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.

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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.  

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

Snapchat

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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

Greatwaterway.com

Ontario’s www.thegreatwaterway.com 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:

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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?

 

Innovate.Def

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.

 

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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.

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About:

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 ideahatching.com, speaker, trainer, and lover of ah-ha moments. Tweet me @acoupleofchicks or connect with me on LinkedIn

PredictandPromote_ORC2015

 

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.

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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.

AliciaWhalen_stories

 

Strategic. Streamlined. Sexy : Keys to Success in Social Media

Planning a Social Media Strategy is about as straight forward as asking a toddler to “sit still for a minute”.  So what is a Marketing Director, Community Manager, accidental social media poster by default to do?

Social Media has morphed many skill-sets together and may be managed by a variety of different people or positions within an organization. Ideally an outside agency or consultant with experience in developing and executing multi-platform social communities and campaigns should be brought in to set up a social strategy, define key metrics for performance, and to train internal teams to manage moving forward.

Having said that, if time and resources are not available – stick with the three S’s in managing successful social media communities and campaigns – and make sure to integrate your social media with your overall marketing efforts, and you will see results and ROI.

 

Strategic, Streamlined and Sexy:

1. Strategic

Strong brands in social media have a strategy, the right resources, and a plan.  Start with what channels you need to build a presence on based on your target audiences.

Define social media goals.  Don’t jump in on every social media channel until you are doing one really well.  Maybe you have a killer Facebook business page, but you are lacking new fans, engagement or clicks back to a conversion.

Perhaps you have not had the time or resources in moving ahead with LinkedIn for your Sales team, but you know the networking tool could really make the sales process easier.  Build it into your plan and have a solid strategy to ensure that any time and money spent will see an ROI in some way or another.

Write a plan for each social channel you are already using or think your brand needs to have a presence on, and identify what needs to be improved and why.

If you spend time posting and building a community on Twitter and you can’t define a few good reasons why.

That question of ROI will always rear its ugly head.  Key performance metrics can be as simple as driving target referral traffic back to a website, or networking with customers and learning about the competitor.

Define what you (or your competitors) are doing well, how could it be improved, and how you will benchmark the performance or ROI.  Then map out what resources are in place to manage the community, the goals for each community, and how you will measure it.  

Think traffic to a website, increased engagement metrics, increases in content shares and viral distribution of your brand content.

 

 “Planning a social media strategy is as straight forward as asking a toddler to sit still for a minute.”

2. Streamlined

No one marketing campaign has ever worked in isolation.  At the same time, each of your social communities will be different in the way you deliver content, respond and engage with your followers and brand champions, and in the amount of time and resources you devote to it.

Be smart and streamlined with your messages.  If you are looking to run a contest on Facebook – ensure you plan it out properly, and ensure all roads lead to a point of conversion.  Conversion may be more “likers” or traffic to your website, but ensure that your target audience follows a path to enter the contest and complete an action that you had intend them to complete.

Be streamlined in your efforts overall.  Avoid trying too many tactics on too many social channels.  Stick with what’s working and make sure you manage your resources to be able to build your social brand over the long term.

 

“You have to stand out, shout out, and be proud of your brand on the social web!” 

3. Sexy

Yes I said sexy.  Digital media allows us to think outside the box.  Try some unique and creative tactics and have fun with it!  If you are going to dedicate time and resources to develop a presence on social communities – you better use them to their fullest potential!

Learn to listen and respond instead of pushing out messages to your target audiences. The social web is the place to show the personality of your brand and really engage your consumers – not to announce a 20% off special.

There are many other MUST DO’s in building out your brand social media strategy, but if you keep these points in mind, focus on good design and content, and at the very least commit to allocating resources to get in the game – you will be ready for all of those RT’s, LIKES, Diggs, G+’s, Shares, Comments and Views.

 

ABOUT:

Alicia Whalen is a Digital + Social Media Marketing Professional and recovering Entrepreneur, who has spent over a decade helping professionals understand how to embrace digital and social media. An avid tweeter and lover of travel, technology and the Ah-Ha moments.

Connect with Alicia on TwitterLinkedIn or at www.ideahatching.com

Lessons in “LIVE” social media marketing and retail

I had the great opportunity to work on the Social Media launch of the new Outlet Collection at NiagaraIt was an adventure in live event social media management and marketing with many lessons learned.

The new outlet collection is situated at the center of the Niagara region in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge, a Canadian-based global property owner, manager, developer and investor, focusing on high-quality urban shopping centres. The new Outlet Collection at Niagara is the flagship in the collection of future planned developments, and a shiny new attraction for the Niagara region.

Launching such a brand in social media channels Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was a labor of love for myself, and the on-property team, retailers and excited fans who made it such a success.

Lessons learned in social media for retail:
1. Choose the right Social Media communities to focus on and do it well:

We launched @OCNiagara on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2. Have a strategy – then prepare to abandon it:

Social media became the central point of integration for all of the grand opening events and media. A plan for hashtags and content was created and then it happened – viral word-of-mouth and buzz took over.
3. On the ground LIVE social media was key to leveraging all of the buzz surrounding a new mall and tourist attraction:

On-site content curation (the photos of retailers, new stores, shoppers and and ongoing monitoring and response times were critical in quickly building the communities and tracking what content was engaging – and it was fast!

#Selfies posted to Instagram and Twitter were most engaging, and had the most viral reach.  Of course any image of a cute child or pet always wins in social.

4. Don’t forget about Foursquare:

Those who shop use Foursquare and Instagram religiously it seems, followed closely by Twitter and then Facebook.

5. Followers and Fans like special deals just for them:

They like to be on the “inside” with special access to specials and promotions. Contests and giveaways worked, especially contest for gift cards awarded to fans and followers on site during the grand opening weekend.

 

6. Have a good solution for managing and reporting:

We used Sprout Social to manage and report on Facebook and Twitter.

The days around the grand opening of the Outlet Collection at Niagara were critical in launching a successful social media presence.  Key to this was leveraging the online and offline buzz, responding to accolades and criticism, and learning what content was resonating with the audiences on each social media platform (as well as re-sharing #selfies and giving prizes for posting them).
7. #Hashtags are cool. Don’t post on Instagram or Twitter without at least one (or 5) good Hashtags – just trust me.

From what I saw, there still a large gap in the integration of the offline shopping experience with the very engaged socially connected shoppers who are tweeting, posting, liking and sharing their experiences – and ultimately spreading the word and driving foot traffic.

A huge opportunity for retailers to embrace Social Media as consumer and retail shopping behavior will continue to converge with digital and social media.

And so it was that Niagara’s newest tourist attraction opened and blasted into the social media sphere with gusto and enthusiasm, and I found a way to combine two of my favorite things!

#Shopping + #Socialmedia @OCniagara = #Heaven 4 @acoupleofchicks

For more adventures in Social Media follow Alicia Whalen and A Couple of Chicks™ Digital Tourism Marketing on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Lessons in "LIVE" social media marketing and retail

I had the great opportunity to work on the Social Media launch of the new Outlet Collection at NiagaraIt was an adventure in live event social media management and marketing with many lessons learned.

The new outlet collection is situated at the center of the Niagara region in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge, a Canadian-based global property owner, manager, developer and investor, focusing on high-quality urban shopping centres. The new Outlet Collection at Niagara is the flagship in the collection of future planned developments, and a shiny new attraction for the Niagara region.

Launching such a brand in social media channels Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was a labor of love for myself, and the on-property team, retailers and excited fans who made it such a success.

Lessons learned in social media for retail:
1. Choose the right Social Media communities to focus on and do it well:

We launched @OCNiagara on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2. Have a strategy – then prepare to abandon it:

Social media became the central point of integration for all of the grand opening events and media. A plan for hashtags and content was created and then it happened – viral word-of-mouth and buzz took over.
3. On the ground LIVE social media was key to leveraging all of the buzz surrounding a new mall and tourist attraction:

On-site content curation (the photos of retailers, new stores, shoppers and and ongoing monitoring and response times were critical in quickly building the communities and tracking what content was engaging – and it was fast!

#Selfies posted to Instagram and Twitter were most engaging, and had the most viral reach.  Of course any image of a cute child or pet always wins in social.

4. Don’t forget about Foursquare:

Those who shop use Foursquare and Instagram religiously it seems, followed closely by Twitter and then Facebook.

5. Followers and Fans like special deals just for them:

They like to be on the “inside” with special access to specials and promotions. Contests and giveaways worked, especially contest for gift cards awarded to fans and followers on site during the grand opening weekend.

 

6. Have a good solution for managing and reporting:

We used Sprout Social to manage and report on Facebook and Twitter.

The days around the grand opening of the Outlet Collection at Niagara were critical in launching a successful social media presence.  Key to this was leveraging the online and offline buzz, responding to accolades and criticism, and learning what content was resonating with the audiences on each social media platform (as well as re-sharing #selfies and giving prizes for posting them).
7. #Hashtags are cool. Don’t post on Instagram or Twitter without at least one (or 5) good Hashtags – just trust me.

From what I saw, there still a large gap in the integration of the offline shopping experience with the very engaged socially connected shoppers who are tweeting, posting, liking and sharing their experiences – and ultimately spreading the word and driving foot traffic.

A huge opportunity for retailers to embrace Social Media as consumer and retail shopping behavior will continue to converge with digital and social media.

And so it was that Niagara’s newest tourist attraction opened and blasted into the social media sphere with gusto and enthusiasm, and I found a way to combine two of my favorite things!

#Shopping + #Socialmedia @OCniagara = #Heaven 4 @acoupleofchicks

For more adventures in Social Media follow Alicia Whalen and A Couple of Chicks™ Digital Tourism Marketing on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Online Revealed Digital Marketing Conference returns to Toronto for its 9th year

It is almost that time again!  Next week will mark our 9th Online Revealed Canada Digital Marketing Conference!

Since 2005, A Couple of Chicks™ have produced the Online Revealed Conference to ensure that the travel industry in Canada stays ahead of the digital trends. Much has changed in the world of digital marketing, but it is still all about distribution!

With tourism spending in Canada approaching $90 billion annually (according to the Conference Board of Canada), the impact on the economy is far-reaching.  Tourism marketers need to be ahead of the fast-paced digital curve to ensure Canadian destinations, hotels, attractions and other tourism related products and services are reaching digitally connected consumers.

The right content, at the right price, to the right consumer.

Now more than ever before, marketers need to be innovative, creative and strategic in their marketing and communications.  In producing the annual learning conference for those charged with digital and social media marketing in the tourism and hospitality industry, we have always maintained a focus on providing content that will ensure that the travel industry in Canada stays ahead of the digital curve.

My partner Patricia Brusha and I have, and will continue to push the envelope to ensure that the Online Revealed Conference brings NEW, innovative, cutting-edge digital, social and mobile marketing technologies and tactics, as well as real-world practical application learning’s to ensure our attendees have the tools needed to succeed online.

Again this year, we will be hearing from experts from Google, TripAdvisor, BING, and Travelzoo, as well as from from leading tourism marketing professionals from across the country who are succeeding in driving traffic and conversions online through social media marketing, mobile marketing, and other digital marketing strategies aimed at attracting travel consumers.

These are real stories of tourism marketers from destination marketing organizations, hotels, hotel brands, attractions and other suppliers who have made the digital shift and are sharing their successes.

This year’s Toronto 2014 #ORC2014 agenda is packed with 2-full days of digital marketing and social media workshops, case studies, networking opportunities, keynotes, as well as the Canadian eTourism awards showcasing excellence in digital and social media marketing for the Canadian travel and tourism industry, and the Destination Benchmarking study highlighting best in practice digital marketing tactics for marketing destinations, as well as key learnings from performance benchmarking of DMO web assets in Canada. 

>  Big Data and how to use it to increase marketing efficiency

>  Mobile technologies for consumers who are multi-device users

>  Social media community management, monitoring, measuring ROI and best practices

>  Game changing trends in Meta Search and what it means to travel

>  Measuring digital marketing success

These are only a few of the topics that will be addressed over the two-day event.  The value in attendance is unmatched within the travel and industry with over 30-expert speakers,18-digital marketing workshops, panel discussions, digital and social media marketing case studies, 3- Keynote Speakers, as well as various networking events to continue the conversation after the main program.

This year we will revive  the post-networking reception “after hours” ORC with the “Lay-Z-Boy Lounge with Peller Estates wine and Xbox” – always an Online Revealed highlight event!

Online Revealed Conference highlights include:

–  Game Changer student mentoring event (NEW) for the tourism and hospitality industry, with participation from Hilton Canada, IHG, Tripadvisor as well as students and faculty from various post-secondary graduate programs from Ryerson University, Humber College and more: April 7, 2014

–  Jon Montgomery, Gold Medal Olympian | Host, The Amazing Race Canada Opening keynote: April 8, 2014

–  Annual Canadian eTourism Awards celebrating excellence in digital tourism marketing in Canada: April 9, 2014 from 12:30-2:00 pm

–  Canadian DMO Benchmarking Study: Key learning’s from the 3rd annual Canadian Destination Benchmarking report program, benchmarking the online performance of destinations across Canada.  Key learning’s presented.

–  Special Event and Receptions hosted by Aloft Vaughn Mills, and A Couple of Chicks™ featuring a performance by pop group 4Count, managed by industry giant Nick Cannon and the La-Z-Boy Lounge with Peller Estates wine and Xbox: April 8, 2014

–  Digital and social media marketing workshops and case studies presented by Tripadvisor, BING/Microsoft, Google, Travelzoo, Expedia, Sojern, InterContinental Hotels Group and more.

–  Executive Conversation with Philip Wolf travel innovator and founder of the global travel research company and conference PhocusWright

Drew Patterson CEO & Co-Founder of CheckMate former founding team for travel giant KAYAK, and current CEO of Room 77, discussing the Mobile application that is revolutionizing mobile check-in: April 9, 2014 Closing address

There is still time to register!  We are welcoming back many ORC Alums, as well as new attendees from all across Canada. For conference registration and additional information about Online Revealed Canada and related events, visit www.onlinerevealed.com.  

We hope to see you at #ORC2014 next week!

 

 

Facebook – You don’t know me like you think you do

Super Bowl is the only time anyone cares about Ads.  It seems like only yesterday I was scanning my Facebook newsfeed to keep in touch (stalk, creep, lurk…) with my Facebook friends.  Oh the early days of Social Media

Enter Facebook promoted stories and posts and other fancy ad products.  Oh yes my fine facebook friends, those posts showing Ellen’s face miracle secret (don’t pretend you didn’t see that one), and articles touting the benefits of the newest Dr. Oz trick to detoxing in 30 days are planted there for us to comment like and share.  Ok those were planted on my newsfeed just for me, but I digress.

Remember when a status update meant something?

Understandably Facebook needs to create revenue streams. According to a recent article in the Business Insider, Facebook does not have much to worry about there.  But perhaps ad products such as “sponsored stories” are just making an already cluttered newsfeed cluttered to the point of frustrating its users.

From an marketer’s perspective, this is equally frustrating.

When Faceboook was primarily an organic and viral community of chatter, it was fairly simple for a digital marketer to create a brand voice that could be part of a dialogue with users.  Within the last two years, Facebook’s algorithms have changed to try to service advertisers and generate revenue, while remaining relevant to users.

We are on to you Facebook.

Brands must now pay to be part of that dialogue through Facebook Ad products such as promoted pages, offer claims, and the list goes on.   These PAID opportunities are now necessary for advertisers to reach user newsfeeds – even if the user has already LIKED the brand.

Reaching Facebook users has now become a delicate balance of paid and organic content working together to keep Fans engaged. And so it should be!  Hopefully Facebook will continue to weed out the Ad products like sponsored stories that confuse and annoy us.  Scrolling endlessly through content that Facebook thinks is relevant to me is really starting to interrupt my attempts to quietly listen to my Friend’s mood swings, victories, struggles and Grammy award rants. #Madonnastillrocks

The only time we really want to see Ads is when we ask for them.  I am prepping a pot of Chili already for this weekends Super Bowl commercials…I mean game.

 

 

Facebook – You don't know me like you think you do

Super Bowl is the only time anyone cares about Ads.  It seems like only yesterday I was scanning my Facebook newsfeed to keep in touch (stalk, creep, lurk…) with my Facebook friends.  Oh the early days of Social Media

Enter Facebook promoted stories and posts and other fancy ad products.  Oh yes my fine facebook friends, those posts showing Ellen’s face miracle secret (don’t pretend you didn’t see that one), and articles touting the benefits of the newest Dr. Oz trick to detoxing in 30 days are planted there for us to comment like and share.  Ok those were planted on my newsfeed just for me, but I digress.

Remember when a status update meant something?

Understandably Facebook needs to create revenue streams. According to a recent article in the Business Insider, Facebook does not have much to worry about there.  But perhaps ad products such as “sponsored stories” are just making an already cluttered newsfeed cluttered to the point of frustrating its users.

From an marketer’s perspective, this is equally frustrating.

When Faceboook was primarily an organic and viral community of chatter, it was fairly simple for a digital marketer to create a brand voice that could be part of a dialogue with users.  Within the last two years, Facebook’s algorithms have changed to try to service advertisers and generate revenue, while remaining relevant to users.

We are on to you Facebook.

Brands must now pay to be part of that dialogue through Facebook Ad products such as promoted pages, offer claims, and the list goes on.   These PAID opportunities are now necessary for advertisers to reach user newsfeeds – even if the user has already LIKED the brand.

Reaching Facebook users has now become a delicate balance of paid and organic content working together to keep Fans engaged. And so it should be!  Hopefully Facebook will continue to weed out the Ad products like sponsored stories that confuse and annoy us.  Scrolling endlessly through content that Facebook thinks is relevant to me is really starting to interrupt my attempts to quietly listen to my Friend’s mood swings, victories, struggles and Grammy award rants. #Madonnastillrocks

The only time we really want to see Ads is when we ask for them.  I am prepping a pot of Chili already for this weekends Super Bowl commercials…I mean game.

 

 

A Couple of Chicks Talk Travel: A Guide to Traveling Newfoundland

On the road to Trinity, NewfoundlandAs a Chick, specializing in digital marketing for tourism, I pride myself on being able to plan a pretty great vacation – when I am actually taking one and not working.  I have been across Canada and the US and experienced amazing tourism destinations, but I had never been to Newfoundland.

Like many others, I have been intrigued and drawn into the commercials and YouTube videos for Newfoundland and Labrador.  I can now confirm that the magical place depicted in the commercials does in fact exist.

As a first time visitor, referred to as a CFA, or “come from away”, I did have some help in pre-planning my trip.  The “townies” from Destination St. John’s were the perfect hosts, and provided recommendations that ensured that I did see the most beautiful places in Newfoundland, had a warm meal at the end of a day of traveling, a cold pint of beer, and somewhere to sleep with the sounds of the ocean floating through my windows.

I share with you some of my experiences in this beautiful Canadian province, and give to you some of my “need to know before you go” insights.  This part of Canada is a must do, and you need to plan ahead to make the most of your experience.

From what I had thought, pre-season mid-May, before the long weekend, would provide the best experience as tourists would not be overtaking St. John’s, and the operators in the remote towns on the Island would be happy to see early visitors just as the season was about to kick off.

I started planning my itinerary about a month in advance, and through my experience I have summarized some tips to ensure you get the most out of your visit.

Flying into St John’s from Toronto is easy as St. John’s has direct air access from many Canadian cities including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and as far west as Calgary.  Direct air access is also available from some major US cities, and some European destinations such as London.

Explore the city of St. John’s, more specifically; George and Water streets.   The streets are alive with tourists and locals, live music, restaurants and bars, and of course a pub or 2, or 20.

Signal Hill, NewfoundlandA walk up Historic Signal Hill is a must do.  You can also drive to the top if the hike uphill is too much.  Signal Hill was not an easy climb after walking across downtown to get there, but well worth the hike to the top.  The view of St. John’s, the iconic painted houses, Cape Spear, and the ocean is spectacular.

Yellowbelly Pub and Brewery on Water Street was one of my favorite stops.  Their beer was also served on tap in many other restaurants and bars in St. John’s and across the Island.

O’Reileys Irish Newfoundland pub also did not disappoint, with live music starting late afternoon and continuing into the evening, and featuring traditional Newfoundland music, and even some tap dancing.  Ok, one lone tap dancer, but I digress.

The city also offers some fantastic finer dining venues.  After pub fish and chips, or as Newfoundlanders refer to it as “brown food,” a restaurant like Portobello’s provided for a perfect evening.  The scallops and trout were outstanding, but it was the appetizer of cod tongue with scrunchions (crispy pieces of salted side pork) and tarter that was the surprise favorite for me.

Although there are many smaller Inns and hotels to stay in around St. John’s, the Delta St. John’s was home base. A great location just at the entrance to George and Water Street, the hub of St. John’s – which according to Wikipedia, offers the most pubs and bars per square foot of any street in North America.

I can confirm that this could possibly be the truth.

 

After a weekend in St. John’s, it was time to see some of those vistas of the Atlantic Ocean; waves crashing up against rugged rocks, flowing clotheslines, coloured houses, and small inlet towns around the Island.

My friends at Destination St. John’s, the official visitor and convention bureau for the city, were quick to advise me of a few things as I planned my trip prior to my arrival in St. John’s.  It was technically pre-season for the island and we “CFA’s” need the help.

 

I had been dreaming of the cool breezes off of the Atlantic, and eating lobster fresh from the Bay since seeing Newfoundland and Labrador commercials and YouTube video’s.  As a digital marketing specialist for Travel, it is my job to ensure that the images, video’s and websites tell the story of what a visitor might expect when traveling.  The experiences I had in Newfoundland were everything that I had imagined and more.

As such, I have prepared a list of  “Things to know before you go to Newfoundland,” as I did encounter some surprises along the way, ones that can be avoided with the right kind of planning.

Newfoundland Chicks’ Trip Tips Preface: (try saying that 5 times!)

Cape Bonevista, NewfoundlandI consider myself to be an experienced traveler.  I have pretty good knowledge of how to plan travel online, and I had some help that prevented travel misfortunes (which may have included driving to Cape St. Mary’s, home to the popular Ecological Reserve – instead of St. Mary’s Bay, where I had reserved accommodations – 1.5 hours away).  To my defence, when one Google’s “Cape St. Mary’s,” the 3rd search result is a Tripadvisor listing and reviews for the “Claddagh Inn St Mary’s.”

OK so that happened.  Make sure you know exactly which place you are trying to get to.  Google clearly does not know everything.

These are not the typical “things to do and see.” My list instead is “people to meet, and how to get to the right places, with a full stomach and a place to sleep.”  This list summarizes some of my experiences and highlights, with points of note for planning a trip to really experience Newfoundland as I did.

Book a car in advance:  Especially in pre-season.  Newfoundland is an island accessible by boat or plane.  Although the ferry access allows for cars, many tourists opt to fly in and rent a car.

There is no other way to get around the Island to experience drives like the “Irish Loop,” or to see remote town’s living on the edge of the Atlantic without a car, or a boat.  If you plan on taking in the coves and inlets along the coast, or you are planning a visit to Gros Morne National Park, or any of the many other spectacular sites, then you will need to rent a car.

In addition, be forewarned that some of the roads are still quite rough coming off of the winter season, and there is not a gas station or diner, or even convenience store on every corner once you veer off of the TransCanada 1 Highway.  This of course is part of the charm.

Book all accommodations (and some meals) in advance:  Innkeepers like Patrick and Carol, who run the Claddagh Inn in St. Mary’s Bay have done such an amazing job in telling the “story” of the experience through Tripadvisor and Facebook, that tourists are making this small fishing village located directly along the Irish Loop a preferred resting point.

St. Mary’s Bay is not a bustling tourist area – at any point in the season.  That being said, the experience that Innkeepers Patrick and Carol have created is well worth the stop.  The stories allow you to get a sense for the community, and what other small communities around the island are like for those who live there.

I was welcomed with a pint of Yellowbelly Irish Red in the small quaint pub before checking into my guestroom.  The Inn has 6 rooms, and Innkeepers Pat and Carol prepare and serve a homemade 3-course dinner for their guests, as well as a full breakfast.   Dinner included Crab from the Bay that was brought in that morning, homemade pea soup, and a window table to watch the sunset.

Pat and Carol shared stories about the town, the history of the Inn, and their adventures since taking over the Inn two years ago, in a town of people that had lived and worked there all of their lives.  The town mayor even stopped in for a Scotch and a chat.

Past guests of the Inn rave about the Claddagh experience online, so much so that they are booked months in advance for rooms, and with limited (or no other) accommodation available in St. Mary’s Bay.  Drop-ins in August, or even just stops for dinner without reservations are almost impossible as the dining room primarily caters to guests of the Inn.

Planning your journey around the Island is a must do for anyone looking to explore the small inlets and coastal towns, and make sure to pre-book not only your accommodations, but also your meals.  Those of us who are used to booking hotels on the day of, or waiting for last minute specials will not get the chance to experience the charming Inn’s and B&B’s in the smaller towns without reservations.

Reserving accommodations and even dining where you plan to stop will allow you to truly enjoy the ocean views, the people, the stories, and the peace and quiet of these small coastal towns and villages.  The Claddagh Inn provided a relaxing and quiet retreat after two days in St. John’s.  It also provided the cool ocean breeze through the window.

I found the Artisan Inn, located on the eastern shore in picturesque Trinity, by searching Google for “must go places” in Newfoundland.

The Inn and the town certainly deserved the accolades.  Trinity, a well-preserved and still populated town, surrounded by the Atlantic, and on route to Cape Bonavista, is reminiscent of a European village.  The town is a popular tourist destination in the summer, and the Inn and surrounding area have been the site for the filming of many movies.

Innkeeper Tineke Gow has been managing the Inn for 22 years, and is just as passionate about Trinity and the surrounding area as if it was her first.  Tineke’s daughter Marieke, who is a trained sommelier and very involved in the local tourism community, manages the Inn with her.  The passion for this place by those who live and manage it is inspiring.

Eastern Newfoundland was recently named a National Geographic Geotourism Destination www.nlgeotourism.com.  The Inn’s restaurant, The Twine Loft is also recommended and awarded an additional star in “Where to Eat in Canada” published annually by Oberon Press.

At breakfast, I spotted a seal in Trinity Bay just outside the window.  Not something you see over coffee and croissants in Ontario.

Trinity Travel Tip: Don’t miss breakfast or Tineke will remind you throughout the day of what you missed.  Freshly baked muffins and fruit are always a nice way to start the day.

Planning your driving route:  My advice is simple. Don’t count on Google Maps or GPS.  Ask the locals, and refer to the good old fashion printed map.  It is kind of fun to pull out the big paper map (preferably without hitting the driver next to you in the head).

A kind of throwback to childhood road trips before Google maps and GPS existed.

One pleasant surprise was the availability of satellite radio in the rental car, and in restaurants and pubs across the island.  This allowed for a customized soundtrack for the longer drives from town to town.

Access to cellular networks: To sum it up, if you are with Bell Canada or TELUS you are A OK for most of the populated area’s around Newfoundland. Rogers – not so much. This is where the access to WIFI in the Inns around the Island really came in handy as SKYPE or Facetime work to communicate – if you absolutely have to.

The experience and hospitality of the people of Newfoundland is unique and special. The people of Newfoundland are incredibly welcoming and proud of their Province, and will make it easy once you arrive “from away.”

On the Eastern shore of Newfoundland

As a coastal tourism destination, Newfoundland is still fairly raw – which is part of the charm and the authenticity of the experience.  A slower pace of life, friendly people with unique accents, live music, fresh seafood, breathtaking scenery, unpredictable weather, and charming tours from fishing boats, with local guides that are passionate about home are what made Newfoundland for me.

There are a few highlights that I won’t soon forget. 

 

The crisp moist Atlantic Ocean air mixed with the smell of lumber and campfire.

The goats.  I like goats, especially this one.

Watching the ocean crash against the rocks at Cape Bonavista, surrounded by nothing but the ocean and rocks.

Tales of lost coastal inlet towns from locals like Bruce Miller.

Alicia and Bruce Miller having some screetchBruce operates a unique tour of the Eastern shores around Old Bonaventure. With his fishing boat and stories of his life, he speaks passionately about the ocean, fishing communities, and the people of Newfoundland.

He speaks authentically of life in small fishing communities, and about his family who have lived in the area for decades, taking travelers by boat to pockets where small fishing towns no longer exist.   He started doing tours of the area 2 years ago so that he would be able to remain in Old Bonaventure, when many locals have been forced to leave for work.

 

Just don’t ask Bruce how long it would take by boat to get to Ireland, the first land from Newfoundland’s east coast you will hit by water.  He told me we didn’t have enough gas.

  A few other Chick Travel Tips:

1. Don’t ask the tour operators to “Guarantee” that you will see a Whale, a Puffin, or a Moose.  They don’t appear on command.

2. Eat the pea soup and try Cod Tongue

3. Get “Screeched In” on George Street.

4. Enjoy the fresh Lobster and Crab.

5.  Stop at the Bonavista Social Club.  It is completely off the beaten path, but so worth it.  I did not try the Moose burger, but I wish I had.

6. Plan your driving route, and where you will stop along the way.

7. Book in advance.

8.  If you are near Trinity or Bonavista, take the boat tour with Bruce, but don’t ask to use the bathroom.

9. Try the local diners.  The food is home cooking comfort food.

10. Take the lack of cellular service as a sign to totally disconnect.

11. Be ready to hit the treadmill when you return.  So worth it.

These are the real experiences that are reflective of Newfoundland for me.  It is the passion of people that really make an experience, and a tourism destination like Newfoundland so special.

The scenery is not so bad either.

 

 

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
alicia.whalen@gmail.com
905-401-2249

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