New and social media tactics are increasingly part of the communications strategy for destinations. By Tanya Lewis
At a hospitality summit in 2006, more than 50 government and tourism industry leaders from Philadelphia decided to take the plunge into Web 2.0 to promote the city. Former mayor John Street, who believed in the power of new media, allocated $5 million and tasked the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) with devising a two-year program.
"People [are] traveling in different ways, getting information in different ways, and listening to word-of-mouth sources," says Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of GPTMC. "This [tech-savvy] market wanted to be informed, to discover - not sold to."
GPTMC developed a blog called "uwishunu" (You Wish You Knew), whose content centers around local perspectives and opinions that tell the city's story "from the inside out," she says. Now in its second year, the blog has garnered more than 425,000 visits from people in more than 160 nations/territories.
"Uwishunu is the call to action for people who love city experiences and want to experience Philly like a local," Levitz notes.
Errin Cecil Smith, Uwishunu program director, describes it as "showing the face of Philly [and] inviting like people."
Birth of a blog
The team first considered creating a Web site, but decided to make it a blog. "It gets away from forcing us to present when we really [want] a conversation," Levitz says.
More than 60 local bloggers have contributed to 1,500 posts in categories such as retail, restaurants, arts, nightlife, outdoor activity, and music. Smith says many bloggers were found through social media networks, friends, and journalists.
Visitors can leave comments, interact with bloggers and one another, and e-mail posts. Uwishunu also has its own MySpace page and Facebook group.
Four months after the blog launch, the team decided to add original Web video series. The first, called IllaDates, debuted in May 2007 and included 24 episodes following a local couple as they went on affordable dates throughout the city. It drew an audience of more than 45,000. Three new shows will premiere this year: All Up in Their Grills, IllaNights, and Studioscopic, which feature local restaurants, nightlife, and artists, respectively.
"The purpose of the videos is to provide more rich content," says GPTMC social media director Annie Heckenberger. "We're careful to listen to visitors and respond to what they're looking for. Uwishunu focuses around authenticity. Programs feature live Philadelphians talking about the city - nobody can tell the story better."
All videos are launched at uwishunu.com and syndicated to at least 10 sites, including YouTube, Google, Brightcove, and Yahoo.
While civic leaders fully supported the program, everyone knew aggressive promotion was needed. Levitz says "most" of the $5 million budget is spent on PR and ads.
"It wasn't enough to get it up there," she says. "We had to shine a light on it and direct people to it."
Caroline Bean, GPTMC national media relations, explains that traditional PR tactics supported online tactics and helped get the word out.
"To build a community you have to participate in communities," adds Heckenberger. "We established ourselves in already populated [online] communities - local and global - and connected with local groups. [We] leveraged existing community events."
The GPTMC team literally walked around town talking to people about Uwishunu and handing out cards explaining where to send blog posts, as well as a template to help people translate experiences into blog entries.
Other cities follow suit
Though Philadelphia took a deep dive into new media with Uwishunu, other destinations have just begun to test the waters. In February 2007, Illinois launched its first new media campaign, "The Seven Wonders of Illinois," in which consumers nominated and voted on favorite attractions via the Illinois Bureau of Tourism's (IBT) Web site. The effort garnered more than 3,700 nominations.
"The consumer is very far ahead of destination marketers in terms of social media," says Cathleen Johnson, EVP, GM, and global director of tourism at Edelman, which represents IBT. "We were looking to get a much more general consumer awareness of destinations and virtues of Illinois."
Jan Kostner, IBT deputy director, says Web site hits swelled to 300,000 during voting in March 2007, compared with 98,000 hits in March 2006. The team also engaged bloggers, which resulted in mentions on more than 70 blogs. IBT plans to more broadly increase blogger and consumer dialogue in the future.
"[Since] we put our toe in the water and had good results, it's easy to [increase] social media," Kostner says. "You are nervous, but the dialogue is already out there. People are saying what the brand is, and you have to jump in."
For Uwishunu, bloggers are very important as they are responsible for content generation, but GPTMC also conducts blogger outreach to bolster program publicity. Smith says the team has always treated bloggers like "legitimate journalists." The team recently hosted a press tour of the city exclusively for five bloggers and an online writer.
"It was a great learning experience to [apply the] traditional tour [to bloggers]," Heckenberger says. "They filed from each place we went. They've become ambassadors and continue to reference our community."
GPTMC is currently seeking funds to extend Uwishunu beyond 2008. Levitz notes that the program has "enabled and encouraged" GPTMC to highlight many stories about - and aspects of - Philadelphia that wouldn't necessarily work in other formats.
"There was some relief from some board members who questioned at the outset [whether] Philly really has enough nightlife, enough owner operation, enough artists to have an inside-out life for itself," she says. "It's been a constant revelation. Instead of slowing down, it's speeded up and multiplied."
Consumer use of online social technology:
85% have read a review of a travel product or service
41% have read a travel-related blog
39% have posted a review of a travel product or service
22% have joined in a social network related to travel
18% have kept a blog related to travel
Source: PhoCusWright Travel 2.0 Consumer Technology Survey (2007)
Sample: 825 consumers