How to capture the ROI in Social Media Marketing


Marketers have not truly unlocked the potential of social media, and specifically user-generated content (UGC) in driving brand awareness, engagement and ultimately transactions.

US marketers are projected to spend $16.2 billion in social media advertising by 2019 (Forrester Research), and brands are spending time and resources curating content, sharing and interacting with potential customers on social media channels, and managing customer relationships.  

The question remains, what is the ROI on Social Media marketing? Are we truly harnessing the power of social and user-generated content to drive transactions?

There are billions of photos, comments and videos being created and shared every day by users who are telling stories and sharing experiences about your brand?

Content being produced and shared daily:

  • More than 4 Million Hours of content uploaded to Youtube
  • 3.6 Billion Instagram Likes each day
  • 4.3 BILLION Facebook messages posted daily
  • 5.75 BILLION Facebook likes every day
  • 40 Million Tweets shared each day

(source: )

Marketers need to harness the power of crowd sourced and shared UGC as part of the marketing mix – with a focus on leveraging social stories to drive sales.



Consider how many brand websites have a direct call-to-action, and link to “Visit us on Facebook” or Follow us on Instagram” – taking customers off page to Instagram or Facebook.  

                  -Some of those outbound links are even right off of the website home page.  

broken path to purchase


In addition to spending marketing dollars on creating content for social media, managing customer relations, listening to customer experiences, and boosting social posts – brands are inviting  customers to “Follow us” on social media.

– Ultimately driving the customer away from the point of transaction.

Unless a social post goes viral, brand social media posts are perishable pieces of content for Instagram and Facebook that may not ever be seen by the customer.  In fact, Facebook’s posts on brand pages will not even reach those that “Like” a brand page without a paid “boosted post” or Ad Spend – and even if it does, it is buried in newsfeed and cluttered with Ad content.

How do we solve this problem?

A Social Commerce strategy is necessary in this socially connected digital economy.

Think with Google advocates the importance for brands of being available at all points along the customer path-to-conversion, noting the multiple consumer touch points along the road to transaction.  Additional research from Deloitte points to the importance specifically of social media and UGC as a primary source for researching travel (as an example) – ranking second (33%) only to friends and family direct referrals(50%).

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There is no question that user-generated and brand-generated social content bring value to the customer relationship, and build brand awareness.  

Ultimately a socially integrated sales and marketing strategy should link UGC to a measurable point of transaction, with metrics that illustrate the ROI in social media marketing efforts.  

Pulling in UGC content, and using social  media channels to direct customers down the path to purchase – and to the brand website is the the key to measuring the ROI on social media – and to fully leveraging the power of social word of mouth.


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Join me as I co-host the Webinar “How to Drive Sales and ROI with Social Commerce” with James Cooper, Global Director of Product Innovation with ICUC Social on Tuesday March 14th at 1:00 PM ET.  

During this Webinar, we will be discussing the #1 challenge marketers are facing today “How can I drive sales and ROI from Social Media.”


In addition, we will discuss:

  • The disconnect between Social media and sales
  • How to drive traffic down the path to conversion and measure brand ROI on social media
  • How to make an impact with powerful UGC content at every part of the customer journey

And ultimately, how to provide a better customer experience with a complete customer experience loop!



Changing the marketing mantra in a Digital First Economy

What worked in 2005 and in 2010 will not work in today’s hyperconnected, click obsessed, snapped in real-time, digital economy.

In this article “This Year in Clicks 2016 as Read Online Valley News Web Editor Maggie Cassidy reviews readership performance in 2016 from an interesting perspective – one that can apply to many of us.  

The fact is that the internet in all of its fragmented and hyper-fast glory happened to quickly for most of us to catch up.  It has also made marketing more efficient than it has ever been.  The digital economy has given us the ability to hyper target, personalize, and some say, predict the needs of our customers.  

It has also given us the tools to know exactly what tactics are working to achieve brand awareness, reach and sales.

As Maggie Cassidy says in summarizing 2016 Valley News reader performance:

My mantra is that the Valley News doesn’t need to be the first website to get the news; it needs to be the first website to get the news right — that is, accurately, fairly, and done well — and the stories on our top 10 list for page views did that for readers.



Changing the marketing mantra to adjust to the Digital First economy will allow for continued innovation and growth.  I can guarantee that the Valley News 2016 Mantra for success looked very different in 2010, and even in 2015.

The “Digital First” economy has had an impact that is far reaching.  Business management, sales, marketing, customer relationship management, human resource management, Journalism, politics, and education have all been impacted.

  • Entrepreneurs and small businesses have access to a global audience. There are no limits to a target audience with the ability to sell, ship and communicate anywhere.
  • The general population can now create and share news as it happens, without filters or time to produce stories around it.
  • Learning and innovation has become easier and less expensive to access than ever before.
  • Accuracy in the delivery of messaging has become more efficient, more effective and less expensive.
  • Metrics and data are real time which allows on the fly optimization and adjustments – as well as accuracy in measuring ROI.
  • Anyone can write a book, Blog or create content to publish.

With all that the Internet and mobile connectivity has done to change consumer behaviour, we must re-define the goals and expected results for optimal performance and success. 

Re-define the mantra and find what your business needs to do to pivot into success and results in increasing awareness, reach, sales – and ultimately what your brand stands for.



Alicia Whalen is a digital marketing expert, speaker and strategist specializing in the travel and tourism industry. Alicia has spent over a decade driving successful digital marketing campaigns and educating professionals about how to embrace digital and social media.  

Follow @Alicia_Whalen_ on Twitter or on Facebook  or subscribe to learn about upcoming events.


Digital First for Business Masterclass Announced for Niagara

I am thrilled to be bringing my first Digital First for Business Masterclass to the Niagara region! The first in a series of classes dedicated to arming professionals with what they need to do to thrive in a digital first economy.

I will provide sales and marketing professionals, business owners and Entrepreneurs what they need to know, with a focus on the website, the fundamentals of the new search engines and Local search, as well as social media, and measurement of ROI on investment in digital media.

I will continue to post updates and information about this Masterclass and others planned for 2017. Until then, check out the information above to learn more and REGISTER HERE to confirm your spot.

Please share, post and register to join me on January 26th from 2:00-5:00 PM in St Catharines to be part of the first Digital First For Business Masterclass group in Niagara!



Inspiring Destination Marketing – A Recap of #DTTTGlobal

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Global Tourism Marketing Event held in Brussels – DTTT Global – Disrupting The Future Destination.


The 6th anniversary of the travel marketing event brought together travel marketers from Europe, Asia and North America to share in best practices for marketing destinations.  

Reminiscent of Online Revealed, the Canadian Conference I co-produced for 10 years, #DTTTGlobal has brought together education, community and inspiration to the global travel community.  The flagship event, along with the other programs that The Digital Tourism Think Tank  produce, provides a platform for Destination Marketers to be inspired, test innovation – and to share in best practices in marketing travel online.

Leveraging the stories, the people and the energy from last week’s event in Brussels, I will be drafting some summaries of takeaways in the coming few weeks. Until then, my recap of my week in Brussels.


As we head into 2017 in just a few weeks, it is time to reflect on strategies and tactics that drive new visitation, more engagement, and more conversions – and to prepare to pivot again as the digital ecosystem will once again shift before budgets and plans can adjust.


Top 10 Highlights of my Adventure in Brussels with #DTTTGlobal


1. Working alongside the  #DTTT team and watching them work tirelessly to prepare an event that would deliver inspiration and drive innovation.  



2. Meeting and sharing stories with travel marketing professionals from around the Globe, and seeing just how small a world this is.




3. Seeing that the challenges we face in marketing travel are Global, and knowing that there is a growing global network of professionals ready to share, help and inspire.




4. Le GrandPlace is awe inspiring.  I cried walking into it at night for the first time.




5. It’s all about people.  Nick, Ramona, Ilaria, Rob, Jeffrey, Emma, Roberta (virtually) and all of the amazing people the Think Digital Travel team brought together.  I look forward to our continued adventures and thank you for inviting me along for the ride.




6. Content is King is still a thing.




7. We destination marketers know how to pull the heart strings with video.





8. BeautifulDestinations. Enough said.

DTTTGlobal conference


9. Love of Beer and Food is universal among travel marketers.



10. We have come along way in marketing destinations – and we are about to embark on much more as digital and social continue to challenge and inspire us!




I’m already planning my journey to Copenhagen for #ContentCampus in March!

2017 Digital Marketing Roadmap: What you need to know

Digital Marketing Expert Alicia Whalen

This is what you need to know before we go any further.

It is not about following the latest technology or social media channel, but more about knowing how your target customers are navigating the internet, where they are most likely to find your brand online, and what it takes to get them to buy.

Here is a rundown on what is happening now in digital marketing for you to use not as a bible, but as a place to start when planning for 2017.  I will focus this post on the most important “Channels” as Google Analytics organizes it.  Driving more traffic to the website with a focus on best referring channels will inevitably result in more sales.

How to benchmark digital marketing performance and prepare your 2017 plan:

Check your Google analytics (or other analytics platform) and do a benchmarking report to compare improvements month over month, and year over year.

aliciawhalen_ideahatching-com_blogpostUsing Google Analytics to benchmark and pivot: You will need to pivot in 2017 as consumer behavior and platform algorithms will change – quickly.

Set up campaign goals and KPI’s including; increases in Organic referral traffic (from Google and Bing), Social referral traffic, and dig deeper into Referring sources of traffic as well.  Also look at decreases in bounce rate, and increases in time-on-site as an indication of user engagement.  Organic traffic typically sees the highest amount of engagement, which is also why it remains an key digital marketing tactic.  Search visibility is critical for any brand, product or service.


This approach to benchmarking at a macro level can be scaled to any business, whether your website gets 10,000 unique visitors a day or 10, and will help to shift strategy, spend and tactics as needed.  Now we are ready to talk tactics.

Things in the digital space are changing fast, and so is consumer behaviour.  




1. Search: Organic Search, Paid Search (Google Adwords and BING)


Google Adwords:

Google Adwords has become expensive. Depending on the conversion, the cost to enter Google paid search may not be as efficient as it once was.  It is highly competitive, and even “long tail” keywords and phrases are now out of reach for many brands to buy.  This makes the cost-per-aquisition higher, and out of reach for businesses who may have seen great ROI in the past.

I recommend a focus on Organic SEO and Local SEO for 2017 – ensuring that at the very least, your brand or business is listed properly in Google Maps and local listings.

Being found in search is paramount, so be sure to run your website through an SEO check. This will ensure that all the basics are covered including; A check for broken links, proper H1 tagging and meta data, site speed, mobile optimization, Google search console and verification and more. Optimize your website first to be sure the taps are open before you worry about anything else.

Next, plan your content according to the primary search terms, phrases and content that your brand needs to be found for.

For example If you make vintage record players, ensure that all of your Youtube video’s, Facebook posts, Blog articles and website content are related both to the product, and the topics that will interest the customer. Blog posts about the resurgence of Vinyl, and where to find records as an example, will speak both to the customer, and to the search engine. Don’t forget to SEO optimize product information and product categories – especially if your product is available on Amazon or other marketplace channels. Make sure also to review product listings for duplicate content.  Google will penalize for duplicate content and broken links.

Website content and social media:

Keep your content calendar for social media channels, articles, Blogs, and videos focused around the target topics, keywords and phrases for your business. Drive links back from social posts for increased “Social Signals,” and tag all of your content. Social Signals are important to SEO.

Take Action:


Bing Organic search has picked up steam in recent months. I have also seen some great success with Bing PPC over the past 12 months.

Why?  Microsoft reached 21.9 percent marketshare in July 2016, up 0.1 percent from June, while Google dropped 0.4 percent to 63.4 percent. This brings Microsoft close to 22 percent market share in the US search business, making it the second most important player after Google.

Take some time to verify your website with BING (as well as Google search console), and budget for some BING PPC for 2017.


2. Programmatic Ad buying and Re-Marketing:


Digital display and paid search marketing has certainly become smarter, and marketers have learned more about what to do with it. Is a programmatic ad campaign a silver bullet?  Probably not. But used as part of a fully integrated plan to increase reach, website traffic, and even to “steal” reach from a competitor, programmatic media buys have proven to be extremely efficient.




The key is to understand what will work with your target audience, and what it is that you are looking to achieve.

As it is with re-marketing – the general population is on to us. They know we are following them. In some cases they are glad we are, and are happy to allow it – as long as there is a benefit to them.  Benefits include time savings, ease of booking or a special price offered for booking direct.

With programmatic ad campaigns and other display and ppc remarketing buys, the key is to do it well.  If programmatic advertising is “not working” for your brand, I would suggest checking the user experience; the landing pages, and desired conversion point for your campaigns.  If reach or website traffic are your desired KPI’s, then ensure that your spend on programmatic is proportionate compared to your other tactics.  If an increase in sales is the objective, then ensure you are A/B testing campaigns and working with your agency to define objectives.

Most programmatic ad buying platforms can give marketers specific information about “lift” in search terms and other KPI’s outside of just CPM and CPC metrics. Make sure to work with your vendor and agencies to identify specific goals and optimize the user experience to get the best results.

Take Action:

For 2017, you might want to explore programmatic ad buying for a specific campaign, brand launch, as a supplement to another larger multi-media buy.  Try it instead of, or with some of the Google Search Display or PPC allocated Adspend if conversion is your main objective.


3. Facebook:


Facebook initially drove organic reach and audience engagement in droves – for Free. Then it didn’t. Now it does again – you just need to pay for it.  Not unlike any other digital medium, Facebook has tested the waters with many different monetization models.  Just last month the algorithm removed much of the advertising from newsfeeds, most likely in an attempt to reassure users.

As of this week, it looks like those ads are right back in the newsfeed.  All business and brand pages now need to pay to “boost” their messages to get into user newsfeeds – this has been the case for some time now.  Make sure to allocate adspend to this in 2017.



There is no organic reach for Facebook business pages without some kind of paid boost and adspend.  With that said, Facebook has been collecting demographic, psychographic, emoticon reaction data, location data, brand preferences, facial recognition data, relationship status, and the name of our cats, dogs, fish, kids and BFFs for years now – and their advertising platform uses all of this insight to serve its users Ads.  Now, as it was once with Google Adwords, the cost to entry for advertising or boosting Facebook page posts is relatively low compared against some other digital media tactics.

You can read more about Facebook’s changes in my recent article “Facebook Zero: RIP Organic Reach on Facebook.” I would caution that anything can (and will) shift with Facebook over the coming months – including the cost of entry to advertise.

This is still early days and your budget will most likely need to increase over the next year. Now is the time to test what ad units and content work best.


Take Action:

If you have not tested Facebook as a paid marketing channel – you are missing a great opportunity.  Set up some content testing and target groups that include friends of friends, interests, geographic region and more.  Video posts tend to get the most reach, followed by photos, and now LIVE content.  Make the content short and sweet – and make sure to link back to landing pages on your website. Those “Social Signals” back to the website are good for SEO.

You might also consider a Facebook Live strategy in 2017 depending on your business.  Make sure that you are not simply repurposing content from Periscope, Meercat or even from YouTube as both Facebook and YouTube will index native content better. (Native content is content produced for the channel and originally posted to the channel, then re-posted somewhere else).

It is good as a general rule to keep content “native” to the channel you are distributing it on whenever possible.



4. Social Media: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter

Note that I did not put Facebook in the “Social Media” section of this article.  Facebook is pure marketing channel now, and should be approached this way – outside of measuring the “Social Signals” or referrals back to the website.  Don’t bother with any content on Facebook that is not purposeful – and boosted with ad dollars.


Yes Snapchat – or now “Snap” is a game changer, but unless you are a YouTuber looking to attract more audience, a celebrity, or a brand with a whole bunch of money to throw into a channel that may drive some reach, I would not place budget towards Snapchat just yet.  More on Snap – and other game changers in my next post.

I would however put resources and a plan in place for Instagram.


Instagram runs on Facebook’s Ad platform, and now with the addition of “Instagram Stories” Instagram is looking to keep their user base growing, and to keep the users who may have moved on to Snapchat as an alternative right where they are.  The jury is out whether or not Instagram stories can be monetized, but with Instagram’s reach and tie into Facebook’s Ad platform, it will become an important channel for both customer acquisition and engagement.

Take Action:

Define a strategy for Instagram and reserve some resources to test adspend in 2017.  

Put a plan in place for leveraging social media and crowd sourced content to drive traffic to the website, or place of conversion.  Consumers will continue to flock to Social media channels with media time spent increasing just as fast as user adoption.




4. Technology:

The Marketing technology of today has given us a tremendous amount of time and resource savings, workflow efficiencies, creative efficiencies, extension of reach, smarter targeting and more.   I bring this up in this post specifically because technology costs money.

If you are going to adopt technology to improve your marketing efficiencies – ensure that there is a defined ROI that can be associated with each tool.   Marketing technology should allow you the ability to add more dollars towards ad spend, or to maximize resources in driving the bottom line.

Technology is only as good as its implementation. Remember this when looking at adding the new shiny objects to your marketing tool kit.


What’s going to blow up in 2017?

Although it is good to have “what’s next” on the radar, ensuring success with your marketing investment for 2017 means staying focused on tactics that move the needle – channels and tactics that have proven successful to drive brand reach and sales.  In my next post, I will highlight what I think will be “game changers” for digital marketing in 2017.  These game changer’s will most likely not make it into your marketing plan until 2018.



Alicia Whalen_DigitalMarketingExpert

How to un-tap social media and measure ROI with technology

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I was recently asked what technology or innovation in digital marketing that I was most excited about. Although I am biased in my answer, I am always excited to see the results when technology can provide both innovation, and results in the bottom line.  

There are many successful case studies of brands leveraging user-generated social content to tell their stories. Early adopters have been rewarded with deeper relationships with influencers, powerful website and marketing content that is so captivating to their audiences that they are staying connected to the brand website longer.

The longer that eyes remain engaged with the content, the more meaningful the  experience will be in learning about the product, service or experiences that a brand offers.


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The technology behind user generated content marketing is not new. However, executing the strategy around the technology to fully leverage the thousands of images and video content being created around every brand, product or experience, is the key to ensuring that an investment in technology or software generates the return on investment that it should.

How to un-tap the power of social media

Ontario’s invites visitors to become part of their story.

There are hundreds and maybe thousands of pieces of content being created and shared about your brand every day.  Consider the amount of social content being posted and shared by these two popular brands, just in the last 30 days:



This is the “visual word of mouth” that the socially connected consumer has created, and that wise marketers have untapped in helping them to reach, capture and retain both new influencers who will be their best brand ambassador’s, but also more engaged customers – at the point of transaction.

What should marketers be thinking about when determining a technology platform and  strategy to capture and un-tap crowd-sourced content as part of the marketing mix?


Influencer marketing

Photos, videos and brand stories are being created and shared by Instagrammers, top influencers on Twitter and YouTube stars who have an engaged community of followers en mass. Rewarding influencers with a shout out, a follow, or a reward, and featuring their content alongside other brand messages is a means of not only generating good content – but also in building an army of powerful brand ambassadors.

The future of influencer marketing is to be able to build and engage with a wider net of influencers, who may have niche communities and a smaller audience as a whole – but powerful content and more targeted reach. Marketers must find a way to manage and measure this in order to gain reach.

Social Media Contesting

Social media contesting works to engage new Fans on Facebook, but are these leads being nurtured and developed into a perspective customer or brand ambassador?  How do you determine a return on your investment when the transaction or lead generation has occurred outside of the brand web asset?

The idea is to pull the contest to a landing page on the website instead of running it through Facebook or YouTube, and manage both the content assets, as well as the entries to ensure that the lead generation you are looking for is not simply lead gen for Facebook. Leverage social media channels as the powerful marketing vehicles they are – and drive your customers back to the point of conversion.


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Nova Scotia tourism was recently named by SKIFT as one of the Top 25 Destination Websites in the World, with a specific mention of the creative use of crowd-sourced content.


Managing permissions and rights for images and videos

All UGC marketing platforms, or social media aggregators of content worth looking at should have the ability to pull in and re-publish social media content and provide an automated permissions request built in. Outside of the obvious reasons to obtain permissions to use content posted on Facebook or Instagram, asking permission also gives marketers the opportunity to initiate a conversation with posters of content, encourage more content submissions and increase the number of shares. This also allows the brand to build an arsenal of images and videos that can be re-published to become part of the brand marketing strategy.

Adding fresh social media content to the website will immediately improve the stickiness of the website and keep customers close to your point of conversion longer. Consider nurturing relationships with professional photographers who use Instagram as a means of promoting themselves. Work with them to showcase their work – and tell your story. Follows and shares are the currency of the social media economy, and content creators will be thrilled to be recognized and supported by your brand.

Social data asset development and management

Sourcing photography and video production from vendors can be an expensive hit to your bottom line. In addition, research shows that user generated content is more engaging and more trusted than professionally produced content. It is important for marketers to start to build asset libraries of user generated social media images and videos to add into the marketing mix to keep it fresh and vibrant. In addition, keeping image and video assets sorted and categorized by content type increases marketing automation and efficiency.

Lead capture and measuring ROI on social media

Many companies struggle to find their ROI from social media, but believe it or not, you can gauge the return on your social media investment. By using technology and analytics, marketers are now able to track conversions on a sign up, App download, purchase, or page visit as a means to measure the impact that social media content has on their sales.

They key is to use social media channels as marketing tactics to drive users back to the point of conversion, not send them back out to Instagram once you have the customer on the website.

SEO and Website content

Website bounce rates, time on site, and average  number of pages per visits have been illustrating to marketers for quite some time that websites are not engaging or as good at closing the sale as they once were.

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Consumer user behaviour has changed, but most brand websites have not kept up to ensure that their storefront is engaging to a new kind of customer.

Consumers spend more time on Social Media channels than ever before, and less time on websites. By showcasing social stories on the website,  visitors are able to engage and share social media content from the website, and are more likely to remain on the website, instead of bouncing out to Facebook or Instagram. By giving users a similar experience they get on Instagram or Facebook – brands will keep customers on the website longer, and have the chance to further engage them to sign up or buy.

In addition, “Social signals” – or referring traffic back from a social network have also become a key factor in Google’s search ranking. Marketers need to continue to add links to social media posts to encourage users to go back to the website and engage with the brand. By providing similar content on the website, marketers can capture and retain that lead longer, and also increase the amount of fresh SEO friendly content added to the website.


What’s next in the technology behind UGC marketing platforms?


Personalized delivery of social content upon returning to the website, within marketing messages – and in emails.

This can be done now with platforms such as Hashtagio, allowing brands to tag and categorize UGC content to be searched and re-published at any time, to any place.

Automated tagging of visual content via AI technology

Although this is the not so distant future, I would caution that many brands are not even fully leveraging crowd sourced content now.   There are only a few brands that are fully un-tapping the potential in injecting social stories into the marketing mix.  Testing how crowd sourced content can impact the website performance and sales should be the first step before investing in automating the tagging of content.

It is the curation and categorizing of the content itself, as well as the implementation and measurement of success that is more of a priority for most brands.



Technology and marketing automation are on the minds of marketers more than ever before.

Keep this advice in mind when researching solutions for managing user generated content, or any other software or technology for that matter. Software bells and whistles will not be the key to tapping into the power of crowd-sourced content. Take the time and deploy resources to the right implementation strategy. The results will be improved efficiencies in social media marketing, proven ROI and of course, increased sales.


By Alicia Whalen

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 3.17.50 PMAlicia Whalen is a blogger, speaker and Chief Evangelist for Hashtagio the platform pulls in social content by Hashtag, Location or @handle. Content is tagged and searchable and can be republished on brand websites, in emails, and in other media. The Hashtagio UGC marketing platform provides automated rights management to obtain permissions to use images, and advanced analytics to brands build direct connects with Instagrammers, tweeters and Youtubers. Hashtagio is a social data asset management tool, a UCG marketing platform, and a website marketing automation tool that allows brands to fully leverage social media stories.  

The Next Gen Influencers for Travel

With 76 percent of travellers posting vacation photos to social networks, and 50 percent of people confirming that travel content on their social feeds influenced their travel plans, it’s clear that social media has had an impact on the travel path to purchase.

If we know this to be true, then the obvious conclusion is that travel marketers must not look just to Bloggers and YouTuber’s with followers in the thousands to help build reach and engagement with “influencer marketing campaigns”, but also look to the army of influencers who don’t all have followers in the thousands, but are already sharing their brand stories today.

Search for destination specific Hashtags on Instagram and see for yourself.  144, 579 tagged and posted images in Instagram for #Cannonbeach – a popular tourist destination near Portland Oregon.


A search in Instagram for #Cannonbeach presents 144,579 results


Travel as a category has the most potential to leverage specific content being tagged with Hashtags, and shared across social media channels – with or without the official prompting from a DMO or tourism operator.

In preparing for a discussion I will lead at the upcoming DigMe16 Summit in Philadelphia, on “The State of Influencer Marketing,” I reached out to some of my travel industry colleagues to discuss how influencer marketing has evolved, and what makes a campaign a success for them.  I have learned that even since 2015, “influencer marketing” has shifted to become more expensive, and harder to track return on investment – even with a big win in engaging with a well known Instagrammer or Blogger.

Engaging a high profile Instagrammer, who will also contribute a travel blog, some extra video and Snapchat content to a highly targeted audience is certainly providing valuable content and lift for destination marketers, but this type of influencer is becoming more difficult to get to, and more expensive to secure, even over the same time last year.


Influencer marketing can be extremely effective, but the compensation expectations of influencers means travel marketers are going to have to get more creative if they want results.


What I can conclude is that it is becoming harder for brands with small to medium sized budgets to achieve impactful campaign reach through traditional influencer marketing programs that worked in the past.  It is also a slippery slope when engaging “transactionally” with influencers as social media is a medium that demands transparency and authenticity, both to consumers – and to advertisers.

The state of Florida recently announced that they would be reviewing marketing spending because of unclear ROI, and a lack of transparency in engaging high profile personalities to visit or endorse the state. (Source: Skift)

So what does next generation influencer marketing look like?

Few travel brands are leveraging the power of social stories that are being created day in and day out by brand ambassadors that already on mass follow, engage and share content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many other social channels.


Perhaps the user-generated content shared by existing and future brand influencers, those who may not have millions of followers, but who’s content tells a good story, is relevant and trusted, and is generally shared with positive sentiment is the silver bullet in Next Gen influencer marketing? 


Consider that in mass, these stories become part of a larger story that a brand can tell leveraging their army of influencers – instead of focussing on one or two heavy hitters.  When content is good – it is re-shared no matter how large the original follower base is.  Here lies the next generation of influencers. Your social media army.

The opportunity that travel marketers should be looking at next is how to showcase powerful stories shared by brand champions, how to reward and engage creatively with every day Instagrammers and Snapchatter’s – and how encourage more sharing of content using Hashtags that are already organically being used.

Travel marketers that will win with the next generation of Influencers are already planning strategies to creatively engage and reward their social media army’s – in addition to securing quick wins with super star social personalities of the moment.

7 Must Do’s before you re-build or migrate your website


It must be that time of the year. Are you having the February “I hate my website” blahs?


Your website is your cash register. Whether your website has 30 pages, or 300 pages. Whether it is ugly, or just hasn’t been updated since your first born University Grad finished grade 8, there are some important steps to take before you decide on your next website developer, CMS platform, consultant or creative agency:

  1. Understand your goals: How will your website update improve your overall marketing and sales efforts?

Your website is your point of sale. How will it support all of your digital marketing efforts including search, social media, offline marketing, and review management and brand awareness?

I too have undergone a website refresh.  I wish that I had considered many of the items on this list before I changed my wordpress theme – and then subsequently had to comb through 7 years of posts to update broken links and long lost plug ins.

  1. What functions to you expect your website to have and why to you need those functions to improve conversions? 

Do you need a Blog? Do you want to integrate social content to your website? Do you need a better check-out function?

This is an important exercise as the website CMS you choose will need to have the flexibility to work with your ecommerce solution, mapping functionality (if applicable), social plug-ins, and other functions of your website.

If your mandate with the new website is to improve website conversions, then your chosen developer or platform will need to accommodate by having social media plug in’s, a Blog platform, RSS feed, or a gallery.

If you are limited in resources to manage updates and creative changes, as well as the financial resources to continue to “add on” –  you will need a platform that is easy to update and manage without a team or agency support.  There are “do-it-yourself” solutions that may cost more initially, or monthly – but may save you some costly headaches in the future.

In my case, what I needed what a WordPress theme that was not different than the original theme I had used.  A learning curve in understanding how to update your own website is not ideal.

“A learning curve in understanding how to update your own website is not ideal”.


  1. Document current website performance for future benchmarking

Use Google Analytics (and any other analytics tool in addition) to understand what is working and what needs improvement with the new website.

Look at a typical month, as well as a year-over-year comparison over a period of time and identify key metrics that include:

  • Number of unique visitors per month Bounce rate.  The bounce rate should be under 40% at a minimum.
  • Time on site (2 minutes, or preferably more than 2 min. per user session)
  • Current SEO keywords used to find the site.  If your website was verified in Google’s Search console, you will see this in Google Analytics.
  • % of overall traffic coming from organic search and top performing referral traffic.
  • Device usage breakdown – this illustrates how much of your traffic is coming from desktop, mobile or tablet devices. This is important to know when re-designing a website or moving to another platform. You must design for your user, and most of us are spending much of our time on mobile devices and tablets.
  1. Website asset inventory: Create a site map – or road map of all pages of the website.

Inventory your website assets that include content pages, images, video’s, blog posts etc.  Using Google analytics, determine high performing content pages, and highly indexed pages in search, and ensure you have a site map of all pages in the website.

If you are migrating to a new website platform, create a 301 re-direct plan to give your new website developer or platform provider. This will ensure that you carry over pages that were indexed in Google to the new website.

TIP: Many web designers miss this important step. Ensure that a 301 re-direct strategy plan is completed before you pull the plug on your current website. If you are working with a SAAS based platform, make sure that there are resources available to assist you with this as you make the transition.

  1. Checklist – Must have functionalities for best performing websites:

Template designs, or pre-formatted design websites (for those of us who cannot code to save a life) are both cost effective and proven.   CMS platforms, Design and theme layouts become templates because they have been used successfully for other similar businesses. Remember, the website has to be functional and visually pleasing. Consider this when working with your next website developer. New design is not always the best route to take.

“Take a consumer first approach to your website.  Build what they like, and they will come.”


Prepare an action list for the new website. This should include:

  • Mobile optimized website option included. (This should not be an add-on as any website/theme today must function well on a mobile device)
  • Mobile responsive design option.
  • SEO plug in or CMS platform that is SEO friendly (every page of a website should have unique on-page keywords, and back end meta-data to show the search engines the site is relevant and should be indexed for those keywords)
  • Rich media asset manager: Check for storage, ease of use.
  • Plug in’s to Marketing Automation tools

Note: Some photos and video asset manager’s are cloud based, and some may be included as part of a full digital marketing platform where photos and video’s can be pushed out to the website, as well as other digital marketing platforms including social media, and other online directories. Ensure you have taken the steps above to understand what you expect from your website to understand what you need to efficiently manage your content.

  • Easy to use CMS: A website that is easy to update on the fly – with or without a designer or programmer is easy to find. Simple website updates should not incur additional costs to update on a regular basis.
  • Google Analytics plug in or place for the code: All websites should be tracked via Google analytics. This is a universal and free analytics platform. Make sure that your analytics is set up under your property Gmail account so that you may carry your analytics data with you if you migrate to another website again. If you are working with an agency to support you with analytics, ensure that you have a second Google Analytics code added that is your own.
  • Social media plug ins and share tools.
  1. Once the website is live:

Ensure that the 301 redirect plan has been applied so that none of the pages on the previous website become “broken links”.  Google does not like broken links and will penalize.  Verify your website with Google and BING search console. This will give you access to your SEO tools in Google analytics, and also may speed up the re-indexing of your new website in search.

       7.  Benchmark Improvements

Measure your new website month-over-month to benchmark improvements in search visibility, website user engagement (metrics like time on site increases and reduced bounce rates) and of course increases in sales.

A website is never done. Continuously optimize and adjust your website content based on best performing content pages, successful content shares in social media that drive traffic back to the website, user feedback and of course – increases in sales.

It’s that simple! 😉



Hashtagio Case Studies in Injecting Social Media into the Website

On-boarding brands with Hashtagio’s Social Media integration platform over the past few months has already been a great success for our clients.  Our theory was that by injecting social stories into the website – at the point of transaction, that brands would be able to fully leverage powerful social media content that is currently only driving engagement and traffic to social media channels Facebook, Instagram and YouTube – instead of the brand website.  It is working!


What we have learned:

Inject powerful Social stories to the place of purchase and build more loyalty, traffic and sales.

Injecting social stories into the brand website keeps website traffic on the website longer, keeps the user from leaving the point of transaction – and leads to more sharing of brand social stories.  Website engagement metrics improve dramatically.

Pages with social media hubs of content are seeing bounce rates under 10%, compared against industry averages of 30% plus.  In addition, important Social referrer traffic is increasing with shares of social content coming from the website.  This is important in determining website search engine ranking now more than ever.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 12.14.51 PM

As we work with new brands looking to inject both user-generated content, and their own brand social media content into the website, we continue to see this theory play out.  In addition to drive website engagement metrics, we are also seeing Visitor’s share/follow’s increase which means more important social links back to the website.

Injecting social media content into the website has brought the user back to the place of transaction.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 12.16.33 PM

I will continue to post on innovative ways that our clients are leveraging HASHTAGIO to inject social stories into the website.  Stay tuned!

Innovate or miss your “Target”

Innovate or miss the mark. Change is not only good, but necessary.

Target is the perfect example of failure to innovate. I am certain that the Target Corporation had the best of intentions bringing its promise of quality retail at low prices to Canada – only two short years ago.

The popular US retail giant had successfully positioned itself in the US as an upper-end discount store, and all indications were that Canadian’s were ready for it.

Why did Target fail to hit their target in Canada? Lack of innovation.

The Target brand launch in Canada was big and splashy. Colourful (note the Canadian spelling) Ads, with messaging that showed Target understood Canadians.  The creative and messaging almost invited the country to welcome the big kid from next door. I dare say that the Ads were even “Tim-Horton-esque

The ads and fanfare brought excitement and a promise that the Target cache, products, and pricing model could be replicated for Canadian’s, who loved to shop at Target when across the border.

When Canadian discount retailer “Zeller’s”, succumbed to the competition in 2011, Target swooped in to save the day. Surely it was just that Zeller’s, the Canadian retail staple founded in 1931, and acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1978, failed to keep up with new superstore discount retailers like Wallmart. The Zeller’s stores that failed provided much of the initial space for the first Target stores to open in Canada.

Obviously Target had all the right stuff to make it right?



Wrong. Target failed to innovate.


Whether it was that Target did not understand retail in Canada, how to work in Canadian communities, or the government policies that may have impacted how they delivered on their brand promises, Target failed to meet the requirements to thrive in Canada. They rested on the success they had in the US, and did not recognize the need for change.

Target was not the first, and it won’t be the last brand that has failed to innovate while pushing forward into a new market, sustaining profitability, or attempting growth.  Even brands that have a unique offering, and strong brand have failed due to lack of focus on systems and process that may have worked at one time.

Think Blockbuster.


Had Blockbuster Video innovated by providing something like the new “Red Box” that now sits at the front of supermarkets – perhaps Blockbuster’s fate may have been different?

Or consider Netflix. Netflix launched in Canada in September of 2010 This is a brand that saw the opportunity in streaming video that came with increased access to high speed WIFI and mobile devices that could handle streaming media.  Netflix took the lead in delivering streaming content, and then showed innovation in producing the content as part of their offering.


Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 10.12.16 AM


Netflix took a queue from HBO and Showtime – traditional content producers, and added what worked for them into their mix. They changed what they offered their customers, and provided more value.  More importantly, they innovated at a time where the competition could have left Netflix lost in cyberspace.

The Netflix model is now being replicated by others including Amazon with “Amazon Studios” and Yahoo!. Both are producing their own content, and adapting tactics that have worked in other mediums.

It was only in November 2014 that Canadian streaming media competitor “Shomi” – a joint venture between Rogers Media and Shaw entered the market as an alternative to Cable and Netflix.  Shomi came out of the gates as an alternative to the streaming service that Netflix offered in 2010 – in November 2014!

Bell Media’s “Crave TV” launched only a month later in December 2014, one month after Shomi. Need I say more?

Perhaps if Target had spent additional time and dollars in preparing to enter Canada, and more importantly considered how to manage products, services, people, and pricing that may be different in a new market – we would not have 17,000 Canadian’s unemployed as of last week’s announcement.

The moral of this story?


Innovation might be the next buzzword or hot catch phrase, but those who are actually putting it into practice will hit their targets.  Of this, I am convinced.




Alicia Whalen is a process innovator, social media influencer, digital media evangelist, and Co-founder of the successful digital marketing conference – Online Revealed Canada – now in its 10th year. A Blogger at, speaker, trainer, and lover of ah-ha moments. Tweet me @acoupleofchicks or connect with me on LinkedIn



Online Revealed Canada Conference:  Join us March 31-April 2 2015 in Toronto for the 10th annual Online Revealed Conference for digital marketing in tourism and travel.  After a decade of challenging the “old ways” of marketing online, and with a theme of “Predicting and Promoting A Look at The Future of Travel Marketing.” my partner and co-founder Patricia Brusha and I are excited to deliver a special 10th anniversary edition event with a new format, exciting venue and top speakers in the industry CONFERENCE REGISTRATION is now open.

I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues to share in where we have come and where we are going in digital marketing for tourism. What a ride it has been so far!


Article references:

  1. Financial Post: 2015/01/15 
  2. Financial Post: 2015/01/19
  3. Toronto Star: 2015/01/25

The beginning: One post, tweet and heart at a time

I am feeling especially reflective as we approach the end of another year. It may have been Christmas music and snow day that have brought me to this place. Maybe it is the Songza Singer-Songwriter playlist that did it.

Or perhaps it was the highlights of our collective social story over the past year highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article…but I digress.

Our use of social media in all area’s of our lives has made us “Life Scribes,” documenting not just pop culture and news applicable to the masses, but also the daily life, relationships, work, connections, the desires and dreams of well…everyone on the planet.

The way we tell our stories has changed.


Our stories have become interwoven into all that we do. Media weaves over from our televisions, and into our Facebook timelines and tweets.


“Our moods move with the streaming song lists and Netflix binge watching.

We consume our media and share our stories, our music, our feelings.”


We share it all, across multiple devices, and sometimes while sitting in the same room. We watch and participate at the same time, and are all contributing to one big collective social story.

I wonder now where storytelling will go from here.

A tweet has the shelf life of about 30 min or less depending of course on your chosen #hashtag. A beautiful moment caught on Instagram may be shared a few million times.


What if we are simply flying by these beautiful moments?


Social media and our ability to always be connected and interconnected has made us all story tellers, journalists, photographers, artists and therapists. The devices that connect us to our social networks have enabled us to participate in our world, far outside of what we were able to do only a few years ago.

Consider that we are now getting birthday wishes from people from all area’s and times of our lives on Facebook. Well wishes posted to our walls from childhood friends, to business colleagues, to family and friends – allowing us a connectedness to people and experiences that would have been impossible to maintain and grow in the past.

We are sharing music, personal photo’s, locations, and are able to express ourselves with words; comments and reflections, and sometimes overused quotes from Deepak Chopra, Oprah, and of course Bethany Mota.

  We are now contributors to the collective story and not simply passive observers. We have a big responsibility.


I feel especially responsible to reflect on my highlights and observations as a student of digital media. I am excited to say that I intend to do this the good old fashion way.  I am going to write a book. This article is the start to my adventure.

This book might be written as a series of blog posts, or on Wattpad, but while reflecting on how we are telling our collective story, I am excited to tell my own in whatever place I am comfortable to do it.

Thank you for listening friends, followers and fellow scribes.



Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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