Tweeting, pinning and blogging — tourism industry’s new tactics

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focus-CogRailwayAt 6 a.m., Chelsy Murphy rolls out of bed and logs on to Pinterest, a social-networking site that allows users to “pin” up photos.

As communications director at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, Murphy knows that early mornings and late nights are when most of the site’s users, 80 percent of whom are women ages 25 to 34 — are looking at categories including “destinations,” “bucket list” and “places I want go.” She does not want to miss an opportunity to pin photos of the Pikes Peak region.

Recently, Murphy pinned a photo of the Manitou Incline and watched it become one of CVB’s most re-pinned photos, second only to a photo of a “Big Foot Xing” sign. Last week, the CVB’s Pinterest traffic surpassed the Facebook traffic — 82 percent higher compared to Facebook in terms of direct traffic back to VisitCOS.com.

“With Pinterest, it’s all about the soft sell,” Murphy said.

Social media is the new press release for the tourism industry. And those tweeting and pinning say emphatically that social media must be part of any marketing plan for tourism. Local officials cannot say for sure whether social media is bringing in new visitors or keeping the existing visitors coming back.

But one thing is for sure: If you are not being talked about on social media, you’re not being talked about.

“We are definitely engaging people that we didn’t have contact with before,” said Ben Sack, Echo Canyon River Expeditions general manager. He pushes out messages and photos on Twitter, Google Plus and Pinterest, and Echo Canyon has nearly 3,000 “likes” on Facebook, up from 1,700 one year ago.

“We are always trying to grow, but a lot of it is maintaining those existing positive relationships,” Sack said. Echo Canyon, which includes a restaurant, bar and cabin rentals, expects to have about 25,000 visitors this season.

Strategic tweeting

Ryan Cole, new executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, tweets breaking news about the 25 area attractions his organization promotes. He doesn’t have to hope that a travel editor will pick up one of his press releases, he said.

“With the advent of social media, it allows me, this agency and the industry to communicate at a greater speed,” he said.

There is a strategy to tweeting. If someone tweets anything about Colorado Springs, Murphy knows. That’s when she tweets back, using the opportunity to highlight the region and engage one-on-one with potential visitors.

“People plan [vacations] so much online,” she said. “There is still a place for email and press releases. But with social media, there is no middle man — you are talking directly to the audience.”

Just a few years ago, Cole would have spent his time writing, printing and mailing a newsletter with a calendar of upcoming events. He would have purchased ads on television, radio and maybe print. The ads would have been placed in specific regions — maybe he would have bought airtime in Texas or New Mexico.

Now he’s thinking about the next post on the PPCAA website that will translate into gate receipts for one of the region’s attractions, including Ghost Town Museum or Seven Falls. And he can narrow his target audience.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will open a new Encounter Africa exhibit this summer. His typical target — a mom with kids between ages 3 and 7 who lives in Illinois, where there are direct flights between Chicago to Colorado Springs. She has been searching “scenic view” or “best zoos” and he knows it. His analytics show him when he hits his mark.

“The biggest, and most cost-effective way, is Facebook ads,” Cole said. “They are very targeted to those specifically interested in tourism. And now, for pennies on the dollar, I can target the mom with kids who lives in Illinois.”

After he knows who the target is, he still has to tell stories through 140-character tweets, photos, Facebook and website posts, Cole said. The average Facebook user has 245 friends, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. It means, Cole said, that if just five people like a photo on a friend’s page, that is roughly five times 245.

“Now you see the virility of social media and how it spreads,” he said.

Still, social media eludes some local businesses in the tourism industry. It can be time-consuming and requires more strategy than just posting short messages and hoping someone reads them. It has to involve solid content with search marketing strategy, Cole said. He buys key words, including “scenic view,” “weather,” “family oriented” and “direct flights.”

The mom searching for vacations and using those words will see Pikes Peak area ads on her Facebook page. Cole can see how many Facebook users clicked on the ad, then “liked” the Pikes Peak Country Attractions page, then ordered a Colorado Springs 2013 Official Visitor Guide, and then bought tickets from the email blast they got for signing up for the guide.

“With TV, they show it and you pray [visitors] will show up,” Cole said. “I can’t see the results until after the campaign is complete. With social media, I see the progression along the way and I can make changes. I see all the data points and can see if there are gaps.”

Simple goal: visitors

The tourism industry has to tell good stories to hook visitors, says Meredith Whatley, The Broadmoor resort marketing specialist. The Broadmoor has been on social media for several years and she considers it a must in the total resort marketing plan, considering 96 percent of leisure travelers begin their hotel planning online. And nearly all travelers are undecided when they begin the search — meaning there is room to make an impression.

“When you look at the website metrics, you can find out where traffic to the web is coming from. A lot of our goals are being contributed to by social media,” Whatley said. “They may not have started on our blog, they ended up on the blog, then to the website to make a reservation.”

In 2012, Forbes.com listed The Broadmoor’s blog as one of top three must-reads for travelers and described social media as a standard hotel amenity.

Whatley said there is always something new and ways to improve in marketing. She enjoys telling behind-the-scenes stories of the resort and constantly is collecting story ideas. The stories are fresh to the potential Broadmoor visitor but make repeat visitors feel like insiders, she said.

“I keep a running list of ideas, whether it’s for blogs, Facebook posts or for tweets,” she said. “I collect them all and when it comes down to it, it makes it easier when you have choices in front of you and that makes it easier to manage things.”

Whatley already is working on the next big trend — video. It’s a growing online source for travelers, according to Google and Ipsos Media CT’s 2012 report. Hotels are 62 percent of travel videos watched — and 42 percent of those who watched them booked reservations.

“We are preparing for more video,” Whatley said. “Lots and lots of video. Internet speeds are increasing and you can watch videos anywhere, anytime — that is the medium to be in.”

Whatley and Murphy shared their social media strategies this week at the local Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International luncheon.

Their message: if you are not on social media, get on it, Murphy said. Travelers look to social media as a credible source, she added, saying, “You know you need to be (on social media) because it’s growing — travelers are looking in those spaces.”

Facebook successes

Murphy ventured into social media in 2009 with a CVB Facebook page. At the time, she was directing all messages to the CVB’s members. Then she realized Facebook would be more useful directed at travelers, to get them to the 500 CVB partners, including hotels, attractions, restaurants and retail shops. There were less analytics to study Facebook traffic then, but she could see the number of “likes” growing and what kind of posts generated traffic.

In 2010, she started integrating social media campaigns with the CVBs marketing campaigns, and even created new campaigns to drive Internet surfers to “like” the CVB page for a chance to win a vacation package of free passes and slashed hotel rates, donated by CVB members.

It worked. In two days, the CVB had 400 new “likes.” Today, the CVB page has 20,000 “likes.” Now Instagram and Pinterest, where the average user has 229 followers, are two of Murphy’s favorites.

“It’s all visual — pictures, pictures, pictures,” she said.

And nothing is more picturesque than the Pikes Peak region, she said. This week, Murphy launched the CVB’s Pinterest contest for a “Girls Get-Away Weekend” — she’ll be up early to pin photos.

“We are garnering awareness,” Murphy said. “People are talking about us.”

Tweet-worthy attractions

Provided by Ryan Cole, executive director, Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association

Pikes Peak “From amazing doughnuts to breathtaking views, Pikes Peak is America’s Mountain.”

Pikes Peak Cog Railway “Three hours of amazing views from one of the neatest modes of transportation.”

Academy Riding Stables “Not everyone can ride a horse through Garden of the Gods unless you ride with us.”

Cave of the Winds “The only place you can see amazing views inside and out.”

Challenge Unlimited-Pikes Peak by Bike “Nobody likes biking up a mountain; thankfully, with us, you get a fun ride down.”

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo “Experience Africa in an entirely new way with the newest attraction this summer.”

Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad “Experience mining history and the beauty of Cripple Creek in a steam-driven way.”

Cripple Creek Heritage Center “From mining to learning to pan for gold, make your own discoveries.”

Echo Canyon River Expeditions “There is more to rafting than water. We bring the experience and fun to your gorge adventure.”

Flying W Ranch Chuckwagon supper and show “Flying W – where dinner and a show adds a smile to your face and adds you to our family.”

Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center “Must see our amazing video about nature’s greatest park.”

Garden of the Gods Trading Post “Colorado’s largest trading post specializing in everything Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.”

Ghost Town Museum “Experience the Old West as it’s supposed to be.”

Historic Manitou Springs “From great food to the area’s best art galleries, this historic district is sure to please.”

Historic Old Colorado City “Fine dining, great shopping and incredible events will keep you coming back.”

Iron Springs Melodrama Dinner Theater “Revamping one of the area’s most fun evenings for you and your family.”

Manitou Cliff Dwellings “Experience a rare historical treasure that you can touch.”

May Natural History Museum “Bug out with this huge collection of creepy crawlers.”

Miramont Castle Museum “One of Manitou’s coolest dwellings; built by a French priest.”

Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine “Adventure around every corner in a true gold mine.”

North Pole-Santa’s Workshop “Santa 364 days a year!”

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame “YeeHaw, some of the nation’s bull riding paraphernalia and a gallery honoring Chris LeDoux.”

Royal Gorge Bridge and Park “Take your Mom with you so she can hold your hand tight on a ride 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River.”

Seven Falls “Seven amazing falls with a mountain elevator so you don’t have to walk.”

The Western Museum of Mining and Industry “Explore the excitement of Colorado’s rich mining heritage and watch it come to life.”