SUFFOLK TOURIST GUIDE

Suffolk Tourism and Social Media

Suffolk Tourist Guide - Rough Guide to Social Media August 2009

What is Social Media? (SM)

Basically it's a tool that makes it easy for people to generate and share content, and to discover new content. So blogs, forums, podcasts, RSS feeds, user reviews or social or business networks like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn etc

Why should I be interested?
• This is a new, large and free route to market. Effective SM will mean you spend less on eg Google Adwords or other marketing, and therefore it can save you money. It can enable you to level the playing field against larger competitors with bigger marketing budgets.
• Online user generated content (UGC is the jargon) is seen as a trusted platform for finding, posting and discussing information in many subject areas. Your brand is not what you say it is, it is what they say it is. They, our clients and prospects, are using SM so we have to have a presence. Over 3 billion minutes a day are currently spent on SM sites.
• SM provides an opportunity to communicate 2 way rather than one way (eg email marketing, websites) as can we enter into discussions. It’s the next stage in targeted marketing – marketing mediums have become very crowded and consumers are constantly bombarded traditional media messages that they filter out. SM is a more sophisticated and direct approach that engages people.
• SM can be extremely useful to drive traffic to your website, and to improve search engine rankings (through links and new content). For example in June this year 8.4% of National Geographics websites visits came from SM traffic.
• SM can be used to differentiate yourself from competitors and reach a new audience. Not many businesses in Suffolk are using SM to reach this new audience.
• Use SM to influence your brand reputation and increase brand awareness
• SM is growing massively so it’s a huge leveraging opportunity – how else can you get in front of so many interested parties (free?)
• (this is not a ‘youth’ fad – the over 50s are the fastest growing segment of the SM market as they use their leisure time to go online...)

How
• Set up your SM account and listen to what issues people are raising that are related to your business. Comment, respond, get a discussion going on Suffolk
• Engage in debate through forums; Place banner ads on networks, sponsor sections.

Resources
• SM is free so the issue is how much time you can allocate to keeping up-to-date and posting content. 5 minutes a day is a good start!

Critical Success Factors
• Generating good content seems to be key – so not selling or pushing your product so much as pulling prospects towards you with interesting and relevant content eg on a recent TripAdvisor Forum there was a question ‘why should I go to Lowestoft?’ – so lots of opportunities to sell Lowestoft, plus, once the case had been made to spend time there, the possibility to mention of some great hotels and restaurants in Lowestoft .
• Updating – ideally one good update a day
• People love linking to cool photos and video so these can spread virally very quickly. This is not expensive technology but does require some time and effort

Key Issues
• Which platform is best for us? – the guideline is to use the social media platform your audience uses/is likely to use. Communication and brands are evolving so rapidly that sometimes you just have to take a chance as you can’t always tell which channels will be the right ones as clear patterns customer profiling not yet emerged. For ‘news’ type information Social news sites like Twitter are good, for networking, sites like Facebook and MySpace work better; for media/images/video sharing YouTube and Flickr are top; for knowledge sharing forums like Squidoo and TripAdvisor work well.
• ROI – how to monetise (ie turn visitors into buyers) social media is a tricky issue that even Google and Microsoft (owners of loss making Facebook and YouTube etc) haven’t been able to answer yet. Clearly there are possibilities for branding benefits, awareness building, stealing a march on rivals that don’t have a presence, and gathering extremely useful feedback into your products and services from users. But judging the amount of sales you get on the back of social media campaigns is currently difficult. This will change in the near term but in the meantime you can see from your website tracking results which sources people are coming from.

Objectives – in the meantime
1) establish what you’re trying to achieve (eg for me I’m trying to promote Suffolk online, what it has to offer, drive visitors to the websites and encourage them to click through to clients adverts to make bookings)
2) determine which target groups are you trying to reach (eg for me, from the results of the survey done earlier this summer, it’s clear that the bookers of Suffolk holidays are mainly female and London and South East based, aged over 35. However there are other substantial segments that I will try to target including birdwatchers, walkers, young families, mothers with toddlers, festival goers etc etc). Use the search functions on the networks to see what’s being talked about, search competitor names in your sector and see what they’re doing and what lessons can be learned.
3) commit to spending a certain amount of time on it regularly eg 10 minutes a day and persevere even if nothing much seems to be happening initially.

Some people might say that SM is uncontrollable and therefore they don’t want to expose themselves to it for fear of negative comments. However the reality is now that if users post an adverse review about your business you want to know about it and be able to respond to it. If you don’t it will stick. So even if you don’t want to generate content or participate in forums, make sure you monitor what is being said that is relevant to you otherwise you have no chance of influencing it.

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