100 Years of Advancing Destinations

Mastering Facebook Marketing: A Conversation with Caroline Bean of VisitPhilly.com (Part 1)

Posted: December 23, 2013
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We've all been there of course. Planning strategy and losing sleep at night over how best to increase, and more importantly engage our fan base on Facebook. This isn't quite the year 2009, when all you simply had to do was have a message and mouse to point and click your way to thousands of fans on the worlds most popular social network. These days dmo marketers struggle in regards to keeping up with design/layout changes, algorithm updates, and growing ad placements, all while seeing organic engagement dip.

One dmo that seems to be navigating the space extremely well is VisitPhilly.com. We sat down with Caroline Bean, Director of Social Media to learn how they continue to have such high fan counts and engagement rates, and believe me when I say you'll want to take notes on this folks!

We've often heard the phrase, "it takes a village." I've always felt that the involvement of community partners such as hotels, attractions restaurants, museums, neighborhoods etc. is vital to any social strategy. How involved do your local community partners get involved in your Facebook activity and to what extent?

Caroline Bean of VisitPhilly.comCommunity partners do an excellent job sharing their events, happenings, social media promotions, deals and video content with us. We then use that content for press releases, visitphilly.com and the uwishunu.com blog. In most cases, only once we have positioned it for our visitors on our own online properties do we then turn it into a Facebook post.

Because Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm so clearly affects how many of our fans see our content, we fiercely protect our Facebook “real estate.” (Twitter and Pinterest, however, are excellent places where we can share partner information more frequently.) On Facebook, we need to make sure each post shares the information our fans want and is engaging enough to ensure continued news feed presence. We serve our partners better in the long run by sticking to our posting strategy and content calendar, thus preserving high rates of engagement on the page by.

Though we drive most Facebook posts back to our websites, those sites result in conversions. In 2013, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com sent 1.8 million visits to partner websites.

How do you keep content interesting and engaging to fans so they will come back often to consume your content? Is it a team effort?

Content, as in words, pictures and video, is indeed a team effort. Since its start 17 years ago, Visit Philadelphia has invested in writers for all types of content (web, press, collateral) and in a group of talented photographers, both staff and freelance. We embraced the blogosphere early on by hiring a full-time blog editor in 2007, when most DMOs didn’t even have a blog.

All of this content—web pages, blog posts, itineraries, press releases, videos, photos and graphics—is the fuel for our social media marketing. Having a blog that posts five to six times a day means we (the social media people) can work on engaging with fans rather than struggling to find content. We build the Facebook posting calendar by reviewing content calendars from other departments while staying flexible enough to jump on timely situations.

Our research team helps us track popular web and social content year over year. So we build on things that we know have worked well in the past (Harry Potter Weekend, holiday lights) and react quickly to enhance new content that people are responding to (Open Air Light Show). Plus, we survey our fans and listen to what they want.

Our content-driven, research-backed strategy works: People clicked, commented and liked Visit Philadelphia’s Facebook posts more than 1.1 million times in 2013, an increase of 47% over 2012.

We know those clicks translate to real visits and experiences:

  • 73% of our social media followers told us they have attended an event/attraction that they learned about from a Visit Philadelphia social media account.
  • 48% of out-of-town social media followers told us they have planned a trip to Philadelphia based on a post from a Visit Philadelphia social media account.

(Source: Visit Philadelphia social media survey)

Social is where people get to know a destination before they arrive, where they get ideas and answers while they’re here and it's where the relationship continues after they leave.

I know that imagery tends to lead to higher engagement, but really want to drive this point home for those who struggle with engagement metrics. You guys do a great job of leveraging imagery in your posts. Do these posts tend to drive engagement more than simple copy related posts?

We post a photo in nearly all our Facebook updates. The drop in engagement and reach is significant and visible when we do not include a photo with the post. In fact, we reconsider posting a particular piece of content if we don’t have a picture that works. It’s that important to Facebook rank—and to building the city’s image.

When we don’t own an appropriate photo, we ask a partner or use a consumer-generated Instagram image (with permission).

Here’s an example of why photography is so important: This post was not promoted with dollars, and it was not tied to a holiday or something that would naturally go gangbusters for us. While the topic (drive-in movies) was cool, people really reacted positively to the post because of the photo. This average post ended up with a 100,000 reach and 4,000 interactions (clicks, likes, shares, comments).


We can still drive traffic from Facebook while doing a photo post, we just have to use a short URL in the text of the post itself – this post drove 1,500 clicks to our site (as measured via Bit.ly).

In addition to photography, we can make “love letters” or short, timely social media posts in the style of our brand campaign With Love, Philadelphia XOXO, to address pop culture happenings in an instant.

Here’s an example of a With Love letter that we wrote as soon as Chip Kelly was announced as the Philadelphia Eagles’ new head coach. We posted the letter on Facebook to coincide with the start of the press conference. That night, the Philadelphia Eagles shared the message to their two million-strong Facebook fans. The post quickly became our most “Talked About” Facebook post ever.

VisitPhilly.com - Chip Kelly

Tip: If you don’t have a photo budget, involve your fans in representing a destination they already love by using their content. They are your real-life ambassadors.

Be sure to check back next week when we'll post part two of our chat with Caroline! What tips and tools do you use to engage your fan base on Facebook?