The times... they are a changing, and we in the destination marketing industry are no exception to that rule. Long gone are the days when our digital footprints (websites) can get by on simply being a digital version of the yellow pages.
Our visitors are looking for authentic ways to experience cities similar to how residents do on a daily basis, and what better way to do this, than to amplify your marketing efforts by leveraging locals and having them speak to their experiences in regards to how they live and interact in the destination!
My tourism "Sister from Another Mister," Katie Cook from the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau stopped by to talk to us about their True Austin Program and its impact on the city's locals and visitors
1. A handful of destination marketing organizations now have local expert programs. What makes the Austin experience unique?
Many DMOs are realizing that visitors want to experience a destination like the locals do and are finding ways to connect visitors to local experts.
Local knowledge of the area is a great asset to not only inspire others to travel to Austin, but to help them plan their visit. The True Austin program was created to bolster the interaction and engagement between the city’s locals and visitors. With so many channels out there for visitors to get information, the Austin CVB wanted to help make the experience a more personal one.
The program uses local bloggers (who are "experts" on a variety of topics ranging from live music to food to motor sports to family friendly activities) to help answer visitor questions through Twitter, Facebook and email. http://www.austintexas.org/visit/true-austin/
In addition, we have expanded the program to Instagram and to our new blog. We promote the #TrueAustin hashtag on Instagram so that people can share and discover Austin photos. We repost some of the best images to our followers. Our new Austin Insider Blog features our staff’s personal recommendations on various Austin activities, venues and events. We'll be highlighting True Austin local experts here as well. We like to think we are good at integrating campaigns across many channels. We are always looking at new ways to inspire people and provide new resources.
2. How do you go about the process of vetting the experts to ensure that you are providing the best resource?
We don’t have a shortage of bloggers in Austin, but we really looked to see which bloggers in the community have the most passion for Austin and also like to be a resource to people. Our experts have to be very social media savvy and be pretty active on Twitter and Facebook. In regards to how we chose the expert topics, our team looked at recent leisure traveler research that we had been done and what were the most frequently asked questions we received through social media. Live music and food questions are the most frequently asked…by far.
3. Are your experts paid or incentivized in any way?
All of our True Austin experts are unpaid. We link to their blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts so that people can read their blogs and connect with them. Sometimes, we will send our experts fun swag and event invitations.
4. How did you get buy-in from senior leadership to move forward with the program? Did you have to overcome any objections or misconceptions?
That was easy. We are lucky to have leadership that wants to try new things and be innovative in our digital marketing.
5. How do you measure success of the program? Are you getting positive feedback from visitors and your experts?
To measure effectiveness, we capture impressions, website page views, email inquiries, usage of the #TrueAustin hashtag on Twitter, questions posted on our Facebook wall, views of the True Austin intro video and images tagged with #TrueAustin on Instagram.
We continually receive positive feedback from the visitors asking the questions. They are very grateful for the program and love getting the personalized service.
Our experts have been part of the program from launch. They enjoy being a resource to visitors and have become great ambassadors for not only Austin, but our organization.
As the Interactive Marketing Manager at the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, Katie manages all interactive marketing for the organization, including the company’s website, mobile marketing and social media marketing.
Katie is a professional member of the Social Media Club and speaks regularly on using social media for tourism/conventions. Katie holds a degree in Mass Communications-Public Relations from Texas State University.