November 2009 – Building a Home Base

“Hell, there are no rules here-we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison, tweeted by @rapidbi Mike Morrison

Building that home base (courtesy Paul Keleher at Flickr CC)

Thanks for stopping by to read the November 2009 newsletter, and a special welcome to our new Tourism Currents members.  We are glad you’re here.

We’ve been out and about traveling, speaking and collecting terrific tourism and tech info for you. There is nothing quite like getting out there and talking with real folks who are doing this work every day; it helps us sharpen and focus the material you need the most.

Let’s jump right in with our November topic: Building Your Home Base.

“What the heck is that; our website?” you may ask. Yes, of course, a website is a given for any organization or business that wants customers to find them. It’s as basic as a telephone number or mailing address.

These days, however, we see a website as a mere starting point in building your online presence. Analyst and advisor Chris Brogan wrote a blog post about building an online presence;  in it he called your home base….

“….the eventual site where you hope people come to interact the most with you.”

The problem with websites is that they are generally not interactive (no, ordering your brochure does not really count as conversation) and people will start looking for where they can talk to actual human experts about your destination rather than reading glossy copywriting and looking at nice photos. Since a Twitter stream is rather amorphous and not everyone uses photo-sharing or video services like Flickr or YouTube, we propose blogs and Facebook Fan Pages as “home bases” where you can interact with visitors.

A blog is the best, most flexible option because you have more control of the platform and content, but if you aren’t ready to invest the time required, a Facebook Fan Page can be a satisfactory alternative (here’s our Tourism Currents Fan Page as an example.) Just remember that you “own” nothing that you’re building on Facebook.

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Building a Better Tourism Blog

An engaging blog is written by an engaging person.

A boring blog is regurgitated press releases, or all of the posts are blandly neutral because they are carefully vetted by higher authority. Remove the energy of human personality and a blog becomes limp and lifeless. No one will want to read it.

The two-way relationship with readers (who are your prospective visitors) means that blogs are very different from websites, and that is why they can be so powerful. A site is static and one-way; the organization is in broadcast mode with predictable service information. For readers to move behind the faceless “storefront” and really identify with a destination or attraction requires a different, even more vibrant kind of online presence.

On a blog, the back-and-forth discussion in a lively comment thread represents the interaction between the author and readers. You can tell a lot about an author from how he or she “talks” to readers and responds to their thoughts and concerns.

A positive, responsive blog is the face of a positive, responsive CVB or DMO – just like it is in your brick-and-mortar Visitor’s Center.

Here are a few of our particular tips for using a blog as your interactive home base:

  • Make the blog part of your existing Web site URL if possible (for example – http://www.visityourtown.com/blog) because this integrates it into your overall communications structure. The term is “self-hosted” when you host a blog on a site you pay for and control.  Since a good blog is refreshed often, and search engines like fresh content, the “Google Juice” from your blog’s traffic will enhance your website’s search engine ranking. Exception: if “they” are telling you that setting that up will take six months to a year but you’re ready to start NOW, go ahead and launch (for free) on Blogger, TypePad or WordPress.com. It’s important that you learn how to function in the blogosphere, and if you have to, you can move later. We recommend WordPress.com since it’s the easiest to transfer later to self-hosted WordPress, which is pretty much the gold standard right now for blogging software.
  • Know what you’re going to talk about. Use an editorial calendar to lay out your planned content for at least the first 3-4 weeks of posts, and from there on out. Develop a structure not only for topic ideas, but also for trying out different types of media. Perhaps you’ll have a written Q&A interview with an interesting local attraction on Mondays, a video about one of your cool restaurants every Wednesday (maybe submit it to WanderFood Wednesdays) and an audio podcast on Thursdays by a CVB member/partner. This sustains interest, continues to bring human faces to promoting your destination and also involves a variety of people in engaging with readers.
  • Link out to interesting sites and content. Online, links are the coin of the realm and have value. Blog rankings are based in part on who is linking in to you, so naturally bloggers focus on inbound links, but one secret to blog growth is to also look outward. The best way to wave to someone in the blogosphere—let them know you’re there and possibly get them to notice your site—is to link out to other useful, quality blogs or websites. Every blogger (some more obsessively than others) uses analytical tools to see who is linking in to them, and they often click back through to investigate the blogs that linked. Congratulations; that’s called pulling readers into your blog, and you did it by reaching out.

Need some more inspiration?

Here are some tourism-related blogs:

The state of Indiana tourism blog: http://www.in.gov/visitindiana/blog/

The Texas Mountain Trail heritage region photo blog: http://texasmountaintrail.blogspot.com/

Hawaii Tourism Authority’s So Much More Hawaii, a “blogger’s view of paradise” at http://www.somuchmorehawaii.com (disclosure – some of Sheila’s Hawaii-related travel blog posts have run on this site.)

Speaking of Hawaii, here’s one of the best hotel blogs we’ve found, by Hawaii-based Outrigger: http://www.outrigger.com/explore/hawaiian-islands/view-from-here-blog

The city of Columbus, Ohio:  http://www.experiencecolumbus.com/blog

Oregon state tourism: http://blog.traveloregon.com

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Finding Free Images Using Flickr Creative Commons

A well-chosen image or graphic helps to round out even the best written content, but how to easily find a variety of them with a limited budget? Try searching through Flickr photos that have a Creative Commons alternative copyright.

The Creative Commons nonprofit organization exists to support the appropriate sharing and re-use of online content; the standard Western legal system hasn’t always kept up with rapid changes in technology, so this copyrighting system is a viable alternative to the infamous poaching of content from the Web.

On Flickr, go to the Creative Commons page at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons to see millions of user-generated photos under several different types of licenses. The most wide-open one is Attribution – if you use an image from this pool (over 16 million photos as of this writing) the only requirement is that you prominently give attribution/recognition to the original photographer, and link the photo itself back to its source page where possible.

To see how to do that, mouse over and then click through the construction photo at the top of this newsletter.

Yep, it’s that easy. We love Flickr!

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Creating a Facebook Fan (or Business) Page

You probably already have a web page, but Facebook Fan Pages are a fast-growing “second home base”. They allow lots of social interaction, and many of your potential visitors are already members of Facebook. Once you have your own individual account at Facebook, you create your Fan Page through the Advertising section.

On any page in Facebook, scroll all the way to the bottom. One of the links is Advertising; click on it. When you get the page “Facebook | Advertising”, there is a link near the top for Pages. Click that. Then there should be a green button that says “Create a Page.” That’s all you need.

BUT… Before you click the green button, take a minute to read through the instructions and Help sections. :) It’s important to pick the right category for your Page.

There’s room for everyone on Facebook, including local events like the World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off in Brady, Texas.

You can find six big tips for using Facebook at SmallBizSurvival (http://www.smallbizsurvival.com/2009/11/6-big-facebook-tips-for-small-business.html)

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Seattle CVB’s @SeattleMaven on Twitter

We didn’t want you to miss this one, so in case you didn’t see it embedded on our Facebook Fan Page or mentioned on @TourismCurrents, here is 60 seconds with Ann Peavey, who tweets for Seattle tourism as @SeattleMaven.

She talks about whether she thinks Twitter would work for rural or small town tourism organizations:

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Want to see us in person?

  1. November 17 – 140Conference, London, England. Becky is speaking on small business use of social media.
  2. December 2 – Buffalo (Oklahoma) Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma. Becky is speaking on “Marketing your business to the local community and beyond.”

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Bonus Material for November

—–> Using a blog for your homebase online? Have an iPhone?

Here are the Top 10 Must Have iPhone Apps for Blogging: http://www.wpbeginner.com/showcase/top-10-must-have-iphone-apps-for-bloggers/

—–> Everyone says that you “start small and build” when you launch a new blog or Facebook Fan Page, but is it really that much of a grind?  Well, yes, sometimes, especially in the beginning.

As New Jersey-based video blogger, wine expert and social media whizbang guy Gary Vaynerchuk points out, though, even one person reading and enjoying your content is “better than zero.”  This is Sheila’s favorite video to show new bloggers – she loves Gary’s intensity, drive and love for communicating….

Thanks for visiting! Comments, thoughts and feedback are welcome below.

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