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DMOs’ Innovative Use of Facebook

What’s the best way for a destination marketing organization to make use of Facebook? The answer lies in the creation of communities of influencers.

This social medium is particularly effective for engaging people in ways that bring them together for a common purpose or to enjoy a common activity. Although most DMOs employ their Facebook sites primarily to promote events or to engage in brief individual conversations, a few innovative organizations are showing us how to achieve larger goals.

Sharing the Sunshine 

Everyone loves a winner – especially if they’re the one holding the prize! Facebook has become a handy place for DMOs to boost audiences by means of contests and prize draws. What’s needed, though, is a strategy to extend the benefits to the tourism region beyond the feel-good moment of awarding the prize.

An instructive example appeared recently in California when the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau launched a Facebook sweepstakes program entitled “Share Our Sunshine” to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary.

During March and April, the bureau awarded 50 destination prize packages to winners of a series of contests such as identifying the location of photos published on the Facebook site. That lured people to return to the site time after time. Then came the end of April and the selection of the winner of the grand prize photo-caption contest. It turned out to be a little girl, who won a Disneyland family vacation package complete with airfare for four provided by American Airlines.

Such excitement! The Anaheim/Orange County Facebook site, had a party atmosphere. Thousands of people clicked to view the special Facebook-only discounts and incentives that accompanied the sweepstakes and promoted the private-sector partners of the bureau.

That was one of the good ideas behind the campaign – involvement of the DMO’s partnership community. Eighty of the hotel, restaurant and attraction partners of the Anaheim/Orange County bureau took part in the campaign. Another best-practice element was to target the prizes to various categories of winners: trips for men, trips for women, getaways for two and family excursions. All of the responses could be tracked and measured, of course.

Finally, the campaign accomplished what we have been advocating throughout this series of articles — the conversation of visitors into influencers. To illustrate, one of the contest competitors wrote on the Facebook site: “This week I saw eye to eye with a killer whale, petted a dolphin, came face to face with King Kong, watched the knights of the realm battle it out and swam in the Pacific ocean! Thank you for sharing your sunshine with us!”

Isn’t that the kind of response you would hope for from a Facebook campaign? It arose from creating a community of interest among people who mutually reinforced their common enjoyment of an activity for an extended time.

Blazing a Trail

The Town of Bend, Oregon, has also realized that Facebook has the capability to build a group of enthusiasts dedicated to a particular activity or tourism offering.

With its motto of “Love your life a little more,” the Facebook site of the Bend Oregon Visitor Bureau Visit Bend invites active discussion from people involved in the mountain town’s many outdoor activities.

Visit Bend has realized that many visitors love competition as well as good times. In the Wall portion of the Facebook site it has been exhorting visitors to help Bend win a voting competition to be named as Beer City USA 2011.

A town of 82,000, Bend has eight craft breweries, all within walking distance of each other. They were organized into the Bend Ale Trail in June 2010. Now the trail has its own Facebook site with many devotees who love to share their experiences. And they can share them any time from any location because Visit Bend in February launched a Bend Ale Trail travel application for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users.

“Travelers are changing the way they get information, and Visit Bend is at the forefront of this movement by offering this unique travel app,” says Sean Egusa of SideStreet, a Portland-based company that developed the app.

Meanwhile about 2,000 people completed the Bend Ale Trail in its first 11 months, and on the Facebook site at last report its community of fans was hotly competing for the Beer City title.

Ambassadors on Video

In Canada, the city of Toronto is using ground-breaking video technology that taps into Facebook and other social networks via informal “ambassadors.”

Tourism Toronto in the summer of 2010 began setting up interactive video recording stations at a number of festivals and attractions and invited residents and visitors to record messages about why they love Toronto.

After each video is recorded, the technology compresses a copy and instantly attaches footage that adds music, imagery, Tourism Toronto branding and a call to action. If the consumer decides to share the video, the brand-wrapped clip is uploaded to his or her Facebook page and distributed by other media as well.

Tourism Toronto is the first DMO to use this new technology and this kind of approach to promoting a destination.

“The combination of community-based engagement, video footage and social networks wins on a number of levels,” says Clifford Ward, chief creative officer for USDM.net, creator of the technology.

Adventure Passport 

Here’s one more way to use Facebook for community engagement. This comes from a rural community also in Canada, about two hours north of Toronto.

The County of Bruce has energized its Facebook site by making it the action centre for a promotional program called the Explore the Bruce Adventure Passport.

It’s basically a pre-planned scavenger hunt that people can play all summer. They can download a map containing clues to the locations of various attractions, and have a card stamped when they get there. With stamps from at least seven locations, on any dates over the summer, visitors can mail in the cards and be eligible for prizes.

People participating in the Adventure Passport feel they have something in common and enjoy telling each other on Facebook about what they have seen. They like getting updates and hints about locations from the site’s host persona, Explore the Bruce. They like posting photos of themselves at the locations.

One other thing – the Facebook site also encourages this community of explorers to post comments to the Trip Advisor page called Things to Do in Bruce County. This positions the Adventure Passport participants as influencers who post glowing comments about their experiences for the very large Trip Advisor audience.

Mutual Reinforcement

In summary, the added value that Facebook brings to DMOs is engagement with people who mutually reinforce each others’ appreciation for the tourism offerings in a community. They become influencers within and beyond the Facebook site. Innovative DMOs are finding ways to encourage such communities to grow and interact.

The communal nature of Facebook can be used to better advantage than merely answering questions or telling viewers about a festival coming up on the weekend. Used to its full potential, a DMO’s Facebook site can be more than the sum of its faces.

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