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September 19, 2013

How Social Media Marketing Can Boost a Destination's Business Profile

Marketing Challenges International (MCIntl) recently released a white paper that outlines the social media marketing landscape for global destinations in the meetings and conventions industry. Digital and social media are now complementing and, in some cases, replacing traditional marketing strategies due to cost-effectiveness, expansive reach, and the ability to target specific audiences based on preference. 

“The market is evolving so rapidly that we have to keep monitoring it”, said Michel Couturier, President, MCIntl. “We took an in-depth look at the social media landscape and extracted strategies for our global clients. We know that research and face-to face meetings are key to success for a destination, but applying effective social media tactics can also enhance the marketability of a destination.”

Using social media as a marketing tool for global destination promotion is standard practice for the leisure market, he said, but convention bureaus have been slower to adopt these new tools. In a phone interview with International Meetings Review, Couturier noted several destinations that have done well with implementing social media with their convention marketing. 

Because the city hosts the annual South by Southwest technology conference (SXSW), Austin, Texas has put social media to use in promoting other conventions. "They are very innovative in how to use social media," Couturier said, adding that many planners have traditionally not considered smaller cities like Austin for large-scale events. "Because of SXSW, it could become a first-tier convention city," he said. In Spain, Barcelona hosts the annual GSMA conference, and has similarly had to remain on top of all new technology trends, boosting its profile and attracting a new audience. 

But while social media marketing is a new reality for meeting planners, Couturier emphasized that it cannot replace face-to-face conversations. "A tweet won't do it, a 'like' won't do it," he said. "Face-to-face is critical. But by integrating social media on a platform and showing that planners can take advantage of what they have to offer, [destinations] can make a difference." He cited Toronto, which recently won the World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine, as a good example: The conference organizers wanted to attract Generations X and Y to the event, and the city knew how to reach the younger attendees. "Social media was key [to that demographic], and Toronto had the platform to do it." 

Based on the findings, MCIntl’s white paper recommends to international destinations the implementation of three key strategies: 
 First, using social media as a simple and cost-effective way to promote the destination’s brand; 
 Second, building professional networks to meeting planners and other decision makers by making connections on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter; 
 And lastly, using social media to provide value-added services for meeting planners to help with delegate 
boosting, including building special content guides or offering “social concierge” services for meeting attendees. 

MCIntl’s white paper elaborates on how destinations can and have leveraged social media marketing as a convention service to win large bids.

The Paper

Social media’s rapid ascent in popularity over the last five years has significantly changed the travel marketing industry, particularly as more and more travelers go online to manage their travel-related activities. In fact, PhoCusWright reported that spending on online advertising has eclipsed spending on traditional advertising (print, radio, television), and that social media is now the cornerstone of marketing strategy in this industry.

One of the main benefits to social media is cost efficiency: travel marketers revealed that using social media reduced public relations cost by 24 percent. Other benefits include the sheer volume of social media users, its viral nature, and social indexing—the ability of targeting content by a user’s preferences. 
PhoCusWright reports that most companies in the travel industry are spending more than 25 percent of their marketing budget on social media.

The leisure travel industry has been much faster than the meetings and conventions industry to incorporate social media into its marketing strategy, but this trend has shifted in recent years as meeting planners have found creative ways to use social media for their events. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have been critical tools to meeting planners—83 percent of them use LinkedIn to maintain and create new business contacts, 52 percent use Facebook to post information or photos after a meeting or event, and 64 percent use Twitter to tweet live during events.3 Planners are now also incorporating new visual social media tools such as Pinterest and Instagram into their events to showcase event photos or highlight pictures of the event city. 

As the world increasingly becomes more digital, social media and mobile marketing will become new norms in the travel industry. In that regard, simply having a social media account is not enough. Instead, CVBs and meeting planners should explore creative ways of capitalizing on social media to reach their audience. The following report reviews the various social media tools currently available, explores current industry usage and best practices for CVBs, and discusses social media strategies and steps for successful implementation.

In the meetings and conventions market, usage of social media by convention bureaus and convention centers has two main purposes: first, to promote the destination to potential new clients, and second, to help meeting planners promote their events to potential attendees (known in the industry as “delegate boosting”). To achieve these goals, the majority of destinations maintain accounts on the most popular platforms—generally Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—although many rely on the leisure side of the bureau to manage most of the social media efforts.

Destinations are now exploring various ways to leverage social media for meetings and conventions specifically. Some destinations, such as Barcelona, Berlin, and Switzerland, maintain separate Twitter accounts for their conventions market. Other CVBs, such as that of Vienna and Malaysia, have launched mobile apps specifically for planners, though app development has not become widespread due to the large initial investment required. 

Although many companies maintain a LinkedIn presence, only a handful of them capitalize on the tools available via the platform. Organizations such as the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre and Tourism Australia use their company profiles to actively broadcast business news that is targeted to professionals in the industry. This is a contrast to their respective Facebook Pages, where the updates are lighter and geared toward event-goers and travelers. Other organizations such as ExCeL London and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) have used the LinkedIn group feature to maintain special networking groups to build connections with meeting and convention organizers. 

Newer platforms such as Pinterest and foursquare are much less used, although convention bureaus are finding unique ways of incorporating them into their social media efforts. For example, the tourist boards of Visit Berlin and MySwitzerland have created Pinterest accounts to depict the visual vibe of a city—offering up fun and engaging pinboards on topics such as “Berlinicious” and “Swiss Vintage.” Within the location-based app foursquare, some CVBs have created accounts to pinpoint locations of interests to potential visitors, who can save these places in their “to-do” lists to access when they are actually visiting the destination. ViennaInfo, for example, maintains lists such as “Classical Viennese Coffeehouses” and “Vienna’s Music Highlights,” while Visit Tuscany showcases lists such as “Medici Villas” and “Tuscan Specialties.” 

In the North American meetings market, convention bureaus are finding unique ways to use social media as a service for meeting planners. For example, the Phoenix and Seattle CVBs provide a “social concierge” during conventions. Using a specially created hashtag for the conference, CVBs can tweet directly to attendees to answer questions about the destination and notify them of local events, deals, and restaurants and entertainment. The Chicago CVB now works with their convention clients to develop interactive gaming challenges with SCVNGR (pronounced “scavenger”), a mobile app in which users can visit places, complete challenges, and earn points. Visit Orlando, the CVB for one of the biggest domestic convention cities in the U.S., now offers its potential clients the services of its convention marketing executive, which works directly with planners on developing social media campaigns for their events.

Offering social media marketing as part of convention services has also given some destinations an edge over others in winning events. In its recent bid presentation for the World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine, the Toronto Convention and Visitors Association included the use of Twitter as a way of exchanging information before, during, and after the meeting. Since the association was trying to increase their student delegation, Toronto’s use of social media in the bid stood out, and the destination ultimately won the bid. 

Read the rest of the white paper here.

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