One of our sessions will emphasize the need for everyone to not only develop his or her own expertise and effectiveness in social media, but also to help spread the word on social media about their partners next door, up the street, down the road, or in the surrounding region.
The destinations that are most effective at engaging visitors online are those that have partners who are social-savvy …. not just one or two, but most partners, and those partners take it upon themselves to champion one another whenever possible, online and offline.
They do not wait for the CVB, Tourist Board, or Chamber to do everything.
Top-level promotion efforts from the DMO should be icing on a very solid cake of self-reliant partners who take responsibility for their own marketing, and support one another, too.
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(Disclosure – I was a guest of the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association on this trip, so my travel expenses were paid for.)
“Is it okay to sit on these benches?” I asked.
“Those are the $10 seats. You wanna come in here [to the broadcast booth,] that costs $15,” said the 90-year-old host of the King Biscuit Time blues radio show, “Sunshine” Sonny Payne from behind his microphone.
“Well, I’d pay $50 to go back there!” I laughed, and Sonny shook his head, smiled and waved me into his booth that is tucked into a room at the Delta Cultural Center in downtown Helena, Arkansas.
I shared seats during KBT Show Number 17,353 with travelers Chris and Mike from Indiana, plus Linda Broome who is the Executive Director of the King Biscuit Blues Festival that was coming up in Helena later the next week.
“Pass the biscuits, ’cause it’s King Biscuit Time!”
They’ve been saying that since 1941 on KFFA AM radio 1360. If you’re in broadcast range in the upper Delta, Mondays through Fridays 12:15 – 12:45 p.m., tune in on your AM radio and hear the scratchy sounds of musical history. This show took blues music and its artists from the obscurity of juke joints and cotton fields, and shared their rhythms to the entire region through technology – radio.
Today, technology helps to share the blues far beyond the Delta, around the world.
“By 6:30 p.m. local tonight, the show’s in London and Australia,” said Sonny. “They put it on the internet. We film it on Fridays, too.”
Sonny Payne expertly pokes buttons on his console, waves his hand to the music, shuffles playlist CDs in and out of the player, occasionally stretches out an achy shoulder, makes jokes and talks to visitors on air, and encourages listeners to patronize show sponsors like the local Ford dealer, and the Shack Up Inn over the river and to the south in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Ever the perfectionist, he says as he turns the microphone over to the next show, “You got it; don’t give me no dead air.”
Photos, artifacts, and placards about the show and the blues surround the broadcast booth and line the room, so be sure to spend some time wandering through it and the rest of the Delta Cultural Center, either before or after the show.
There are music festivals and events in and around Helena in addition to the King Biscuit Blues Festival – see Bridging the Blues for musical happenings throughout the Delta. If you want to stretch your legs and see more scenery, try the nearby Delta Heritage bike trail, a newly-opened Rails to Trails project.
But visit with “Sunshine” Sonny first.
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I’ve been doing more workshops lately about how tourism organization sales staffs can connect with meeting and event planners on social media, and this includes some discussion about content marketing through a meetings-focused, B2B blog in addition to their CVB, DMO, or Tourist Board consumer-focused blog.
Actually, the very top result was green meetings ideas from the Athens, Georgia CVB, but the link was broken and took me to a 404 page on their site. I wish folks would do a better job of redirecting when they make website changes; otherwise, they lose all sorts of Google juice for certain search words and phrases.
The Grand Rapids meeting planner blog has long been one of my favorite B2B examples, but their staff tells me that it took awhile (6 to 9 months) for the blog to get traction and significant traffic.
That’s about the time that many people give up after starting a blog (right before the “growth hockey stick” that typically occurs after you’ve been consistently publishing good stuff for 6-9 months) but Grand Rapids stuck to their plan and now they’re reaping the benefits.
You don’t have to set up a totally separate meeting planner blog if you don’t have the resources right now to do it well; simply review your online publishing editorial calendar (part of your integrated marketing plan) and beef up your offerings in the Meetings category on your regular blog.
I’m a big fan of devoting more attention to your own self-hosted blog – which YOU control and which reaps significant long-term SEO benefits – rather than spending quite so much time pouring effort into Mr. Zuckerberg’s Facebook empire, which is what Marcy Massura calls, “Decorating a room in someone else’s hotel.”
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Visitors these days turn to Twitter for interaction with travel brands, especially to get help with the airlines rather than sit on Hold with a call center.
What does that mean for the tourism and hospitality industries?
I think that hotels, CVBs (Convention & Visitors Bureaus,) DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations,) Tourist Boards, and Chambers of Commerce that handle tourism should also start thinking of Twitter as more of a powerful quick-response visitor/guest service tool and less as a place to broadcast content, like everyone else is doing.
“Twitter is what we wanted it to be, [a] realtime information network. I don’t give a sh*t if Instagram has more people looking at pretty pictures.”
Other than during major breaking news, sports, or entertainment events, it can be hard for people to see the value in this “realtime information network.”
Is Twitter even worth the effort, particularly when you hear that you “have to” tweet 5 – 25 times a day to rise above the noise?
If you’ve logged into your Twitter analytics lately, you may be discouraged by low engagement rates. As a point of reference, my engagement rate so far this month is only about 1.4% for my personal @SheilaS account, with 28K followers. Anecdotally, I’ve sensed a dropoff in responses/engagement since I first started using Twitter in late 2007.
However, when I’m involved with other people in a Twitter chat, or tweeting in conversation with people in my network, it is much higher, and this got me thinking about the real power of Twitter.
Win By Engaging with Visitors & Helping Them
In tourism and hospitality, you will get high-quality engagement on Twitter by being the responsive expert voice for your destination, attraction, or hotel. When you’re tagged (referred to by your @ Twitter handle in a tweet) make sure that you respond quickly and give people the information they are seeking.
When you’re doing that, you’re helping actual people – current, former, and prospective visitors – instead of sending out tweets in the crossed-fingered hope that maybe someone, anyone, will see them.
The people that you help on Twitter will remember your responsiveness, and I guarantee they’ll talk about it on their own social networks.
Other brands may schedule a bunch of shouty tweets all day to win the numbers game, but don’t get caught up in that high-volume race. You won’t win and you’ll annoy followers.
Shift your thinking about this particular social media platform, and realize that no one can beat you as a digital concierge who can be trusted to respond to questions, give specific advice, and share your visitors’ great photos, video, tweets, and blog posts with your followers (they’re doing your marketing for you, and that means less work for you!)
Many Folks Still Say They Don’t “Get” Twitter
If you have been active on Twitter for a long time, then it probably makes sense to you.
You have had time to watch the service evolve, recover from the too-frequent “Fail Whale” in the early days, and you have an active network of “tweeps” who feed you news before it shows up anywhere else, plus they help you make crucial connections and introductions.
You know how powerful Twitter is for your own professional development and networking when you use it to follow conference hashtags, or to connect with travel bloggers and other online media.
If you are not active on Twitter, or you are new to this particular social media platform, it can be very confusing. Frustrated Twitter investor Chris Sacca recently wrote a detailed post about this, pointing out in his What Twitter Can Be ….
For most people, Twitter is too hard to use.
For most people, Tweeting is scary.
For most people, Twitter feels lonely.
If Twitter is still a head-scratcher, now is the time to give yourself another shot at figuring out how it can work for you. Reconsider how you want to use Twitter, or any social media, to support your overall strategy and goals. Perhaps Twitter is more than a marketing platform, and its customer service capabilities deserve a closer look by your entire organization.
What is often the first step to a downtown renewal? Artists and creative types move in because the rent is cheap. The area becomes hip and cool instead of empty and dangerous.
People are drawn to it, creative enterprises blossom….then rents go up, chains move in, and everyone starts complaining that it’s gotten too expensive and homogeneous….but that’s a post for another day.
What doesn’t change is that the arts definitely matter to the vitality of a community.
How does all this artsy activity help tourism? Panelists had several thoughts….
1) It brings more people to town. Success includes winning the numbers game, unless you can get four billionaires to show up and shower you with money.
2) People’s enthusiasm for and involvement with the arts carries over to merchants and retail folks, fostering cooperation. Mickie jokingly commented, “When we have public programs outside museum walls, we do appreciate it when you [merchants] let the costumed interpreters inside your shop when it rains.”
3) The sometimes lengthy and/or bureaucratic process of becoming a formally designated arts or cultural district (or even simply gaining recognition as “the artsy part of town,”) brings partners together as they unite for a common goal.
4) Having cultural arts offerings means that you have more than one or two things for visitors to do. To get people to take the time to come visit your town, you need a variety of offerings and options. One or two things isn’t enough.
What Can Merchants Do To Capitalize On Arts Activities?
Form creative partnerships and keep each other informed about what’s going on!
Marissa from the Palace — “I can tell you what time that 300 people will go into and then come out of our theater. I can tell you when about 200 people will drop off and then pick up their children for our summer theater camp. People will ask us who is open for late dinner or drinks downtown after our show is over – do we have current information about your hours? Do we know about your current promotions?”
Mickie from the museum — “Come play with us! Some merchants don’t even know that we are close by, right near them. We do fun things like a quarterly History Happy Hour, and we do have business memberships. When it makes sense, we highlight nearby businesses in our museum newsletter.”
“Be aware of what’s going on in town, and talk to each other. Half the people who come into our museum turn around when they’re done and ask us where they should go next; we’re practically a Visitor Center. Are you on our radar?”
Amanda from the gallery — “Get to know the types of people that arts and culture bring to town; they have a lot in common with Shop Local enthusiasts. Visitor time is valuable; we are all busy. If they take the time to visit, make sure that we give good value for their time, and give them an experience to remember. Engage people and be friendly, to build visitor AND business customer loyalty.”
Talk to each other, including online through social media, so that the whole downtown gets in sync and works together for the common benefit.
A Few More Ideas
** Breakfast Bites attendee and painter Kathleen McElwaine emphasized that local artists and musicians need to know how they can fit into the downtown scene; how they can contribute to all this buzzy downtown activity in a way that helps them make a living. Is there a central place where artists can find Calls for Entries?
** Art is not just for art museums or galleries. An art space/gallery within the county historical museum is a good opportunity for local artists, if they know what kind of themed displays are planned.
** Combine art with history by hosting plein air painting events at historic sites (or maybe combine movement with history by hosting yoga sessions at historic places.)
** Is there a conference hotel in your town? Can Cultural/Arts District brochures or catalogs be placed in each room? Is the hotel staff aware of current downtown happenings?
** One concept that Mickie from the Williamson Museum emphasized over and over is the importance of moving historical experiences outside of the four walls of the actual museum and into public spaces, similar to public art taking artistic interactions into the public arena. Costumed interpreters can make an historical marker come alive. Programs like Hello Lamp Post encourage interaction with historic items through a mobile device.
When someone asked in a LinkedIn Group about becoming a pro speaker, this is the advice that I shared….
What Do You Speak About?
First I had to decide what sort of expertise I had that would translate into a 45 – 60 minute presentation. Sounds obvious, but it helps to start out with a few sample presentation titles, brief descriptions for them, and maybe some draft slide decks.
You have to be able to answer the question, “What do you speak about?” and then send the conference organizer a session title, description, bio, and head shot photo. Be prepared.
For example, I currently focus on social media for a specific industry, but when I started out I was doing more general social media how-to workshops (LinkedIn was and still is a favorite topic.) One of my early talks in 2008 was about better travel blogging, another was the impact of social media on small business.
Sample title for a business breakfast club: “Follow the Bouncing Blog Post: How the Web 2.0 World Communicates.” Sounds kinda quaint today, doesn’t it?
WHY Are You Speaking? What’s the Goal?
You also need to think through what you want your speaking to do for you personally and/or for your business.
Do you want people to hire you or buy your book because they were inspired by one of your presentations? The direct linkage can be tough to make, since no one likes hearing someone sell from the stage.
Speaking helps your visibility and your credibility, but it’s probably not going to be an immediate sales machine unless you sell weight-loss solutions or other “magic answers” to people’s problems.
It’s a long game to build awareness and reputation. I remember a line of enthusiastic people getting one of my business cards after an early presentation, and I naively assumed that they’d all be emailing me the next day to hire me or buy our Tourism Currents online course in social media.
People get back home after a conference and they get busy with their regular lives, so you must have a process for follow-up and landing the actual business.
Just like a writer or artist, you need a portfolio, so start out building experience and getting testimonials from speaking to small local groups….probably for free at first, but if someone asks what you charge, better have thought through some price points!
Build experience and credibility with smaller meetings, but be bold and pitch larger events, too, about about 9 – 12 months out from the event date. My first two big ones were SXSW Interactive and BlogHer, which have a standardized speaker proposal process.
Go to event websites and look for “Call for Speakers” sorts of links. Get in early with a fantastic, compelling pitch.
Speaker Page and Sales Info
Make sure you have photos and video from those gigs, because you also need to start populating a Speaker Page on your website with examples of past work, sample video, sample slide deck(s) plus testimonials, upcoming gigs, pricing arrangements, and contact information.
Get some video made as soon as you can; people need to be able to see you in action. You can post a full presentation plus maybe a clip or two that’s a short highlight from one of your sessions.
Tip: If there’s an event that wants you to speak, and it fits your goals, but they have a very limited budget, ask about waiving your speaker fee in exchange for professional video of your presentation. If they have a videographer onsite anyway, it’s a simple way to get good footage.
It bothers me that so many conference marketing materials feature a sea of male faces as presenters.
Too many women don’t assert themselves and confidently ask to be in the speaker lineup, and that’s why so many lineups are full of guys who do ask. Do not wait to be anointed from on high because it’s not going to happen. That’s the classic problem of women being “good girls” and waiting patiently to be recognized for their expertise.
Your success depends on YOU, not someone else’s agenda or timeline.
If you find out about a great event but discover that you’ve missed the proposal deadline, dig around to find a contact and ask to be considered anyway. Maybe they still have openings, or you might be able to fill in for someone who drops out.
There are three parts to the SXSW festival – Interactive, Film, and Music. Many only know about the well-publicized Music portion (which is indeed a huge deal) but in fact the Interactive/technology part of the event draws the most attendees – 30,000+ in 2014, with the same number or more expected this year in 2015.
Some think of it as a social media conference or even a marketing conference, but for me it is much more about intersections….the Venn diagrams of our lives. It’s a giant discussion about the web of technology, digital, mobile, social communications, and business (especially entrepreneurship,) plus media, government, and how technology matters in “life stuff,” like sports, food, fashion, and parenting.
The event has quite a rep as one big boozy party – “Spring Break for Nerds” – but those of us who did college already usually leave that part to the amateurs.
If that sounds like a sprawling mess, well, that’s why I like it. It is about life, and life is messy.
But here’s why I never miss it….it is the one event that shows you right now what people will be doing three to five years in the future.
In 2007, I went to my first #SXSWi. I’d just moved to the Austin area, and I’d started a family travel blog when I retired from the Navy in early 2006. In between incomprehensible geek terms in the event’s online marketing material, I saw the words “digital creative” and “blogger.”
“Hey, that’s me!” I thought. “I don’t know about any of this other technology-related chatter, but I’ve been blogging for at least a year, so I’m not totally clueless.”
I’ll never forget Kathy Sierra‘s 2007 opening keynote – she made a joke about Python and Ruby (computer programming languages) that had the whole room laughing, and I did not understand a word of it. Uh, oh. Had I spent about $300 to be completely lost for five days? (Note: Interactive passes are now more like $800-$1300, so I got in when it was a bargain.)
As it turned out, my money was well spent if I wanted to see the future and think about human connections and communications every spring, with hundreds of the smartest people on Earth all thrown together in one place.
Eventually I ended up on the SXSWi Advisory Board (now called the Programming Committee,) which means that every summer, my Board colleagues and I read through hundreds of panel proposals for the next spring’s conference. I’m a tough sell; recommending the ones that are really unique and interesting, and giving a picky thumbs down recommendation to many, many others that in my view are just social media marketing presentations overlaid with a veneer of techie verbiage to make them sound good.
Every year, there are snarky tweets, blog posts, and media articles saying that SXSWi is done, over, run its course, jumped the shark. People tweet that it’s too expensive, it’s impossible to get a place to stay (the Austin downtown hotel situation IS appalling but they’re furiously building more lodging,) the “panels all suck,” blah, blah, blah.
Methinks thou doth protest too much. You KNOW that this is where the action is.
There is no other event that will mix you in with so many smart, creative, interesting people from around the world doing extraordinary things. If you show up to such a gargantuan gathering without a plan, you will doubtless miss a huge part of the value unless you’re very good at on-the-fly networking. If you show up only to party, then rock on, but the rest of us have higher aspirations.
SXSWi is my personal and professional Super Bowl, and I’m honored to walk in every year, pick up my badge, and dive into five days of mind-blowing presentations and discussions.
I haven’t tried daily blogging from the conference for quite awhile, but I may give it a shot again this year….a short summary post of what’s top of mind as each day concludes. Let’s see how it turns out!
(Update – well, that didn’t happen, although I did a lot of live tweeting, but I’m working on follow-up posts for both Tourism Currents and the Perceptive Travel Blog, and I’ll post links to them here.)
While putting together a presentation for the ETC (Educational Travel Community) conference in Boston, I was asked by the organizers to create a list of 15 travel-related resource sites that tour operators, tour suppliers, alumni group travel organizers, and others could monitor for current items of interest, and then share with their email and social media audiences.
Useful content that you share is content that YOU don’t have to create. It’s a time-saver and it’s also helpful for your customers or guests for those days when you don’t have original blog posts, photos, audio, or video.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of blogs and sites, and it’s a very mainstream version of my favorites, but here’s what I suggested:
** Wendy Perrin’s Travel Tips. Wendy’s been a consumer travel expert for years, first with Condé Nast Traveler and now with TripAdvisor.
** Practical Travel Gear – reviews and info on great gear for families plus business and adventure travel.
** Seat 2B – straightforward business travel tips from Joe Brancatelli.
** Unique, award-winning travel stories: Perceptive Travel and the Perceptive Travel Blog (I co-founded the blog in March 2007 and still write for it. We won the SATW Lowell Thomas Gold Award last year, and the webzine won NATJA’s top award this year.)
If success here at the start of a new year means “Email Inbox Zero,” or a blog and email newsletter editorial calendar already completed, or all unfiled piles of paper gone from my house, or a nice set of year-long personal and professional goals taped to the bathroom mirror….well, then I am going back to bed.
Visualizing who you want to be and what you want your ideal life to look like is a great way to stay focused on life’s journey.
It’s similar to athletes who visualize winning an important race or an Olympic gold medal; as they roll out of bed for the daily grind on the track and in the weight room, they SEE themselves succeeding. They can see that the work they are doing is not random – it is building toward a specific, visualized goal.
Knowing what success is “supposed” to look like is also fairly simple if you are in the standard 9-to-5 work world. There are promotions and positions that you aspire to attain someday. You get there, you’ve succeeded. Boom. The End.
But what does success look like for a solo or small-team entrepreneur, like what I do with Tourism Currents?
You have some clients, you get some more, you help clients be successful, you make more money, clients are happy and they bring you more clients, your team gets bigger, maybe you offer some new products and services….then what?
You are acquired by a bigger company? You go public and have a splashy IPO? You become an agency and broaden your offerings?
In my own situation, trying to visualize any of those does not – at least right now – help me to “roll out of bed for the daily grind on the track and in the weight room.”