One of the comments on my rant about social media foot-dragging by much of the tourism industry was left by Seattle-based writer/photographer Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View. She’ll be my co-panelist at the Blog Highways travel blogging panel at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive tech conference in Austin. We talk all the time about travel bloggers and tourism internet marketing.
The phrase she used in her comment is one that I hear a lot: “….we have a blog but no one is reading it.”
Well, why is that?
If your content is good, the problem is eminently fixable, but it takes work. Social media tools are (generally) free in monetary terms – good news in today’s economy – but they are NOT free in terms of the time needed to nurture and sustain them, which is true for any endeavor that involves human relationships and communication.
This is not something you toss over to the office intern for her/him to do in their spare time. Do not tell me you are “too old” to learn how to do this, either – I’m 47. Nice try.
This is not your Web site, broadcasting pretty pictures and marketing-speak in one direction.
This is the “social” part of social media. There’s a lot to it, but it isn’t rocket science; it’s building connections and relationships with prospective visitors to your destination.
OK, let’s break it down….why is “no one reading?”
- Define “no one.” Are you a brand-new blog (less than 3-6 months old?) You will not have soaring readership numbers (my benchmark, among others, is unique visitors) unless you represent a very popular, world-class destination. Every blogger starts out with 2-3 unique readers a day, and yes, one of them is probably your Mom (ask her to leave a comment next time; lots of comments are an important metric, too, so please don’t make it hard to comment by requiring registration and other silliness.) Do you have about 50 uniques a day stopping by? What if 50 people physically showed up at your office wanting to know more about your destination – see them all lined up in the hallway? Feels pretty good, right? Take what you can get in the beginning. As super video blogger Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Everything is better than zero.”
- Is your content boring? Be honest – is it written by committee and vetted to within an inch of its life, then poked at by an “SEO expert?” Gimme a break. Readers connect with a lively human voice that has fresh news. Don’t waste their time with your recycled press releases – what else d’ya got? I recommend the Philadelphia tourism blog UWishUNu or Experience Scottsdale (AZ) as examples of how to do it right. If your content is boring because your destination is boring, then I’m sorry, I can’t help you.
- Do you link OUT in your blog posts? That’s how we wave to people on the Web….links say, “Hi, I appreciate your content and consider it link-worthy.” No, you do not have to ask to link to someone’s site; that’s part of the fun. Do you see the hyperlinked (light blue) items in this post? Every one of those people will see me talking about them over here on UpTake, because they see the link coming into the administrative back end of their site. Most will come over to visit and see what we’re talking about. That means traffic for this blog. Sure, I planned it that way. So can you.
- Do you surf over and check out the sites that link IN to your main Web site and/or your blog? They thought you were link-worthy; isn’t that nice? You always know when someone links to you, right? (meaning the data is visible to your entire marketing, public relations and communications teams, not just “the IT guy.”) Go look around on the site that linked to you, and maybe leave a comment on one of their posts in return; that’s how good link karma works, like any human kindness or courtesy. Some incoming links are from spammers/link farms – Boo! – so identify them as spam and delete.
- Is your number of blog content subscribers (by RSS or email) moving in an upward direction? Do you make it easy to subscribe and is it obvious how to do so on your site? Do you periodically encourage subscription in your posts?
- Is your blog registered with Technorati and lots of other blog directories? Do you automatically or manually ping major search engines/directories after each post?
- Do you highlight your best blog posts in your Twitter stream and your destination’s Facebook page, along with photos of your destination on Flickr and some videos on YouTube? Yes, I’ll wait here while you go set those up. To get the word out about a blog, you don’t just do it on the blog itself – you need outposts on the Web. Go see the Twitter stream from the tourism people in Nova Scotia, or the 3 folks who do Hawaii tourism: DavidHTA, Michael Ni and Nathan Kam. Go see the Facebook page for Iowa tourism. Go see what these tourism guys in the Amazon have done with social media – good for them! There’s a lot of travel action on Twitter.
- Ready to learn even more about successful blogging? Do what every other new blogger does – we all head over and read every word of Aussie Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger, a simply indispensable resource.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is HARD to build a blog that draws a crowd, and don’t let some newly jumped-up “social media marketing expert” tell you otherwise. I’ve been at it for three years as a blogger, and I’m still learning. The learning curve will only get steeper, so get hot.
In the long term, you cannot outsource social media and be particularly effective. My consulting company Every Dot Connects, for example, just finished what we think was a pretty good marketing campaign contest with HomeAway vacation rentals. I wrote some blog posts for their new microsite as a part of that project, but the idea is that such content eventually moves in-house because you want your organization’s voice in social media, not mine. I’ll teach you how to fish, and all that….
While you’re at it, keep an ear to the ground about mobile content – my long-time tech mentor Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle tells me that mobile devices (mostly because of the game-changing iPhone) are the next huge leap for the Web, social media and how humans connect.
Is your tourism organization thinking about mobile? Do you check your blog’s presentation on mobile devices? Start now, because people are driving near/through/around your destination even as we speak, looking for guidance on their Web-browsing mobile device. Make sure that your blog is easily findable and full of useful information for your visitors, just like that danged brochure that you still print for an ever-shrinking audience at the highway rest stops.
Sure, keep doing occasional print runs, but your focus should be shifting now, to the future and to the Web.