Friday, July 20, 2012

How Northumberland's Using Foursquare to Help Local Businesses

Northumberland County, by Eileen Lum, Tourism Manager

How do you continue to market a tourism destination with the same resources year after year and still stay competitive? 

As a tourism destination management organization for municipal government, we are tasked with promoting all our tourism attractions and experiences in Northumberland County.  With a strategic plan on hand, we have used the traditional resources available to us: online marketing, print collateral, advertising, etc… Although our efforts were successful, we were envious of larger corporations whose budgets could afford a sexier campaign that would engage their target markets.  If only we had those resources, if only we could really talk to our audience too…..Then we discovered social media. 

Three years ago, Facebook was introduced to us by a colleague.  Its potential to help businesses “talk” to their clients appealed to us.  We decided to create a Northumberland Tourism Facebook Fan page.  Once we broadcasted its existence, we started to gain fans and then suddenly communities of individuals were posting and sharing information about Northumberland to their Facebook friends.  This was incredible because now we could get a pulse of what our viewers thought and they became our tourism voice or ambassadors.  We were starting to build relationships with readers, and this was converting them to actual visitors.  It just snowballed.  Facebook is now the top referrers to our tourism website.

This encouraged us to utilize another social media platform.  With many staff having access to smartphones or blackberries, Sofie Andreou showed us how to integrate Twitter into our social media plan.  Staff are now tweeting/communicating new tourism events or experiences to individuals who followed them on twitter.  If a new bed and breakfast has an open house, we are able to tweet this information to those who are interested.  We currently have travel media following our staff because they too want an in on what’s new.  As a result we are receiving lots of earned media coverage and not to mention broaden our network of potential visitors to Northumberland.

As we are reaping the benefits of social media, we wanted to share these marketing tools with our tourism operators so they can increase their business.  We ask Sofie if she could help us develop a training module that would engage our businesses to use Foursquare.  Foursquare is a mobile-friendly, rewards-based network that allows tourists or locals to explore neighborhoods by checking into locations, leaving tips for others then rewarding them for doing so whether it be by special offer, discounts or special services.
It’s an automated loyalty program and a simple way for our tourism businesses to monitor their customers’ comments.  We decided it was an excellent project for return-on-investment results:  we have the consumer already situated in Northumberland and by virtue of them checking into Foursquare and being influenced by other customer comments, we can more readily push their commitment to purchase.  Our hope is to get at our social media savvy businesses to participate in this project over the next few months in summer and we’ll monitor their success.

What’s next?   We don’t know.  We do know that social media has allowed an organization such as ours market as effectively as larger corporations if you develop a social media strategy.  We can’t wait to see what the next social media marketing tool is.  Stay tuned. 
 Eileen Lum, Tourism Manager
Northumberland County

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