After returning from two weeks of vacation, my mind is just now clawing its way out from underneath the pile of unanswered emails, tweets, comments, and shares.
One of the first things I noticed, however, was a white paper released recently by Marketing Challenges International titled, "Social Media Marketing for Global Destinations in the Meetings and Conventions Industry." The reason is that it was forwarded to me by three different people through three completely different channels, and when this happens, I generally pay attention.
The paper is a concise summary about social media statistics in the travel industry, its foray into the meetings segment, and a close look at some of the great work that the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) is doing, harnessing the power of social media in order to attract meetings planners and their end customers.
From a destination marketing perspective, this all makes perfect sense. Social media is particularly suited for attracting and engaging tourists and visitors, so why not meeting attendees -- and why not move up the channel and attract or engage meeting planners? However, before making a decision about social media one way or another for your destination's group sales efforts, here are five general warnings to consider:
1. This is a serious business.
All things considered, the barriers to entry in using social media are pretty low. But the barrier to entry in using social media well is a lot higher. Like all things, social media is a serious business opportunity, and the more you evaluate it as such, the better off you'll be. In fact, while the vast majority of meeting planners do get news and updates via social media, a much smaller percentage actually use it to engage with suppliers.
That being said, two of the most common pitfalls are to either jump in blindly believing that social media will be the best thing since grilled cheese, or to write it off completely as a waste of time. Chances are it will be neither for your DMO, so take the time to figure out exactly what social media tools will put you in a better place with meeting planners as well as attendees.
2. Get a double-edged strategy.
If you saw the two examples for the ACVB, you'll notice that each is geared toward a different customer in the meetings market, and that's how all destinations should craft a social media strategy. The "Meet in Austin" pinboard on Pinterest would be of interest to only meeting professionals, people looking for space that fits their meeting requirements during the planning stages of the event, while the list of hot spots near the convention center on Foursquare is primarily useful to meeting delegates during the actual event. Understand where in the sales funnel each social media tool can assist your sales efforts, fully taking into account what audience you're reaching with it.
3. Do more than just promote.
Marketing Challenges International said in the white paper, "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." I'm sad to admit that this is true.
The greater truth however, is that's not necessarily what most meeting planners are looking for. In the latest annual empowerMINT survey of meeting planners from this past July, meeting planners are still most interested in "securing honest, insider information on venues," so please keep this in mind when using social media. As the ACVB did with its Foursquare list, build trust by providing useful information, not advertisements. Create solutions, not spam.
4. I now pronounce you "Sales and Marketing."
So far, social media primarily has been confined to the marketing department that often have the limited capability to perform promotional functions in the meetings market. However, social media is a personal channel. It's particularly suited to create one-on-one relationships quickly that can then be further developed offline, which brings me to my next point of bringing your sales team on board and marrying sales and marketing. In my experience working with some of the best interactive marketing managers at various DMOs in the meetings market, the resounding road block that most encounter is making the jump from a destination-planner relationship to a sales professional-planner relationship.
Sales professionals have an increasingly urgent opportunity to take the reins of their own social media marketing on their turf. Imagine if a sales manager for the ACVB had created that Foursquare list or managed that Pinterest board. Wouldn't every planner that looked at those tools be calling that manager, connecting with that manager personally to find out more? How many leads would that generate in a year? It's incredible to me that more sales professionals in our industry aren't doing it.
5. Measure, measure, measure.
When reading the white paper, it seems like the ACVB has it all down pat, but you'll most likely discover that it didn't all just happen overnight. If I've learned anything from my conversations with their interactive queen, Katie Cook, it's been a process of trial and error, little experiments that led to great successes, and constant measurement to figure out exactly what's working and what's not.
That's exactly my recommendation for you. You have nothing to lose if you have a sound strategy of starting small, but as this is an ever-changing landscape, make adjustments, and make them often -- and always ask for help. Chances are someone has already made some mistakes starting out and can keep you from making the same ones.