Keeping an eye on things (courtesy wanderingone at Flickr CC)We’re going to continue our tradition of making the March newsletter a “tourism scouting report” for you, about trends you can use now and what we see over the horizon in social media and technology for destination marketing.

It makes sense because March is SXSWi – South by Southwest Interactive – one of the largest tech and digital media conferences in the world.

We both usually attend, but Becky had a conflicting speaking engagement this year so it was up to Sheila to sift through and glean some insights out of 5 days of panels, keynotes, social events and 20,000 geeks all converging on Austin, Texas.

Here are a few takeaways….

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Impressions From SXSWi 2012 – What’s New

1.)   Have a strategy. Most of the noise is about tactics – and yes, Facebook is a mere tactic, not a strategy – but there is not nearly enough discussion about tying the tactics and tools to an overarching communications PLAN. For too many organizations, even big schmancy ones with fat budgets, the answer to “Why are you in social media?” is “Um, because everyone else is.” Not good enough, sports fans.

(PS. Yes, we know that it seems incredible that something as basic as strategy has gone out the window. Trust us: for many, it has.)

And ROI?  One SXSWi panel practically blew up on the topic of how to measure the ROI of social media. Yes, you need a return of some sort on the time/money investments that you make in social communications. You need a return on ANY investment, right? Decide on a goal or goals that you want to achieve. Decide on how social media might move you toward those goals. Measure whether it does or not. There’s your ROI.

2.)   Visuals matter. The crazy-fast growth of digital bulletin board Pinterest in tourism demonstrates the power of imagery. Does that mean you must run like a headless chicken to set up a Pinterest account, “because everyone else is?” No. It means that you do need to spend more time thinking about how images can best showcase your destination, though.

You can do this right now, as you build your home base website and blog; always be thinking how to incorporate photos and/or video into your storytelling.

For example, Sheila’s travel blog post about the Carpet of Flowers in Brussels, Belgium is mostly a photo, with only a few explanatory lines of text. That’s fine – why go on and on using text to talk about flowers when a photo is so much more effective?

3.)   All kinds of services and connections are growing out of knowing where we are, via the GPS in our mobile devices.  What restaurants are near us, via “social discovery apps” like Yelp and Foodspotting. What hotels are near us when we wander into a strange town late at night. What gas stations are near us on road trips.

Location is important. Local search is important. Don’t let things like apparently silly badges and Mayorships on Foursquare blind you to the reality of the magic lantern of mobile for your visitors and guests.

4.)  Just because you can market to people in the middle of their online social life doesn’t mean you should.

If you are tired of sales pitches, spammy intrusions and exhortations to “vote for our _____ in the _____ contest!”, then so are your visitors and customers.

Be sensitive to that fatigue. There are plenty of folks who are not, and buying into social web hype without thinking it through will bite them.

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What Still Works

You already know the hard part: how to tell compelling stories about your town.

How to get people excited about what you can offer.

How to make people feel welcome.

How to answer questions and give directions and listen to feedback.

Websites, email, social media tools – they are all another way to be hospitable, and that still works.

There is nothing….nothing….coming out of any tech conference that will change that.

You may need a little digital marketing training and education in using some of the new tools, but being hospitable? You can do that in your sleep.

What’s “new and exciting” is that the tools are largely free, very powerful, and have worldwide reach across many demographics.

Are budgets tight? Do you need to reach new visitors? Social media can be one answer to these problems.

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In a Nutshell: Why Tech & Social Media Help Tourism

After a great day at Dell Headquarters participating in their SXSW Unconference event, Sheila had a few pithy words about Tourism Currents and social communications in this video:

Direct link to the video in case you can’t see the embed box below.

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Commenting area

  1. Sheila: Thank you for the great overview and insights. Sometimes people need a dose of common sense before they rush off headstrong to adopt new flavor-of-the-month technology platforms. Reminds me of an aphorism that anyone from Oklahoma or Texas must know only too well: The pioneers get the arrows in their backs and the settlers get the land.

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