Social Media Challenges in Destination Marketing

This article was re-posted from the Business 2 Community blog on August 2, 2014.

Earlier this year, we celebrated Facebook’s 10th anniversary, LinkedIn boasted more than 300 million active users while TripAdvisor now has more than 175 million reviews. We have come to expect seeing travel & hospitality stakeholders managing accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or even Google+. In other words, social media marketing has moved beyond bells and whistles and is now the mainstay of a sound digital strategy, along with having a transactional, mobile-optimized website and a clean database for frequent, automated emails and/or newsletters. But while social media is now recognized as important, in particular within the travel vertical, managing it remains a constant challenge.


During its most recent annual summit in Vegas, DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) shared the results from a recent study conducted by Development Counsellors International, surveying more than 100 individuals responsible for social media marketing at destination marketing organizations across North America. Some findings were real eye-openers, confirming what many observers suspected: while social media are considered important for a majority, budget allocation remains marginal, at best.

Social Media Challenges in Destination Marketing image Screen Shot 2014 07 24 at 12.32.29 PM 600x391

This chart shows that 71% of destinations surveyed must deal with a social media marketing budget of less than 25,000$. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 99% of organizations have a digital marketing budget, yet only 60% have a dedicated envelope for social media activities.

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This second chart demonstrates beyond any doubt how social media are under-represented in the big picture of digital marketing budgets. Roughly 76% of destinations allocate less than 10% of their total marketing budgets to social media, regardless of the size of the digital marketing budget to being with!

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So how are social media budgets spent? Some very interesting findings here, shedding light on some best practices by destinations in their social media efforts. According to the survey, most popular budget allocations are:

  • 39% in paid promotion: promoted tweets, Facebook ads and promoted posts, etc.
  • 29% in content development: graphics, writing, photos and videos, apps.
  • 28% invest in Human Resources for engagement.
  • 18% spend on contest initiatives.
  • 13% spend their budget on monitoring tools such as Radian6, VocusSocial, Sysomos, etc.

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One eye-opening finding is that destination brands with intermediate social media marketing budgets seem to be the ones outsourcing this function the most. In particular organizations with budgets within the 25,000-50,000$ bracket, 83% of which outsource their social media activities, handing it over to agencies and/or freelance experts. We are not so surprised to see that destinations with the smallest budgets tend to keep activities in-house, since budgets are scarce to being with. Nevertheless, it is somewhat surprising to find out that virtually one out of every three DMO outsources its social media activities.

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Finally, when surveying what are today’s top social media challenges face by DMOs, again I was somewhat surprised not to see some concerns rank higher, i.e. maintaining engagement, or budget constraints. In fact, the biggest challenge seems to be one shared by many industries alike, and not just in marketing: time, or a lack therof. Over 30% of destination marketing managers identified time as a key challenge, specially with new social networks and mobile apps creeping up all the time and despite of softwares that help managing it all.

It’s no wonder the second biggest challenge is to stay abreast of new trends and technologies that can help making sense of it all. In fact, attending industry events, conferences and participating in various training and webinars is a key component of staying on top of evolving trends and finding out the tools and tech to help managers in their everyday chores handling social media activities.

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One last word. Return on investment (ROI) is almost always a key performance indicator in most organizations, yet it remains elusive in particular in destination marketing, where direct sales are not core to their business model (compared, say, to a hotel, restaurant or transportation). Nevertheless, it’s surprising to see only 8.1% of respondents identifying this challenge as key. Does it make it less important to measure? Of course not, but it does reflect how difficult it remains to “prove” social media campaigns, and that destination marketing organizations have integrated different ways to address this concern in some shape or form.

Do any of the above results surprise you? I would love to hear your comments in the section below.

Click here for more on this DMAI report


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Transforming Five Economic Development Marketing Tactics from “Blah” to “Ah-Hah”

Looking for new business leads? Look no further than the site selection community—who have become supporters and valuable resources for economic developers looking to expand their project pipeline. So how can economic development professionals get on a site selector’s radar?

Instead of sticking to the status quo, economic development professionals need to find out how they can stand out by being useful and relevant. Being a “Youtility,” or resource, to site consultants resonated as a major theme in Consultant Connect’s recent webinar, where four national site selectors discussed best practices and pet peeves in economic development marketing.

Those that weighed in on the discussion included Don Schjeldahl, Ginovus’ Larry Gigerich, Site Selection Group’s David Brandon and Mohr Partners’ Jim Robey.

Below are five marketing tactics that were discussed during the webinar, and examples of how to keep a community’s profile top-of-mind by going from “blah” to “ah-hah!”

1. Face-to-Face Meetings: According to DCI’s 2011 Winning Strategies report, site selectors prefer face-to-face meetings because they lead to higher quality decision making, put a face with a name and aid in building trust.

Face-to-face meeting with site selector

Blah: A two hour meeting with four of your economic development colleagues and one site selector.

Ah-hah: Meeting with one to two economic development colleagues and one site selector for 30 minutes to an hour, discussing critical issues such as a community’s unique accomplishments, changes in legislation, tax laws and incentives, major developments and what’s going on to address challenges.

2. FAM Tours: FAM tours, or familiarization tours, are a great way for site selectors to gain invaluable knowledge of a region by seeing its business assets first-hand.

Site selection fam tours for economic development

Blah: A four-day FAM tour, jam-packed with recreational activities.

Ah-hah: A one to two-day trip, with plenty of quality discussion with major employers, frequent breaks for consultants to check emails, and a special event that relates to the site consultant’s industry targets.

3. Advertising: Although advertising was ranked lower (16 percent) on the spectrum of preferred marketing tactics in DCI’s 2011 Winning Strategies report, some economic development agencies have stepped up their game by using this tactic in low-cost, creative ways to catch the attention of site selectors. Andas the digital world continues to evolve, economic development agencies are finding that using paid search advertising is helping their community’s messages spread to targeted audiences.

Economic Development Advertising

Blah: An ad that shouts “Do business here!” with no specific reason why.

Ah-hah: An ad focusing on a specific issue, change or improvement, may get your community noticed—if done well. For example, focusing on growth in a specific segment or long-term workforce retention is more interesting to a site selector than a general advertising message.

4. Newsletters: Whether it’s a print distribution, a direct mailing or an e-newsletter,sharing good news about your community can be a great way for site selectors to gain a positive perception of your region.

Economic development agency e-newsletter Wake County

Blah: Sending out an e-newsletter to site selectors focusing on an array of different industries, from bioscience to food manufacturing.

Ah-hah: Tailoring an e-newsletter to a select group of site selectors that focuses on their individual industry targets. The more personal and relevant it is to them, the higher chance they will keep looking for your e-newsletter in their inbox.

5. Websites: Having an online presence is an economic development agency’s calling card, and many times it’s a first impression of your community’s business assets.

Tennessee Valley Economic Development Authority website

Blah: A website with scattered navigation, a council meeting agenda dating back to the previous month, five pages on community attractions, and a call-to-action to email

A-hah: A website that’s constantly updated, with easy navigation, interesting visuals and specific information on industries, which also calls out specific contacts to email and call (i.e. contacts for property taxes and gas electricity and costs). Although having plenty of data is good too, site consultants are often “data geeks” and don’t necessarily judge a community by it. If you’re looking for economic development website inspiration, look to these three organizations that were called out as great examples from the site selector panelists: Economic Development Corporation Utah, Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Tennessee Valley Economic Development.

Stay tuned for DCI’s 2014 Winning Strategies report coming out in October, for a deeper look into the perceptions of site selectors and corporate executives.

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Top 3 Ways to Qualify Travel Bloggers

As a DMO, no doubt you have been approached by countless bloggers blog
showing interest to participate in a FAM trip to your destination.

Blogs can be an excellent way to gain credibility from a third party source since blogs are the third most influential digital resource for consumers when making a purchase, according to Technorati.

However, there are an estimated 31 million bloggers in the US alone, so when approached, how can DMOs evaluate if the blogger is a good fit? A blogger’s readers should overlap with your target audience and demographics. In addition, the blogger must have a high ranking digital presence that aligns with your key messaging pillars such as travel, culinary, luxury, spa, adventure or family.

So how do you make sense of the numbers? How do UMV, Klout, engagement and followers compete as individual KPIs or show a comprehensive picture for someone’s digital footprint? Here are three tips and tools that will help you assess each blogger request:

  1. The best source of readership information is the blogger’s own Google Analytics, should they have them, and be willing to provide them. This report will show their actual traffic figures, as well as where their audience is coming from, which will help DMOs determine if the blog is a fit for their goals. Bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes the best bloggers have a small audience but high engagement and strong influence in their niche. How can you tell? Check out tips two and three.
  2. Look at the entire digital footprint of a blogger by assessing their digital influence score using either Klout or Kred rankings.
    • Klout: Klout is a tool for measuring influence by ranking bloggers’ social media accounts and engagement. The average Klout Score is 40 (out of 100); bloggers with a score of 63 are in the top 5 percent of all users. A high Klout score indicates that the blogger’s followers read and engage the blogger on social media platforms.
    • Kred: Kred is a newer social media tool that measures both influence and outreach. Influence is measured by the frequency of retweets, replies and new followers.  The average Kred score is 500 (out of 1,000); bloggers with a score of 700 are in the top 5 percent of all users. Outreach is determined by the amount a blogger re-tweets, mentions or responds to users. A score of 4 or less (out of 12) shows that the blogger uses social media to broadcast rather than to interact.
  3. Engagement is crucial! Just because a blogger is active on social media, doesn’t mean he/she has high engagement. Check to see if the fans and followers are in fact liking, sharing and commenting on the blog and social media platforms. This doesn’t have to be in great numbers, think about it relative to the blog’s size.

With these tips in mind – who are your favorite bloggers in the travel and lifestyle space?

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Negotiating and Showcasing Incentives: 4 Tips from the Site Selectors Guild

In the past two years, corporate incentives have been a hot topic of discussion for both the media and corporate executives. Regardless of whether incentives are perceived as “good” or “bad,” panelists at the Site Selectors Guild Conference believe incentives are both necessary and extremely important components of convincing a company to select your location.

Experts on incentives and negotiations who spoke at this year’s Site Selectors Guild Conference included Angelos Angelou, AngelouEconomics; Tracey Hyatt Bosman, Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Company; Mark Sweeney, McCallum Sweeney Consulting; and Mark Williams, Strategic Development Group, Inc.

Site Selectors Guild

Tracey Hyatt Bosman and Angelos Angelou. Photo courtesy of Site Selectors Guild and InSync Photography + Design

While incentives are just one component of the overall site selection process, here are several “best practices” for economic developers to keep in mind when showcasing and/or negotiating incentives:

  1. Timing is Everything: Timing is critical especially when it pertains to the start date of benefits, frequency of payments and the net present value. Also remember that wage requirements can greatly impact an incentive program’s value.
  2. The Devil is in the Details: When it comes to incentives negotiations, always pay close attention to the fine print on claw-back provisions, understand conditions and payment schedule of tax credit refunds, keep records of incentives commitments and make sure to develop innovative incentives that target project specific needs.
  3. Beware of the Bottom Line: Economic developers must be aware of the client’s internal targets, e.g. “this move needs to save us X amount of money.” Also highlighted was the importance of demonstrating a unified front between state and local governments whenever possible. Side note: it’s a big plus to get approval without the name of the company being disclosed.
  4. Incentives Can Get You in the Game: Incentives are great marketing tools because they set the tone of your community’s or state’s business friendliness, which in turn can increase the number of calls and “get you in the game.” One example shared by the panelists is that of New Jersey, which has received a lot of attention recently about the state’s incentives overhaul. It’s likely that New Jersey will make that initial list more frequently as a result of this positive publicity.

So despite the perceived controversy surrounding incentives, they do ultimately play a strategic role in site selection decision, especially toward the end of the process when incentives could be the deciding factor on whether or not a company decides to commit.

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Forward Sioux Falls Creatively Showcases Its Marketing ROI

Forward Sioux Falls marked the halfway point of its current economic development campaign with this easy-to-digest, graphically pleasing infographic, which shows investors and community members exactly what’s been achieved with their marketing dollars. Created in-house, the infographic has been shared through email and social media, will be featured in the organization’s next Report to Investors […]

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Thought Leadership in Economic Development

What do Jeff Finkle, Richard Florida and Eric Canada have in common (aside from – like me – being white males in the 50+ age range)? They’re all admired for their leadership and innovation in the economic development industry. These thought leaders drive conversation, act as trusted resources, grab others’ attention and share helpful knowledge […]

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Email Marketing Best Practices for Tourism

After waking up, what’s the first thing you do in the morning? Brush your teeth? Make coffee? If you answered check email on your phone, you’re not alone. According to SOASTA, 67 percent of smartphone users who check apps look at email first thing in the morning. That means one of the most effective means of […]

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How Economic Development Organizations are Leveraging Super Bowl XLVIII for the Win

As the world’s most-watched sporting event, the Super Bowl offers many advertisers and marketers an opportunity to promote their brand and unveil their most clever campaigns. Besides the actual game itself, advertising has become an integral part of the Super Bowl experience. And for the past two Super Bowls, companies have thrust economic development in […]

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Advice for New Members in Economic Development

“What advice would you offer to a new member of the economic development profession, particularly in regard to career advancement?” This question was asked in DCI’s recent survey of 197 senior economic development professionals in North America. The respondents emphasized a need for continued learning, as well as networking with other professionals. When we categorized […]

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Transforming your Destination’s Spokesperson into an Industry Thought Leader

Savvy destination marketers know how to leverage the best assets of a place, from white sand beaches to majestic mountain peaks, unique desert getaways to exotic jungle landscapes. Establishing a sense of place is an integral part of promoting a destination, but don’t forget about your most important brand ambassadors–your people. Forbes noted in a […]

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