Using Social Media In Destination Marketing

A couple of years ago, we queried our social media networks (Points of Interest blog followers, Twitter followers, LinkedIn groups and Facebook fans) for ROI stories using social media in destination marketing. We had experienced some initial social media successes, but were looking to build a list of best practices to share with our clients and readers.

Instead of examples touting measurable results, what we received were numerous accounts of the many tactics various destinations, resorts and attractions were using in social media. Everyone was throwing things up on the wall to see what sticked. The few that addressed the topic of ROI either told us it was about “engagement” and not direct results, or offered us anecdotal evidence: “I tweeted a discount weekend rate and landed a booking. It didn’t cost anything but my time.”
Social media experts (to call yourself a social media expert back then, all you had to do was have a Twitter account or Facebook page) were claiming that advertising no longer works, and that the best thing was to stop wasting money advertising altogether and put all faith into social media, regardless of the lack of evidence that this would work. Vail Resorts actually took their advice. For Vail’s sake, let’s hope they didn’t make a huge mistake.

At the time, we were surprised at the apparent lack of interest in measuring real ROI.

Before social media’s rise in popularity, the difference between internet marketing and traditional advertising was the internet’s ability to directly link cause and effect. Then Twitter comes along, and suddenly tracking ROI no longer mattered. Forget about reaching enough people to move the needle (it’s just not scalable: you can’t put enough heads in beds or feet through the turnstile one tweet at a time. Not yet, anyway).

However, while we still firmly believed (and still do) in an integrated marketing strategy including some form of advertising, social media's rising influence could not be ignored. So we kept searching for evidence, anything, that could prove that using social media in destination marketing could help deliver real results and help us begin to build our list of best practices.

At the 2009 PhoCusWright Conference in Orlando, we finally found it.

The Best Job in the World

Chris Chambers, Director of Digital Marketing for Queensland, Australia, presented a fairly detailed case study on his campaign to market the Great Barrier Reef internationally: The Best Job in the World. Before we get into the details of the campaign, let’s start with what we began looking for eight months ago: a social media ROI story with measurable results.

Here’s what Queensland had achieved as of October 31, 2009:

Marketing measures

  • 8.4 million site visitors, from every country

  • 8 minute average time on site

  • 34,680 job applications

  • $390 Million AUD of publicity

Business measures

  • First quarter of current fiscal year
  • Australia tourism down, but Queensland tourism up 20%
  • 50% of Australia trips now include a Queensland component

Pretty impressive results for a social media campaign, nes pas?