Social Media and Tourism

John Hope-Johnstone

G’day Mate, this post is dedicated to the use of social media for tourism promotion and will one of three posts on the subject.

The tourism industry was one of the first to see the value of the Web site and the value of search engine optimization and they have been quick to respond to the possibilities of social media. However, social media is more confusing and ethereal to many destination marketing managers because of its many facets and the time commitment on limited staff availability.

The Web Site, in its early days, could be easily understood by destination marketers as it was looked upon as being an on-line brochure, (of course it evolved into being much more). However Social Media is so new and has such great potential that there is nothing in the past to which we can relate.

The question is not how “WE” can use social media to attract visitors? It is how “THEY” (the visitor) are already using Internet marketing to find us and Social Media to help with their decision-making process.

Wikipedia defines social media as being part of “social validation”. Social validation , or social proofing, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous situations when people do not have enough information to make opinions independently and instead look for external clues like popularity, third-party endorsements, friends and family, to develop that level of trust.

If we accept this definition then we have to pose the question; when are people requiring the largest dose of external validation about their travel choices? If we find this tipping point then we have found when the largest number of travelers will be using social media.

Social validation is required less for familiar destinations, to locations where we vacate regularly. We don’t need our choices to be validated to go to these places, unless a new sub-choice has to be made; like a new restaurant or a new event. This will be true of shorter vacations within 50 to 100 miles from home.

We would require far more social media input and validation for going to a far away land where we have never been before and where the language and customs are different. It is also a big YES for trips that require a lot of planning and contain a lot of stops, like a long road trip. Even though the road trip may be in our own country with familiar customs (except for some odd states) and common currency. It is also a big YUP for special occasion vacations where the pressure is on to make it perfect, like a honeymoon, or a big family reunion.

Planning a long distance trip where social validation is required can be a nightmare. Here are some creative ways that tourism agencies are helping to overcome these obstacles. One of the first lessons we need to remember is that facebook NOT Google is the number one search engine. More people complete a search on facebook than on Google!!

In a recent blog post by Sarah Chong she gives an excellent example of a trip to Japan and how very useful she found the Visit Japan 2010 facebook page that aggregates all the travel info and links you’ll ever need! The layout is clean and information is organized. “It’s the first place (not Google!) I would go to when planning for a Japan trip,” she says. Get updates through the facebook page, ask questions and share your experiences with others. Who would you trust more, the tips and views of a fellow tourist or the tourism board?

Here is a screen shot of the visitjapan2010 facebook page. The point that we have to be careful about here is losing the social of social media. We are tricking out our facebook pages to look like Web site pages and that is NOT their purpose. Their purpose is to bring people together for a conversation about the product or service. To give them social validation that their selection is correct! Not to replicate something we already have. Now having said that, it doesn’t mean that a little more information is a bad thing. Just don’t make it into a second Web site. You will lose the whole meaning of social media.

Visit Japan

New Zealand uses a nicely branded YouTube channel promoting their brand “The Youngest Country on Earth”. It not only shows you great videos, it helps you plan your trip as well!  The channel links you to information about New Zealand, getting to New Zealand, places to stay, and a New Zealand map answering all the scary questions a traveler may need to know.

However again we have to pose a question. Is slick professional video what the “social media” inquirer is looking for in their social validation. It’s a lovely dream piece and it is aimed at the folks who are still thinking about going to New Zealand. The social media type has already made up their minds and are looking to validate a decision already made.

Sometimes our videos can be too slick, too professional whereas a video done with a flip by a tourist from the home country, ooing and aahing, might be much more effective.

To give them credit they do have a Have Your Say section way down at the bottom of the page, where tourists tape a video postcard and tell their story. It is a little hard to find and I would like to see it more prominently displayed but if you find it, then it has a good validation quotient.

New Zealand’s “Have Your Say” page gives a certain amount of social validation:

In this post we have looked at some great examples of social media being used by tourism agencies on a national scale, using  facebook and YouTube. My takeaways are that social media is in part social validation. Your Web site is the sales page whereas social media sites are where you allow conversations to take place. We have to be careful we don’t destroy a great medium.

Next week we will look at social media for tourism on the  Twitter and Blog platforms. Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment and give me some ideas.

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