Designing a social media strategy for tourism
Welcome to episode 77 of Tourism Upgrade, the podcast unpacking marketing trends from travel, tourism, and marketing leaders. I’m your host Holly G and today we will be discussing designing a social media strategy for tourism. I have with me on the other end of the Skype a digital media specialist, Rachel Beaney. Welcome, Rachel.
Holly G: I guess a social media strategy is one of those terms that seems to get bantered around a lot, being something that everybody says that they need but they’re not really sure I guess what one is. Be great to discuss that and also starting off like, how do you know if you need a social media strategy?
How do you know if you need a social media strategy?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, sure. I think that one of the best ways to think about whether you need a social media strategy is to think about whether you need a marketing strategy. Social media is basically just a form of marketing, and social media is a medium for that. If you already need marketing to run your business and you’re using social media as a method for using that, then you need a social media strategy. I think that in the end, if you’re looking at targeting a specific audience or you’re looking at trying to get involved in a certain community, you need an approach for how you’re going to do it, because social media is just such a gigantic place with a new social network popping up every week. You need to know who you’re targeting and why so that you can be strategic.
Holly G: When we’re talking about what’s involved in a strategy, I guess what’s the different between, say, a strategy or an action plan or is an action plan involved in a strategy, or what does a strategy actually look like?
What does a social media strategy actually look like?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. I think that’s actually one of the things that when people … as you say people throw around the term social media strategy, people aren’t always thinking about strategies, some of them are thinking about the day-to-day. I guess when we’re defining a social media strategy, we’d be looking at things like the big picture, the big vision. It’s where I want to be in a year, where I want to be in five years. It’s looking at what are your big business goals, what are your big business values and who are you trying to talk to? That’s basically the core of a social media strategy, is those big concepts. But when you talk about an action plan or tactics or campaigns, they’re smaller little projects that you do that might go for a month or a week, which help build up to compliment your strategy. You might have 10 tactics or 10 action plans throughout a year, all of which build up to help you meet your big strategic goal.
Holly G: I feel like I have people that come to me and say, “I want a social media strategy,” but really they don’t want a social media strategy. They just want maybe someone to post for them on Facebook a couple of times a week or that sort of thing. Do you find that as well?
Rachel Beaney: I get asked all the time about tactics instead of strategies. Just the other day I had someone who was asking to create a Instagram strategy for their business. I think part of the risk with that is that they’ve jumped straight into the tactics without actually having a strategy. What they’ve done is they’ve said, “I need to be on Instagram because everyone’s on Instagram,” without thinking about who is their audience, where are they online, are they receptive to this kind of content, what are their brand values, can that be reflected in a visual medium? There’s heaps of questions that come into a social media strategy because what they might find is, oh actually it might be a … imagine it’s a B&B somewhere and they’re targeting a certain demographic who has a bit more money. Maybe Instagram isn’t even right for them because that demographic isn’t even on Instagram. A social media strategy really interrogates what are you after overall in your business? Who is your audience? How do you get to them? If you jump straight into the tactics, you might accidentally choose the wrong channel. It’s not uncommon at all.
A lot of people say, “I need to be on Facebook. I need to be on Snapchat.” That’s where all the action is, but they haven’t thought about whether that’s the right channel for their industry, or their business and their audience.
Holly G: Yeah. I think that’s a really good way to explain it. You talked a little bit about identifying who their market is, how you reach that market, what their brand values are, what are the bigger picture overall that the business is trying to achieve. What are some of the other things that we should look at when we are developing a strategy? Or maybe rephrasing that to say, where should I start? Where should I start?
Where should I start with a social media strategy?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Look, it’s actually not as complex as it sounds really. There are two main aspects, and there are other questions that come off those arms. The main things are, who are your audience? It’s really defining who your audience is because there’s no such thing as I’m advertising to everybody, because even if you were advertising to everybody, the messaging you send to an 18 year old is not going to be the same message that you send to a 75 year old. You always need to think about your audience. From that, you can spin off and say, “Okay, where are my audience online?” That might be “Which social networks are they more likely to hang out on, what time of day are they hanging out on there?”
The other aspect of a social media strategy is really thinking about your business. This is in terms of both … how are you paying your rent? What kind of product or service are you selling? Whether it’s booking people in for a tour or booking people in for a hotel, what service are you selling? Then off that is the values you want to be sharing, what’s your brand story? How do you want people to think and feel when they’re interacting with your brand? What do you want them to go home and tell their friends and family about about the experience? It’s what are the warm and fuzzy’s you want them to take home, and it’s about identifying those values so you can tell those stories throughout your social media content to help reinforce that.
Holly G: I love that idea of identifying your brand values by thinking about what stories do you want your customers to tell when they go home. I think that just makes it so much more real, and it come to life a little bit more than maybe just some marketing jargon or that sort of thing.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Totally, because word of mouth is so essential for tourism. If you can help cement those stories that you want to tell, it means that it’s going to be so much more powerful for getting return business and through word of mouth.
Holly G: Where would you find out maybe answers to some of those questions, about who your audience is and where they hang out online?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. In terms of finding out where your audience are online, ideally … I’d answer that in two ways, one of which is finding out your audience. Hopefully you’ve already … if you’ve been established in business, you’d have a bit of an idea who your audience is looking at your client list or even looking at your Facebook page data. That kind of information is unique to every business and hopefully every business has a good idea of that, or they can do surveys and that kind of thing to find that out. In terms of finding out which demographics are on which social networks, it’s pretty straight forward because there’s heaps of data and industry-based reports that are on that. One of the most recent reports announced is the Sensis Social Media Report. That’s one that I wrote an article on on my website a few weeks ago, and I’ve covered in detail around which demographics are on which platforms. I can pop a link to that in the notes.
Holly G: Yeah, we can do that. We also did episode 51 is about the Sensis Social Media Report. What I always say, and I bet you’re exactly the same, is the day that that report comes out, or actually you and I I know both got it early, but it’s like Christmas to me. I’m so excited to have a look at what the current research and data says about who within Australia are on what social media platforms?
Rachel Beaney: Australian data is essential because we are quite different to other markets. The US market might have a certain demographic for, let’s say, Twitter, but the Australian market is quite different.
Holly G: To have in mind when you’re looking about who your audience is, also what sort of countries and things like that you’re trying to target as well with your social media activities. We talk a lot about China, so obviously when we’re looking to attract a Chinese visitor, we’re looking at a whole nother suite of social channels. There is quite a bit of data around that as well. Yeah. It’s a great place to start when you’re trying to work out where my audience is hanging out online.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, definitely.
Holly G: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about in relation to developing a strategy or some of the strategy essential elements?
Three elements for designing a social media strategy.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. I think that in terms of when I’m designing a strategy, I think the three elements that I think about are … well look, it’s not dissimilar to what I spoke about earlier, but it’s really honing your culture, your community, and your business goals. The way that I would think about that is it’s really identifying each of those aspects, and then coming up with a goal for each of those. When you’re coming up with your business goals it’s looking at what’s the objective of my marketing, and so that can be a big picture thing. Depending on how big your business is or where it is in its business cycle, you might have totally different social media goals. You might have a goal where it’s about retaining customers who have already been on your tours or used your product or services, and it’s about reengaging them to try and help spread word of mouth to building a community.
You might have a goal that, if you’re just starting out, you want to spread awareness and word of mouth. Or it might be around pushing people through to book to a tour from your social media. Having a business goal that actually reflects what you’re trying to do with your marketing is really important, and having those key KPI’s or key performance indicators, which reflect that is really important.
Holly G: Yeah. I think that’s a really, really good point. It’s like, are you trying to create that awareness of your business? Do you already have that and you’re trying to keep a relationship going with existing customers or past customers, or is it … yeah, something else. I think that’s a really good point.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. I think as a starting point for a social strategy that’s essential, because you want to be making sure you’re measuring the right data. A lot of people measure things like page likes as success, but if what they’re trying to do is retain their existing customers and build a community, then page likes actually doesn’t matter, because what they’re doing is trying to create a depth of a community and have those people engage with them more on their social platform of choice I suppose.
Holly G: Yeah. Some of the things you would be measuring then is about the level of engagement and that sort of thing.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s precisely, it is. Coming up with your business goals … well, your marketing … I guess your marketing goals to reflect what you’re trying to do with your business. The other two things that I think are essential with a social media strategy is the culture and the community. Those are kind of warm and fuzzy terms, but the way that I see that is coming up with … for culture it’s looking at how you’re coming up, how you’re reflecting your values with your business. As an example, if you’re a bush walking tour company, maybe your values are around, okay, we want to be talking about our local wildlife, maybe we’ve got endangered species in the area. Maybe it’s about environmentalism. Maybe it’s about meditation. It’s thinking about how we’re reflecting our brand values in our social media content.
Coming up with those ways to really reflect what you’re trying to do and how are you setting that culture and that brand story throughout your social media.
Holly G: I love that, because that means that the things that you’re talking about are going to be unique to you. It’s going to be more reflective of what you’re actually offering.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, exactly, and because people … people, when they buy from a company, they’re buying from a company who … they have values they reflect or they trust or they like the person who is selling it. There’s a lot of emotional exchange that happens when you’re buying. It’s not just around, okay, this is the cheapest offer. It’s not always a financial decision. A lot of it’s emotional. That’s why this culture stuff is so essential, because it’s about making sure you’re telling that story that really connects with your audience based on values that your company finds important.
Rachel Beaney: Finally, the last thing that I think is essential for a social media strategy is coming up with how you’re approaching your community. This is a way of looking at things. If you’re reengaging your existing customers, how are you reinforcing your brand and your brand culture? This community could be done in a whole bunch of different ways, and for some people that’s things like running competitions if they’re a big brand. It might be a case of sharing pictures of their staff. Maybe it’s the tour guides birthday so they’re sharing a picture of their tour guides birthday. It could be that you’ve got a local hiking club that comes up hiking every month, and so it’s taking a photo of their latest accomplishment.
Community is about how are you actually engaging those people who have engaged or will engage with your business in a really tangible way to keep them coming back to your business, keep seeing your values, and keep reinforcing that culture.
Holly G: Yeah. I can really see how those three elements just work together so well once you’ve identified them, and they just almost feed off each other and complement each other. I guess that’s how you know when you’ve got it right maybe.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. I think so. I think that some of the times they overlap a bit as well. I run social media classes and I often get students saying, “Is this a culture kind of post or a community kind of post?” I say, “You know what. It’s kind of both, but that’s okay.” Even if it’s your business goals and your culture combined, if you’re talking about I’ve got a latest sale, but this post is absolutely hilarious, or it’s something that really taps into the desire of my audience, that’s even better. You’re making something that’s multilayered in terms of being able to really connect with that audience.
Holly G: Yeah. I can imagine that getting those three elements, really nailing those three elements would take, yeah, a bit of time. Not just time, but just a bit of being in the right space.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. It’s really about being in the right head space to really come up with that. There are some hard decisions you need to make sometimes. It’s saying, “Maybe I would like my business to be this, but actually maybe the culture is more like this,” and maybe you hadn’t really thought about it that way. Maybe it’s about saying, “Actually I thought I would be targeting these audiences, but maybe it’s more strategic to just focus on this audience for the next six months.” For example, with the hiking group, it might be targeting everyone, but then you say, “Oh actually, maybe only it’s tourists who are coming to the local area who I should be focusing on, or maybe it’s just young people, so I should be focusing on university groups.”
Sometimes when you come up with this you need to come up with those hard decisions that are like, “Oh actually, I really didn’t expect that.” I did one exercise a few months ago, or one of the one’s I do in my classes is around, you sort of … there’s a scale of different brand terms and you choose which one your brand is most like. Often when you do that, you don’t really realise how you thought of your business brand until you actually need to say, “Well it’s this, but it’s not this.” It’s amazing that you … it’s putting up a mirror, and it’s a bit surprising sometimes.
Holly G: Yeah. You even do that … it’s the beginning of a new year and there’s lots of things floating around, and so sometimes you’re even doing that in your personal life, when you’re planning your personal goals. You’re like, “Okay. Well, who am I? What do I want to be? Which words reflect me the most?” Doing that with your business, yeah could … because I always find that surprising. Yeah. That’s a cool idea.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, totally. I think it is just about deep diving into each of those aspects. If you’re looking for your brand story, for your culture, there’s actually loads of places online where you can say, “What is my brand story?” You could even get a branding coach if you really wanted to help define your brand story. For the community, it’s looking at who are your regulars and maybe getting an idea of how do you engage with them and how do you connect with them, and then can that be extended to a wider audience? Your business goals, well ideally that’s what are the things that are really paying the rent?
Holly G: I guess when we’re developing this strategy, it’s also making sure we’ve got the right people in the room. Whether it’s the owners and the managers and maybe even some key staff members, because I often find that you might have different viewpoints on the business depending on who you’ve got in the room.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. That’s a big one. Yeah. There’s often a huge disconnect between a strategy based on who’s approaching it. I think that one of the challenges is that there’s a bit of education that needs to go on within a company to make sure that everyone’s on the same page, because often people will view social media from a different perspective. You’ll have your CEO who says, “How many sales are we getting from social media?” You might have someone on the ground who’s saying, “Oh, but we’re building a community here, and those communities are building trust and reputation and loyalty, so that then those people will come back,” but that’s really hard for different departments to see, that sometimes the power of social media isn’t necessarily in those initial sales or the initial acquisition phase, but it’s actually in retention and building up loyalty and building up relationships, and then that leads to returning customers or word of mouth.
Part of the big challenge is how do we get everyone in the business on the same page so that they understand what we’re trying to do with our social media strategy. That can be really challenging when everyone’s seeing it in a different way, for sure.
Holly G: Yeah. Do you have any advice for overcoming some of those challenges? Is it literally about getting people in the same room at the same time to work this through?
Rachel Beaney: I think that sometimes too many cooks can be troubling, and especially if people … Look, I think it’s useful to get everyone’s needs in. For example, if you have a sales team that have goals, if you have a marketing team that has goals, I think getting everyone’s needs is definitely useful, and putting that all into your goals and your business goals and your objectives for the year. I think it’s essential to get collaboration, but I think that usually having a lot of people in a room to come up with a social media strategy will probably lead to chaos a little bit. I think that it’s best for one, maybe two people to actually pull all of that together and come up with a plan that meets all of those needs.
Holly G: Yeah. Yeah, great. Once you’ve written a social media strategy, then what happens?
Once you’ve written a social media strategy, then what happens?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Coming up with a … after you come up with a social media strategy, you need to … well look, actually one of the first things that I’ll highlight is that … I guess this might be going back a step, I’m not sure, but your social media strategy needs to be realistic and based on what you can actually deliver. I guess part of having everyone in the same room is that it’s understanding what are your resources? It’s no point saying, “Let’s post a million posts on Instagram this year” or whatever, because if you’ve only got one person working on this social media account for one hour a week, it’s not going to happen.
It’s really important to actually be realistic about what you can actually execute. It’s not to say that you can’t have big pictures and big ideas, but have the big ideas, but then also add a layer of, actually what can we achieve this year, or what’s the balance? Is it us taking a bit of money out of maybe a TV budget and putting it into hiring someone who can spend a bit more time creating Instagram content? It’s coming up with that middle ground.
Holly G: Yeah. I guess … yeah, that’s sort of … because I was just thinking then, have we missed a step? If we’ve done this bigger picture, who’s our audience, where do they hang out, and really defined it in terms of culture, community, and business goals, then is there another layer that is around what that actually looks like from an execution point of view?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, definitely. That’s where things like campaigns come in or tactics or however you want to call it. This is coming up with a series of maybe short-term campaigns and spreading them throughout the year, in order to help meet your strategic goals. If you’ve got a goal to meet a certain amount of people to click through from your social media through to your website, it’s saying, “Okay. Maybe we need to come up with a Facebook ad every month in order to meet this goal.” It might be if we want to reengage our community. Maybe we’ve got a Instagram competition for people who come on our bush walks, so that they can share that with their friends or something like that.
Coming up with tactics is what’s really important, so tactics that support that main goal. You’re always going to have unique tactics based on what your objective is. As I said, if your strategy is coming up with a … awareness for example, so you’re a new company, your strategy is … you’re a new B&B somewhere, and you want to raise awareness. Your strategy for that is actually, okay, well if we need to get a certain amount of people finding out about us, we need to come up with tactics to do that. It might be, okay, we’re going to run some Facebook ads or we’re going to run a campaign where every visitor who shares an Instagram post of our venue gets a free breakfast or whatever. If you compare that to someone else who’s already got an established business, and that’s about getting other people to refer friends. Maybe they’re coming up with tactics which relate to that, so it’s about how are you getting people to talk about your business or share it with their friends? It might just be
Holly G: Yeah, when they’re in the experience, yeah.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Maybe that’s setting up a beautiful selfie area on your tour. Maybe just happen to say, “Oh, this is a wonderful area for Instagram selfies,” and maybe put a modem out there just so everyone has a bit of Wifi.
Holly G: Yeah, that’s it. I know there’s some good examples of tour operators all around the world who put Wifi in their buses and things like that, and see a significant increase in people talking about their experience on social media and building that business through word of mouth online. Yeah, it’s not such a crazy idea.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Even just doing things like, in the real world, like putting your hashtag on your bus so people know, actually if I’m going to be talking about this, this is what I should be using. If you want people to talk, it’s about what am I doing to encourage that, or how am I going to go about doing that?
Holly G: Yeah. That’s after we’ve already established the bigger picture and the bigger strategy. I think really that’s the piece that people miss. I think we can sometimes be pretty good at coming up with tactics, but sometimes we need to actually just take a step back from that and have a bigger overall strategy and be really clear about what we’re trying to achieve. People always say, “How do you know if your social media is working?” Well, you sort of know when you do have that strategy and you’ve really defined what you’re doing it for.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, exactly. 100%. Yeah. As you say, people are so familiar with coming up with ideas for tactics. People say, “I’m going to run a competition on Instagram or I’m going to set up whatever on Facebook,” they have these ideas for brilliant tactics, but it doesn’t always mirror with their key business goals, because they haven’t really been thinking about it that way. They’ve just been thinking about, “Okay, let’s try and create something which gets people talking,” but as to whether or not that actually suites their business needs is a different question.
Holly G: In tourism, we often talk about and use the term always on. We’ve really moved in the last, I don’t know how many years, say seven years or so, we’ve moved from being very campaign focused to where we would just … yeah, we’d run maybe a summer campaign and a winter campaign to be now always on, is what we call it. Does that come across in other industries, and do you have any thoughts about that?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. Look, I think always on is something that is where things like your culture and your community stuff is always a layer that’s always … it’s always happening. While you might have your big campaigns that are like your big tent-pole events that might happen once every quarter, having content that always reflects the brand’s story that you’re trying to tell is really important. That’s why it’s important to define your culture and your community, because that’s … when you are doing your always on content, when you’re doing all your other communication, that’s the story you want to be telling all the time.
Holly G: Yeah, great. I think that’s one of the advantages of using social media in your marketing, is that you can always be on and it’s about iterating those culture and community messages consistently over time.
Rachel Beaney: Yeah. That’s one of the great things about social media, is having things like data to be able to say, “Did this actually hit the audience message? Are people responding in the way that I thought they would? Did this hit home and create that feeling that I wanted to create?” If it didn’t, you can think about maybe why it didn’t and try again in a few weeks time with another approach. It’s not just one big advertising and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, it’s you creating an ongoing culture really that is malleable and you can always keep changing and iterating it and learning. It’s always about constant experimentation and learning and building on what you’ve done before.
Holly G: We mentioned a little bit about measuring. What sort of things are people measuring or would you recommend that people measure when we’re talking about your social media strategy?
What sort of things are people measuring?
Rachel Beaney: Sure. Okay. One of the things that I see people measuring a lot is, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of people measure things like their likes or their follower count in order to determine their success, but I think that one of the challenges with that is that people can’t always see if that’s actually reflecting your business purpose. If you’re a whale watching tour and you’re selling tickets on your website to your whale watching tour, if you’ve got a million Facebook followers, that number doesn’t actually tell you if any of those people are buying your whale watching tickets. What you should be looking at is perhaps how many people have come from your Facebook page to your website. Looking at things like your Google Analytics and adding campaign tracking. UTM tagging is a way you can do that in order to track how many people have come from your website and bought those tickets. If that’s your main business goal, then that’s really clearly reflected in what you’re trying to do.
I think that it’s really important to know what you’re trying to do so that you can measure the right goal.
Holly G: Yeah. Yeah, I love that
Rachel Beaney: I might just add to that as well in saying that one of the things that I often hear people say around needing a lot of Facebook likes is that they say … you often hear people saying that if I have more Facebook likes I will look like a more reputable business, or people will trust me more because I’ve got larger likes, or larger number of likes. But some recent data and I think it might of actually even of been the Sensis report maybe, I think maybe, was around saying that actually people don’t consider the volume of likes you’ve got when they’re choosing to use your business. It’s just not a factor. The idea of measuring Facebook likes is something that’s a bit of a … I guess it feels important to us, but to our customer, they don’t keep that into account at all.
Holly G: Yeah, yeah. As you know, I do a lot of speaking and workshops and things like that, and often I’ll start with doing a bit of true false. We’ll do a bit of social media true false.
Rachel Beaney: Myth busting, I love it.
Holly G: That is actually one of the questions that I ask, is true or false, do people find you more reputable if you’ve got a larger number of likes on your business page? Pretty much most people always get it wrong, because the actual stat was I think 30% said yes, and the other 70% said either no or don’t know. Yeah. It was overwhelming that no, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to trust you more. It’s more based on your content and what you’re delivering. Yeah, good point.
How can people find out a little bit more about you or connect with you?
Rachel Beaney: Yeah, sure. People can find out more about me through my website, which is rachelbeaney.com or they can get in touch with me on Twitter. My handle’s beaney, so @beaney. It’s not like the hat, it’s a bit different.
Yeah, anyone can feel free to get in touch, ask a question and have a chat. I’ve also got a Facebook group called Bean Social that people can come and hang out in as well, so there’s plenty of ways to get in touch and have a chat.
Holly G: Cool, excellent. Now, are you up for the bonus question?
Rachel Beaney: I’m up for the bonus question.
Now it’s time for our thousand dollar bonus question.
If you only had a one thousand dollar marketing budget, what would you spend it on?
Rachel Beaney: Okay. Based on the fact that a lot of tourism is based on things like referrals and reengaging those relationships with your customers, what I would do is I would use things like Facebook retargeting to reengage customers I’ve already got. Either looking at uploading my own mailing list and targeting ads towards them, or targeting ads towards people who have been on my tours, or people who’ve been to my website, or successfully bought a ticket on my website. I’d reserve them ads around whether they want to visit again, or perhaps refer a friend. I’d use that to reengage my customers who have already had a great experience and who might want to spread the word.
That’s how I’d use my one thousand dollar budget.
Holly G: Well done. Great answer. I really, really liked that. I don’t think we’ve had that one before, which is really good. Well done. Yeah, yeah, really good. There’s often this myth that because you’ve already had someone do your tour then there’s no point communicating with them again, but as you said, it could be around them referring their friends or just … yeah, friends, or relatives and visiting friends and relatives is a really important market in tourism.
Rachel Beaney: Totally.
Holly G: Let alone them doing one of your other experiences. Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. Well, thanks for your time, that’s really good. For the show notes for this episode, head to hollyg.com.au.
Tweet me with any comments or feedback @hollygalbraith or email is good too holly (at) hollyg.com.au
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