Is it worth using social media in tourism marketing?
"Susan, why do you keep going on about social media? I just want to get more direct bookings from my website." I've heard that more than once.
Er... OK. Let's step back from social media for a moment and focus on the idea of direct bookings and websites.
To get direct bookings from your website you need:
a) a very good website
b) a website with an online booking facility and/or contact details prominently displayed
c) plenty of visitors to your website - only a percentage will actually book so you need to target them carefully and build traffic.
Your website is one of millions. It's only of use if people go to it. They might go to it and think it's marvellous. But then they'll forget. You have to keep reminding potential visitors.
So how can you get those visitors to your website?
One way is to have an incredible direct mailing list. You don't have one of those? Oh.
Or you could spend a fortune advertising to get people to your website? But you don't want to spend much money? Oh.
I know - you could encourage journalists to write about you and generate free publicity for your site. To do that though you'll need to raise your profile and help journalists see your stories. A lot of them use social media to find stories. But you don't want to spend any time on social media? Oh.
Another way is to be brilliant at search engine optimisation and make sure your website is prominent in the search engine rankings, which of course can be tricky if you're in a competitive market.
It helps if you can encourage others to drive visitors to your site, through external links. They'll need to know and trust you, so you'll need to raise awareness of what you do, and be consistent, for example by posting good content regularly on social media that other people want to share...
On many of the sites I'm involved in, either directly or through clients, social media accounts for at least 30% of new visitors to websites.
That's why I keep going on about social media.
It can help you raise your profile.
It can help journalists find out about you.
It can help drive new visitors to your website.
It can help remind people to go back to your website.
It can help encourage others to link to your website.
It can help build trust in your business.
It can help you develop your mailing list.
It can help build collaborations with other local businesses.
It can help save you money - other marketing methods may cost much more.
It can help you increase direct bookings from your website.
That's quite a list of benefits. So what's the catch? You have to actually use social media.
I don't mean, go online, read a few posts, tinker about a bit, write the odd post, put on a picture of your cute dog. Take a picture of the snow and add #beautiful. That won't work so well.
I mean properly USE social media. Use it to say what you need it to say. Use it with intent and purpose. Use it for your own benefit. Use it as an important promotional tool. Control it, instead of letting it control you.
I sigh when I hear about another social media channel. I groan when there's yet more updates, technology issues, new things to grapple with. But I don't say I can't cope with the technology. Not because I'm a whizz kid but because it's made for anyone to simply pick up and use. If my 78 year old mother can use facebook, whats app, twitter and instagram to stalk her grand daughters, you can definitely use social media to build your business. Let's get rid of the "I'm rubbish with technology excuse". When people say that, and I question them, it almost always means they just haven't tried to use it yet, or don't want to.
So we know social media can be useful. We know it's easier to use than many think. But how do you control it, how do you use it for your own ends?
There are some straight-forward ways to make your social media more successful:
Does that sound too easy? You'll probably agree that having a plan would be a good idea. Knowing exactly what to say would help. You know you need to "sort out social media".
It sounds onerous to have to sit down and write out a plan and come up with ideas for posts, but if you spend a few hours doing that, it massively saves time in the future. If I'm working on social media for a client without a plan, it's easy to go online and blithely look around for ideas and things to share, and end up wasting hours. If you post ad hoc or just when you see something of interest, the effect is very limited.
Most people don't have two or three clear messages that they're trying to convey - in different ways so people don't get bored. They post but don't drive traffic to their website, or over link so they fail to build social media presence.
Consistency is a key issue - but easier to get right if you've pre-planned. It's interesting how when you sit down to brainstorm ideas and angles, once you've got a few they start to flow. Then you have a stack of ideas to use, and to write in such a way that they fulfil your main purpose and contribute to getting more traffic to your website and direct bookings.
Social media costs so very little (even if you pay to boost posts) and can be incredibly effective. So it's odd that so few people spare a few hours to plan it and make it count. There's never a good time, is there?
There are masses of courses both in person and online about how to use social media. I think in a way they're counter-productive. The best way to learn how to use social media is to use it. It's designed to be a teach-yourself-tool. Going on too many courses can be great procrastination but doesn't get you far unless you implement the knowledge.
Which brings me to the real problem - I find that the tricky bit for most people is knowing what to say to get results, knowing when to say it, knowing how to say it. Few courses will teach that because the messages need to be targeted to your individual business. Most people need a bit of guidance along the way too.
And all of this will help to drive more traffic to your website, increase direct bookings, raise your profile, help journalists find out about you, remind people to go back to your website, encourage others to link to your website, build trust in your business, develop your mailing list, help build collaborations with other local businesses...
That's why I keep going on about social media for tourism marketing!
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs