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DMO’s Innovative Use of Twitter

There’s a secret ingredient that makes social media a value added channel for destination marketing organizations. It’s called fun.

Unlike email, which people view as having a mundane purpose, social media is characterized by an entertainment overlay that is sometimes overlooked. Users find it entertaining to be part of a group of interesting people, or to be among the first to spot something new going on, or simply to be in a virtual place where there is always movement and activity.

Smart DMOs have realized that social media can add to the fun offered by their destinations. Let’s look at Twitter to illustrate. Have you heard of the Banff Squirrel?

He’s the unlikely spokes-squirrel of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism in the Canadian Rockies. The squirrel has a continuously scrolling conversation with tourists via Twitter on the Real Banff page that many people find enjoyable to follow.

How many? He has more than 6,600 followers, and @Banff_Squirrel often creates more than 100,000 online impressions for Banff and Lake Louise in a single day, according to Banff Lake Louise Tourism.

Julie Canning, President & CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, says, “Using a quirky mascot and a rich mix of entertainment and information, we’ve been able to raise Banff’s profile well beyond that of competing destinations with much larger marketing budgets and get our message out 24×7 globally.”

It started in 2009 when Melissa Brandts and her husband were hiking in Banff and decided to take a portrait of themselves in front of Lake Minnewanka. Melissa set the camera’s self-portrait timer and then a curious young ground squirrel popped up in the foreground. Click!

Melissa sent the photo to National Geographic, which published it on the “Your Shot” portion of its website. Suddenly the squirrel became a photobomb meme that showed up in all kinds of famous photos (for some funny examples, seeMashable). Within hours of the meme taking off, Banff Lake Louise Tourism produced “Banff Crasher Squirrel: The Movie” on YouTube and created the @Banff_Squirrel Twitter account.

And now? As of April 2011, the Banff Squirrel is ranked among the 25 Most Influential Tourist Boards and DMOs Online published by The fun starts for Banff visitors long before they arrive and continues after they leave.

A New Image for Mardi Gras

Fun was also the tactic that Tom Martin, President of marketing firm Zehnder Communications in New Orleans, employed to rebrand Mardi Gras as family friendly entertainment.

Martin wanted to make Mardi Gras better known for cultural and culinary aspects than for debauchery. In 2009, he began tweeting family oriented comments and photos from Mardi Gras. He recruited six power tweeters to help him. He surveyed a group of more than 100 people before and after his experiment to see how perceptions of keywords changed, and discovered that they had gained much stronger perceptions of keywords such as “family” and “food.”

His experiment caught the attention of Belo Corp., owner of New Orleans’ WWL-TV, and led to the creation of Experience Mardi Gras, a site that is fed by an army of tourists contributing videos, photos and comments on all PG-rated aspects of the festival. The site’s corresponding Twitter page, @wwltv, has more than 8,000 followers.

Two-Way Engagement

These examples illustrate how Twitter works best for DMOs when it is used to generate fun and engagement, not merely as another channel to distribute one-way information. Here are some more good examples:

  • Columbia, SC, prominently displays its Twitter feed on the home page of its excellent website, and uses it to keep people coming back again and again to win “famously hot” prizes. Example: “RT @wachfox: Who knows what GREEN event is going on in @columbiasc tomorrow am? You can win a #famouslyhot prize – in 35mins!”
  • @visitphilly, tweeter Caroline from leads lively conversations, publishes a Photo of the Day contributed by followers and encourages people to visit a branded page on Foursquare, the location-based social networking website and game. The, is the official visitor website for Greater Philadelphia.
  • @OntarioCulinary uses Twitter to draw together a diverse audience of people who enjoy raving about the latest culinary events they have visited – a demonstration of how social media can help a regional organization to build a tightly knit community.

Twitter As Influencer

Here are some ways to ensure that a Twitter site can serve as an influencer to draw people to your DMO:

  • Start with strategy – Before you begin tweeting, know what messages you want to deliver and the results you want to achieve, all linked back to the strategy behind your tourism website.
  • Create a team of communicators – Your Twitter site will be much more interesting if the primary communicators are diverse, can give knowledgeable advice in correspondence and, ideally, have profile in the community of interest.
  • Keep it personal – Tweets from your tourism organization, without a personal identifier, appear to be merely commercials. Make sure that viewers know they are communicating with a real person, whose profile and photo they can see.
  • Make the experience fun and rewarding – Too many Twitter sites merely push out one-way information. Think of Twitter as an extension of your tourism attraction. Give people reasons to enjoy visiting the site in anticipation for, and memory of, the rewarding experience they will have when they visit in person.

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