to YouTube.com and set up your account. If you already have a Google account of some sort (Gmail, iGoogle, Google Docs), you already have an account, because Google owns YouTube. Start finding other friends and guests by importing your email address book. Then follow the instructions to upload your videos.
Strategy: Encourage guests to upload their own videos and tag your destination in it. (This helps you get found for any searches on YouTube.) Upload your own videos (regular or HD) and embed them in your blog or link to your Facebook account.

Vimeo (VIDEO)

What it is: Vimeo is another video sharing site that’s not nearly as big as YouTube. The benefit to you is that you get to be a bigger fish in a bigger pond. According to their website, it was originally “. . . created by filmmakers and video creators who wanted to share their creative work, along with intimate personal moments of their everyday life,” so there tends to be more of an artsy feel to it, but you’re not limited to only being a filmmaker or artist.
Get started: Go to Vimeo.com and set up an account. Import your email address book (Google or Yahoo), and make connections with your guests.
Strategy: Same as Facebook. If your guests use Vimeo, encourage them to upload videos and tag your destination in it. Upload your regular and HD videos, and then use the embed code to place them in your blog or link to your Facebook account.

Flickr

What it is: Flickr is one of the two most popular photo sharing sites. In fact, by strict definition, it’s a social network centered around photo sharing (actually, all the video and photo sharing tools are considered social networks). You upload your photos and share them with your friends, embed them in blog posts, and link to them in Twitter messages.(Note: Flickr has begun accepting 90 second videos for uploading. While they won’t give YouTube a run for their money, they are making it easier for Flickr fans to keep their video in one place too.)
Get started: If you already have a Yahoo account, you have a Flickr account. Otherwise, sign up, import your email address book, and then start uploading photos. If you have an iPhone or Android, you can also upload photos directly to Flickr from your phone. There is also a digital camera storage card called the Eye-Fi that will not only store your photos, but upload them whenever you’re in a wifi hotspot.
Strategy: Hold a best photo contest and encourage guests to upload the photos to Flickr and Picasa (next section), and then embed the photos in the comments section of your website or your Facebook page.. Post the entries to your website, and allow voting for the best photo (use SurveyMonkey.com). Use the best photo(s) on your promotional materials. Also, consider using a Creative Commons license with your photos (this lets other people use your photos as long as they give you credit), and let them use photos that link back to your Flickr page.

Picasa

What it is: Another photo sharing site, but this one is owned by Google. I like Picasa a little more because it’s easier to integrate with a Blogger blog, plus they have different paid subscription levels. You can get 20GB for $5, or 200GB for $50.
Get started: If you have a Gmail account or a YouTube account, you’re all set. Otherwise, go to picasaweb.google.com Next, go to Picasa.com and download the Photo Uploader. This will let you upload photos in batches, rather than a few at a time.
Strategy: First, don’t worry about whether you can upload videos to Picasa, because you can also use YouTube. (Remember, they’re both owned by Google.) Next, just like with Flickr, hold a photo contest, and use the best photos in your promotional material. And consider using a Creative Commons license with your Picasa photos.

Facebook

What it is: The biggest social network in the world. We talked about it previously.
Get started: Hopefully you already started a Facebook account, but if not, go to Facebook.com and start an account. Get comfortable with it and then start a business page (what they used to call a “Fan Page”) for your own business. Invite friends to “Like” your business page, and do it more than once (people need reminding).
Strategy: While this won’t be the hub of your social media campaign, it needs to be a major part of it. Facebook will have more of your guests and customers on it than any other social network. This is where you need to push a lot of your marketing message, which will drive people back to your main website or blog.

Where should you start?

While there is a chicken and egg question about whether you should join social networks first or start with photo and video sites, it ultimately doesn’t matter. It will take a few days to get everything ramped up. Focus on one video site and one photo site. Pick the one you like the best, and the one that is easiest to use, and just start using it.

At the same time, pick the social network you want to start on (I recommend Facebook, since that’s where everyone is), and work on that one as well. You’ll ultimately spend more time on Facebook than you will on your photo and video sites, so consider these sites as supporting sites for your social network.

5 Reasons Why Travel & Tourism Destinations Need Social Media

I speak to a lot of travel and tourism destinations about social media, and often answer the same question, “why do we even need social media?” There are several reasons, so before I ever start talking about howyou can do social media, let’s focus on the why first.

Photo of marina at Patoka Lake, taken by Erik Deckers

Patoka Lake in southern Indiana

  • Generation Y loooooves social media. Last year, Gen Y outnumbered Boomers 81 million to 78 million in this country. And while Gen Y doesn’t buy as many vacations as Boomers, they ARE responsible for about $2 – $3 billion in spending each year. They influence things like the family’s car purchase, where the family goes to eat, and of course, where the family goes on vacation. Combine that with the fact that nearly 96% of Generation Y is on a social network of some kind, and you start to see who you need to reach.
  • Boomers are huge consumers of social media too. While Generation Y is the biggest demographic on Facebook (which will tip the scales at 500 million members in the next couple of weeks), the fastest growing demographic is women between the ages of 50 – 60. And they’re on the network telling their friends about their kids and grandkids, catching up with old friends, sharing glimpses of their lives, and of course, telling their friends where they went on vacation. And they’re sharing photos and videos of those memories.
  • Social Media is free. All of the major social networks are free to join, and free to use. You can join Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube right now, and get started. Of course, there’s a significant amount of time involved, but if you can find even 30 minutes a day to do your social media marketing, you’ll make a huge dent in your campaign, and be miles ahead of your competition. We’ll talk about how to do this in a future post.
  • Social media lets others do the work for you Facebook, YouTube (video sharing), and Flickr and Picasa (photo sharing) are all considered social networks. And they make it easy for people to share information about their vacation. They upload photos and videos to their sites, and share them on Facebook. As their friends see where they went, they think about going there too. So they’re doing your marketing for you via word-of-mouth. Cost to you? Nothing
  • Social media is about telling a story. People don’t want to see newspaper ads or read brochures. They want stories. They want proof. They want to know what other people are doing at your place. Don’t just tell people you offer water skiing or horseback riding, show them other guests who are riding horses or water skiing. Let your other guests tell stories about how much they enjoyed it. Tell people your stories, let your guests tell their own stories, and then share them through your social network. Again, cost to you? Nothing.

Social media is fast becoming the way people share information and news about themselves. We are becoming a society that values the opinions of our friends — and even online strangers — more than we value the marketers’ opinions. Social media lets you do all of that quickly and easily. We’ll show you how in the coming days and weeks.

How Can Travel Destinations Use Social Media and Blogging?

For one thing, update your website. Get a new site that makes lets you easily make your own changes, rather than relying on a code warrior to make $100/hour changes for you.

Second, add a blog and write new content at least twice a week. Talk about what’s going on at your place, announce special events, review those events after they happen, do special “Meet the Staff” profiles, talk about the history of your place, and anything else you can think of.

The reason you want to do this is because of search. Ninety percent of all web interactions begin with search, which means they’re searching for you. If they can’t find you, they won’t visit you. So blogging helps you win searches when travelers are looking for you.

Third, join Facebook. Create your own profile, but then create a page for your destination. Upload your email list of all your past visitors (you have been collecting emails, haven’t you?), and invite all of them to become fans of your page. Then you can update them about special events, new blog posts, and other news. Build a fan base of people who love your place.

Fourth, join Twitter. Upload your email list again and start following those visitors. They’ll follow you back, and you can use Twitter to broadcast new blog posts, chat with followers (like a chatroom), and keep in touch with your regulars and fan base.

By jumping in on social media and blogging, you can create a base of rabid fans who love your destination. They’ll not only come back year after year, but tell their friends about it too.

Why Travel Destinations Need to Embrace Blogging and Social Media

Plymouth Blueberry FestivalI have recently added “travel writer” to my collection of writing hats, as a blogger for VisitIndiana.com, Indiana’s state tourism website. I get to travel around the state, visiting different tourist venues, travel destinations, and interesting sites and special events.

As I travel, I always make sure to do a quick Google search for my final destination(s) so I can see if there is anything I need to check out, make special plans for, be aware of, or even watch out for. Things I may want to know, like hours, admission and ticket prices, or special travel packages.

The problem is I don’t always find the kind of information I need on those searches. If I Google a destination, I typically find reviews from other travelers, incomplete information on some “everything-to-everyone” travel website, and a couple of newspaper articles from 2005.

What I didn’t find is the destination’s own website. I also find they’re not on Facebook, and they’re not on Twitter. If I dig deeply enough, I might finally find a website that hasn’t been updated since Fall 2007, but nothing about the event I want to attend this weekend.

So what’s a travel destination to do?

You need to give social media a try. I know, I know, you’re busy, it’s the peak season, and you don’t like messing with that stuff anyway.

But your guests do. They read blogs (77% of all Internet users read at least one blog). They’re on Twitter (U.S.-based Twitter users number more than 20 million). They’re on Facebook (Facebook users are in the 200 millions). The problem is, if you’re not, and you may be missing out on a great marketing tool.

Think about your most rabid fans, the people who visit you year after year, sometimes more than once a year. They put your bumper sticker on their car, they wear the t-shirts, and they tell their friends about the wonderful time they had.

And they’re telling them online. On their blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. And you can join them to find even more rabid fans. It’s a great, low-cost way to market your destination to old guests and new friends. You can use it to enhance your other marketing efforts, and even try new programs and specials online before you commit to spending money on expensive traditional marketing outlets.

We’ll talk about how travel destinations can jump onto the social media bandwagon in a future post.

Photo: Stevan