A Canadian online travel marketing conference turns 8 and goes back to its travel roots

Patricia and I launched the first Online Revealed Canada travel marketing conference over 7 years ago, with an idea to educate Canadian Tourism professionals about how to market travel online.  At the time, we were all new to concepts such as Search Engine Optimization, writing content for the web, website usability, website analytics, and why we even needed to know about all of this as tourism marketers.

Looking back, we are amazed at both how the conference has grown, and how the tourism industry has changed to keep ahead of such a fast evolving new media world.

The first conference held in Ottawa in 2006 (in association with the Canadian Tourism Commission) drew more than 180 attendees, and had a focus on educating travel marketing professionals about ecommerce, and how the web was evolving as a key marketing and distribution channel for hotels, attractions and in destination marketing.  The inaugural event opened with a keynote presentation from eMarketer founder Geoff Ramsey, who once again made a guest appearance at our 5th anniversary event in Montreal.

Coming off of the success in Ottawa, we moved Online Revealed in May of 2007 to Toronto to reach further into the market. Over 200 attendees spent two-days learning about concepts from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Syndication, Web 2.0, Revenue Management and more, with 15 workshop rotations and numerous keynote speeches and panels, with annual networking receptions, including the Travelzoo party becoming a must attend event, and the now annual Google eTourism awards.

2008 brought us to Calgary, Alberta where we hosted over 230 of Canada’s leading tourism professionals including Destination Marketing Organizations, Hotel Brands, Tourism Associations, Search Engines, Technology Companies and Tourism Marketing experts.  Yahoo! Canada was the premier sponsor, and the two-day event brought 16 workshops, 3 panel discussions and 3 keynote presentations addressing the critical issues influencing tourism in Canada.

2009 saw Online Revealed hosted in Niagara Falls with over 300 attendees, and high profile internet marketing experts from Google and TripAdvisor elevating the conference to new heights, as well as a keynote by well-known TV personality Arlene Dickinson of the Dragon’s Den.

In 2010, we celebrated the 5th anniversary in Montreal with over 250 industry Professionals attending, and Online Revealed 2011 in Toronto (the first year that the conference was co-located with the Canadian Hotel Association Conference).  The conference exceeded expectations with over 500 attendees, and incredible content including a keynote by the mastermind behind Google Maps; Michael T. Jones, Chief Technology Advocate, Google.

ORC 2012 Speakers2012 was the conference’s 7th anniversary, with record attendance and once again, held in Toronto, and co-located with the Hotel Association Conference.  2012 saw the launch of the Destination Marketing Online Benchmarking report with 16 participating Canadian DMO’s.  The report will continue to evolve moving forward to build a research-based approach to benchmarking online marketing successes against Canadian Destination marketing organizations, and against international tourism destinations such as New Zealand and the USA.

Conference content has expanded with innovative topics including; mobile marketing, social media marketing, and keynotes from both Nikki Germany, head of Industry Travel, Google Canada as well as Steve Irvine, Director of Facebook Canada.

The inaugural conference in 2006 produced by “a couple of chicks who knew what they were doing online, and thought they could show the rest of the industry,” has since evolved to become the go-to event for the travel and tourism industry in Canada to learn, connect and be informed about the ever evolving world of digital marketing.

Our focus from the start was to provide hands-on education, and actionable tactics for marketing tourism online, and a community of shared resources and support.

8th Annual Online Revealed Canada conference logoPatricia and I are excited to be back on the road, and back to our “travel roots” for the 8th annual Online Revealed Conference, which will be held this April 2-4th, 2013 in Windsor, Ontario at Caesars Hotel and Casino, with an anticipated attendance of 450, who will once again come together to connect, learn and share with industry experts and peers – successes, opportunities and strategies in marketing tourism and travel online.

In just 7 years, Online Revealed Canada and A Couple of Chicks™ eMarketing have produced 7 Conferences and 6 road shows educating over 1,600 industry professionals by providing over 100 workshops and presentations.

We would like to thank Tony Pollard, and the Hotel Association of Canada Conference, for co-locating our events during the past two years in Toronto.   We would also like to thank all of our past attendees, sponsors, partners, clients, colleagues and friends who have participated in shaping what this event is today.

Moving into our 8th year, we are busy preparing for our best event yet!  As we look forward to the next Online Revealed chapters, I wonder where the next seven years will bring us?  Mark your calendars for April 2-4th for Online Revealed 2013 and we will see you in Windsor!

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Canadian Destination marketing online benchmarking report pilot project: Results and Key findings

As consumer buying behavior has shifted online, Destination marketers have had to adjust their strategies beyond the printed travel guides, brochures and information centre’s of the past, to provide perspective visitors engaging content such as; video’s and social media communities in order to entice consumers to visit.

The website has become the visitor centre.

From our work with DMOs, PMOs, RTOs and visitor bureaus, we along with Miles, our partners in this research project, know that DMOs small and large continue to be challenged in understanding how to adjust their dollars according to changes in consumer usage of the web.

In developing the Canadian DMO online benchmarking report, we had a goal to help improve the online performance, and build stakeholder confidence in DMO marketing programs.  As travel consumers continue to evolve in usage of digital and mobile platforms, Destination marketers need to understand how to adjust their marketing dollars accordingly.

We had an overwhelming response to the initiative with 16 participating DMOs from across Canada including:

Tourism New BrunswickOttawa TourismTourism Nova ScotiaTourism Hamilton and Tourism Yukon

Using Google analytics, and a defined set of key performance indicators, it was our intention to benchmark the online performance of leading DMOs, PMOs and CVBs from across Canada, and compare them to themselves, and against International destinations including New Zealand and the US.

Some of the key performance indicators used in the pilot study included:

  1. Website performance in terms of overall traffic
  2. Traffic by major domestic and international markets
  3. Sources of traffic
  4. Key engagement metrics
  5. Mobile metrics

I am excited to share some of the key findings taken from the aggregated summary report of the pilot study.  We measured the pilot sample with analytics from the 2011 Calendar year, aggregated the data, and provided each of the 16 participating DMOs with an individual report with recommendations.  In addition, we produced an aggregated report summarizing the data for the entire Canadian sample of DMOs measured, and compared them with the data taken from the samples in both New Zealand and US.

The resulting key insights from the pilot program of the Canadian DMO Online Benchmarking Reports include:

1. Trends in new audience growth:

  • The overall Canadian online audience growth (in new visitors) is slower than the USA, and New Zealand.  Are Canadian DMOs investing as much as international destinations in driving new audiences to their websites?

2. International reach of Canadian Destinations:

  • Canadian Destinations have less penetration into foreign markets, including the neighboring US, which provides only around 12% of Canadian DMO website traffic.
  • Also consider that major Asian countries such as China and Japan represent only very small percentage of users to the sample (0.14-0.17%), and yet each represent 1-2% of International visitors to Canada.

3. Mobile opportunity:

  • Canada is second (8%) only to the USA (15%) in users accessing DMO site via mobile device.  This will shift quickly as consumer behavior and use of mobile phones as well as tablets quickly take over.
  • DMOs need to be prepared for this shift with mobile friendly websites and content.

The pilot study clearly pointed to the need for mobile friendly websites (at the very least a more streamlined HTML 5 version of the primary website), with a consumer base that will be increasingly mobile connected, not only during the research phase of travel, but while in-destination as well.

4. Managing beyond the click: Measuring both quantity and quality

  • Canadian DMOs sampled had a slightly higher Bounce Rate (49%) than the sample from both the US, and New Zealand (47%), but all are higher than what is standard for a DMO website that is delivering content that is engaging to visitors.  It is not all about the number of unique visitors to the site, but also about how long they stay, and how deep they go into the content.
  • DMO websites should strive for around a 40% overall bounce Rate, 30% Home page bounce rate, 4:00 min time on site, and 5-pages per visit as a standard.  More engaging content will help to improve these metrics.

5. Measure and adjust:

  • Canadian DMOs are not utilizing Google Analytics (a free and mass adopted standard in web analytics, which now offers social metrics) to track the success of specific marketing initiatives such as eblasts, SEO, and Paid Search marketing campaigns.
  • The DMO benchmarking study utilized Google analytics as the primary point of measurement.

Destination marketing organizations require a high level reporting to stakeholders and members, and should ensure proper use of Google analytics conversion and goal tracking (or other analytics tools in combination), to better analyze and report on campaign performance, and key performance indicators over time.

The data collected from the report provides a measure of trends over time and gives early warnings of opportunities or shifts in strategy that should be considered for destination marketers. We are excited after an extremely successful pilot program, and with the endorsement of the Canadian Tourism Commission to announce the launch of the 2012/2013 series of reports.

We are calling now to Canadian DMOs, PMOs, RTOs and CVBs to participate in the 2012/2013 report series, and thank the initial 16 destination marketing organizations who participated in the pilot program.

About the Canadian DMO online benchmarking study:

As both A Couple of Chicks eMarketing and Miles Partnership specialize in destination marketing online, and continue to work with marketers to illustrate the importance of online positioning for DMOs, we collectively were very passionate about providing the industry with a standard in statistical measurement in order to help to support DMOs in getting buy-in from stakeholders, and to help to improve efficiencies and better educate marketers about the digital space.

Why benchmark online success for Destination Marketing?

1. To track Canadian destinations against key online performance measures. (to determine ROI in digital marketing initiatives), engage stakeholder support, and improve performance over time.

2. Provide benchmarking metrics amongst DMO peers – against themselves, and international DMOs to better understand where they fit in comparison to their peers.

3. To provide insight into trends and opportunities for improvement.  The online space is fast evolving and new media has changed the way consumers research and book travel.  DMOs must keep up with the pace of change, and to continue to evolve with the new consumer.

4.  The data provides a measure of trends over time and gives early warnings of opportunities or shifts in strategy that should be considered for destination marketers.

Thank you again to the 16 pilot project participants!

For more information on the Canadian DMO online benchmarking report series, visit www.acoupleofchicks.com

 

 

 

 

Marketing Travel and Tourism on Facebook

 

 

Last week Patricia and I had the pleasure of working with Facebook Canada to present a Webinar dedicated to marketing travel and tourism on the social media platform now accounts for over 15,000,000 active Canadian users, who are spending on average more than 20 min per day posting and sharing content such as; photos and videos, details of what they are listening too, what they are watching, what brands they LIKE, and sharing this with their over 190 facebook friends (on average per Canadian user).

How does this relate to how consumers research and buy travel?  Are consumers transacting on Facebook?  How do you measure the ROI on time and resources invested in building a Facebook community and managing it?

In preparing for the webinar, we worked with the team at Facebook Canada to produce content that would educate destinations, hotels, attractions and other tourism suppliers, not simply about how to advertise with Facebook, but how to build a successful brand page, engage Fans and amplify the brand message beyond brand champions to friends of fans and beyond.

Key tips and takeaways for marketing on Facebook:

Connect: Focus on building fans, and creating valuable and relevant content for them.  You may consider ads here to build fans, but you must make sure you have a good content plan to engage them once you acquire them.

Engage: Focus on good content such as photos, video’s, ask questions and have conversations with Fans.  The better “liked” and more “shared” your content is – the wider your reach into your Fans’ newsfeeds and the more likely they are to share your content with friends.

Amplify your message:  Encourage Fans to Like, comment and share your content to ensure your message is reaching beyond Fans to friends of fans.  Once you have built a good community of active Fans who appreciate what you have to say – then it is time to think about the next stage in your facebook strategy.

Here you might consider sponsored stories and other advertising solutions to push your fan base to the next level, and to ensure your brand stories are reaching the right target audiences.  Ensure that your efforts are strategic, and or campaign specific and have a goal, whether it be to drive traffic to a website, build more fans, or to promote a specific offer.

Influence: Be good at it!  Make sure you have a content strategy, and a plan for your facebook brand page.  Ensure you have a voice that is consistent and metrics in place to determine the success of your efforts.

Use Facebook Insights to measure and adjust:   Facebook Insights allows community managers to assess how well they are building their Fanbase, weather or not they are increasing their influence and reach, and the quality of individual posts of content to ensure adjustments are made on an ongoing basis to improve performance.

Integrate:  Your Facebook brand page is not home to your brand.  The website is still the cash register, and consumers are still actively using search engines to find and organize content on the web.  Ensure that your strategy is properly integrated, and that metrics are in place to properly measure and adjust.

Facebook may not necessarily the place for direct response advertising, unless you are looking to drive traffic to a website, or specific campaigns.  Social media is definitely the place for your brand to be present and actively communicating when consumers are sharing, commenting and reviewing the destinations they have visited, or want to visit – the experiences they have had, and the places they recommend to family and friends.

Finally, stay the course, done is better than perfect!  Please share this post with all your friends on facebook!

The Chicks' with Nick Sergeant and Alfredo Tan - your Facebook Webinar dream team

 

 

Thank you to our friends at Facebook Canada for inviting the Chicks’ and for making the post webinar Q&A such a lively one, we look forward to next time!  Cheers from the Chicks!

 

Images are the new black in social media: New Facebook Timeline, Instagram acquisition + Pinterest show social media shifting again

With the new Timeline design, the aquisition of Instagram by Facebook, and rapid growth of Pinterest, it is safe to say that images are the new “status update,” or if you want to go retro – the “new black”.

The game changer is in the rapid adoption of image-sharing social media platforms including;

PINTEREST – a social media site which allows users to create virtual pin boards around images that describe who they are and their interests.  Users then comment, share and like “pins” and collaborate using images around interests and topics including everything from gardening to clothing to infographics (which are getting far too complicated in my opinion to actually illustrate a concept..but I digress).

Mobile App based INSTAGRAM – which essentially allows Apple iPhone and iPad, as well as Google Android users to edit and share images from their devices (with no web-based platform at all),  and also to  share images to their Facebook and Twitter communities.  Instagram is a user-focussed app based social platform that simply built a photo sharing community around Apple and Google Android mobile users, and made it easy for them to edit images, connect with each other, and to share photos with their other social media places.  Instagram was also recently acquired by Facebook (for a reported 1 Billion dollars!), which illustrates that both image sharing and mobile are important to Facebook as the media giant continues to evolve. (Marketers take note here).

Facebook’s introduction of TIMELINE has also made users and brands think about the image(s) we use in our profiles that best illustrate who we are.  The generously large cover image at the top of the Facebook profile page, and on Facebook brand pages now gives users the opportunity to carefully present themselves in images.   I don’t remember the last time that I read a Facebook user’s “about” information – and I am not the only one of you who scan photos, comments and articles when scanning content. (also known as creeping).

Photo sharing has always been important to users of Facebook, but initially it was the status updates that drew attention to facebook user profiles.  Now, Facebook users view content from brands and people including images, articles, video, comments and discussions with status updates taking a back seat.  A big shift from the Facebook profiles of the past which only allowed for small images appearing in albums and at the top part of the profile.  You might even remember that initially there was only one image on the left hand side of a users Facebook profile, with wall posts and status updates dominating the page.

What is the takeaway here?  

The digital space has evolved quickly and has made marketers adjust often. The bottom line is that consumer usage of social media has made us focus on content marketing.  Content including blogs, social commentary, video’s, articles, and photos that illustrate who we are and what we are about.  Simply stated, we need to insert ourselves into the social chatter, and contribute and share content as part of our efforts to engage with our customers.

Is it time to add an image marketing plan to your overall marketing initiatives?

It is certainly time to ensure that within your overall marketing mix, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, on a brand Pinterest page, or on your website – that photos and images are an important part of the marketing mix.

Who knew that images would continue to be the way we express ourselves – beyond the instant camera and the polaroid picture. Kodak and Polaroid were not available for comment on this post.  🙂

 

7th Annual Online Revealed Canada Conference Preview: March 5-7 Toronto Sheraton Centre

The 7th annual Online Revealed Canada conference is just days away.  This two-day event is comprised of workshops, case studies around marketing tourism online; with keynote presentations including Steve Irvine from Facebook Canada, followed by Nikki Germany from Google Canada and Tom Gierasimczuk, Editor-in-Chief for MARKETING MAGAZINE in a candid and insightful interview with Nikki Germany.

In true Online Revealed form, the event will also include workshops presented by industry experts from Tripadvisor, Miles Media, Google, A Couple of Chicks eMarketing, and T4G to name a few, and of course Online Revealed will be host to an abundance of networking opportunities – as well as the famous Travelzoo Reception (where the conference comes alive) !

Online Revealed is also proud to host the 2nd annual Canadian eTourism Awards, presented by Google – with awards sponsored by Miles Media, VIA Rail, and T4G. We are excited to be a part of highlighting the excellence in marketing tourism online in Canada. The awards will be presented during the Online Revealed Conference on March 6th.

For those not Registered to attend, there is still time. For those on route to Toronto here are a few other highlights:

Have questions you want Tom Gierasimczuk to ask Google? Ask us on Facebook or tweet them with #ORC2012.

Follow the Conference Highlights and contribute to the conversation using the official Conference Hashtag #ORC2012

In addition to an abundance of opportunities to network with speakers, sponsors, industry experts and colleagues, we have two new initiatives for ORC 2012 participants we want to share with you:

Online Revealed Canada announces a limited Online benchmarking / measurement project for DMOs / PMOs / CVBs to registered attendees:

We are excited to announce that 16 Canadian DMO’s, PMO’s and VCB’s have opted in to participated in this groundbreaking study that will benchmark Online Performance of Canadian destinationsin comparison to other participating Canadian DMOs, PMOs & CVBs of similar size and reach, as well as other US & International Destinations. Miles Media and A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing (in conjunction with TripAdvisor) will be offering the free benchmarking report to PARTICIPATING ‘Online Revealed’ DMO conference attendees, and presented some of the results at the “Benchmarking Canadian Destinations to each other and around the world” session of the conference.

NEW! Join your peers at Online Revealed Canada and put your social media skills to the test when you play Social Scale:

Tweet using the #ORC2012, post TwitPics, scan QR codes and answer Polls to see if you have what it takes to make it to the top of the Social Scale. Sharing is something we do every day. It’s about time you get rewarded for it. Attendees will be “getting social” for a chance to be named the official Mayor of Online Revealed! Presented by WebCanada and A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing. Look for details on registering for the game as you check in to the conference.

I will be sure to post highlights of the event and look forward to welcoming over 350 registrants next week!

 

Benchmarking ROI of Social Marketing in Travel: Part One Destination Marketing Organizations

Social Media has changed forever how consumers buy travel.  The traditional marketing mix has been turned on its head with marketing tactics moving far beyond printed travel guides, display media, traditional print, radio and television – pushing travel marketers to become transparent participators in consumer conversation, and more importantly, pushing them to account for the ROI in allocating resources to social media marketing.

Whether we are talking about a travel related service such as an airline, hotel room, or attraction, social media channels have been a game changer in both marketing, as well as in distribution, sales, public relations and CRM.

How do we measure success or specifically ROI in using channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to sell travel related products, services and experiences?  Specifically, how does a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO or VCB) tackle the measurement and communication of success of social media programs to stakeholders?

Before we can accurately measure the success or ROI of social media marketing tactics, it is important to take a step back and first establish the point of conversion.  It seems simple enough, but it is a step that many marketers are missing as new buzz generating digital tactics enter the picture every day.  As well, a traditional DMO or CVB may not necessarily have a transaction point, which further complicates benchmarking of the DMO role in marketing the destination.

1.    The first step is to determine which social media channels are key to the success in selling the product, service or experience.

Consumers spend time in search engines, websites, blogs, review sites, and social communities on their journey to the point of conversion.  Resources must be focused towards those social media communities where the majority of consumers are spending their time during travel research.

2.    Identify the point of end conversion.

The conversion may be a reservation or a sale, a coupon download, or an email sign up.  Each campaign, whether the tactic is social media in isolation, or in combination with other media channels, should be measured against the same key metrics for marketers to begin to see trends and properly benchmark successes.

It is almost a necessity for a Destination (DMO or CVB) to be on both Facebook and Twitter at this stage in the game.  The question then becomes what role does the DMO play in the online conversation, how does this role support the consumer buying process, and most importantly; how does the DMO communicate the value of these programs to its stakeholders?

It is important to keep in mind that the transaction point is not necessarily a booking or a sale, and therefore the key performance indicators may be tied instead to reach, share of voice in comparison to other destinations, traffic to stakeholder websites, or social media chatter or buzz related to core destination products and services – or any combination of key metrics that are important to the DMO in achieving its mandate.

3.    Determine Key Performance Indicators and metrics of campaign success.

Once the conversion point is determined in a social media campaign, and goals defined, metrics can be put in place.  Some key metrics that may be measured to benchmark the success of a DMO or VCB social marketing campaign or overall social media marketing efforts include:

  • Facebook posts, comments and likes (usins Facebook Insights or other measurement tools in combination)
  • # of Post views and Post feedback (posts to social channels like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and beyond)
  • Average interaction per post
  • Number of new fans in relation to fans prior to campaign
  • # of broadcasted messages via Twitter
  • # of RT’s (retweets)
  • # of @replies
  • Contest entries
  • Hashtag trending and reach (on Twitter)

Points of measurement that will become even more important as we go forward include; Number of App downloads and Mobile location.

App downloads will be a critical point of measurement of performance moving forward, but also mobile location as we are now able to pinpoint further the success in reaching target markets (geographically), as well as to gain metrics on how close to the sale or transaction that the DMO really is based on where an app download or location tag was used.

In most cases the DMO or VCB takes the role of influencer of a travel transaction, and when a DMO can successfully measure the impact on buying behaviour close to the point of sale, and is able to tie that back to a specific campaign on Facebook and Twitter through key performance measurables we have a #WINNING benchmark for measurement. [yes I inserted a hashtag reference #Cheesy]

4.    Determine free and paid tools available to properly measure campaign success and overall reach.

There are numerous measurement tools currently available to assist destination marketing organizations in measuring the success of social media campaign tactics.  At this time, there is no one best solution or silver bullet social media measurement tool, but putting key performance measurables in place and consistently measuring social media initiatives against goals and defined KPI’s is the way to begin.

Once KPI’s are established, there are many tools that can assist in tracking to determine success.  Social monitoring or measurement tools are available in every price range, and with varying levels of service and support.

There are however Social media monitoring and measurement tools, both free and paid, that can and should be used to assist in measuring KPI’s of social media campaigns for Destination Marketing organizations.

At the basic level, social monitoring tools such as HootSuite, and free tools like Tweetreach and Facebook Insights that can be used to measure reach and engagement at the campaign level.  Tools such as these also assist in managing campaigns allowing community managers to track buzz and topics related to their destination, and then contribute to the conversation.

Marketers should also be using GoogleAlerts to monitor content related to their brand, and measurement tools such as Google Analytics also have social and mobile tracking capabilities.

Depending on goals, more robust monitoring and measurement tools are available  There are Social measurement tools that have been developed to work specifically for tracking social activity for hotels, resorts and hotel groups; these include solutions such as Review Analyst, and Revinate to name a few.  As of yet, there are no tools that I have reviewed that specifically work for Destination marketers.

Some well known social measurment tools include; Radian6, SproutSocial, Heartbeat (a solution by Marketwire), Awareness Social Monitoring software, Ubervu social media dashboard and more.  There is no one size fits all solution for measuring social media.  The medium is still new and evolving at a rapid pace.  What we do know is that consumers want to talk about their buying experiences, they want to hear from brands, and they are buying online across multiple channels.

Next in this series on social media measurement and monitoring, I will look at benchmarking social media ROI for hotels, resorts and hotel brands.  Until then, I will set up some KPI’s to determine the reach of this Blog post.  I hope to be reporting hundreds of Retweets, Facebook likes, new Fans, Shares, Comments, Replies, Google+’s, tags and recommendations.  Maybe I will even get a high five or a woot woot!  I will keep you “posted”.

Online Revealed Canada,March 5-7 at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel presents an opportunity to participate in a limited benchmarking / measurement project for DMOs / PMOs / CVBs. Participants in this groundbreaking study will be able to benchmark Online Performance in comparison to other participating Canadian DMOs, PMOs & CVBs, as well as other US & International Destinations. Miles Media and A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing (in conjunction with TripAdvisor) will be offering the free benchmarking report to PARTICIPATING ‘Online Revealed’ DMO conference attendees.  Visit our website for details.

References used in this article include:

Slideshare presentation by Altimeter Social media marketing analytics report

Createwanderlust.com article on Social Media Integrated Campaign

Hotelmarketing.com: mixed results for travel sites on Facebook

Thank you also to our valued clients, and colleagues in this industry for always pushing us forward in ensuring we are at the head of the curve in providing ROI driven digital marketing programs.  We are looking forward to seeing you all next week at the annual Online Revealed Conference where we will once again dive into what is new and now in marketing tourism online.

The collective social story one post, tweet and ping at a time

I am feeling especially reflective as we approach the end of 2011.  It has been quite a year.  It was not the Christmas music, and sappy TV commercials that brought me to this place; it was actually Facebook’s introduction of Timeline that triggered my pause for reflection – that and a Twitter exchange between myself and one of my esteemed Twitter colleagues.

We were musing [within our 140 characters complete with hashtags of course] about how Social Media has made us into “Life Scribes” as it were, 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.

I was reviewing Mashable’s most memorable tweets of 2011,  amoung them of course were tweets reflecting on the death of Apple’s Steve Jobs.  I personally will always remember where I was when I read that first tweet.  As I shared this experience with millions of others; celebrities, and just every day you and I people,  I realized that I was using my iPad to watch and listen to reflections on the life of one of the people who made this all possible.  Of course I had to offer my thoughts on his passing as a contributor to the conversation, [because thats just what we do…we just can’t help ourselves anymore] and my iPad allowed me to take part in the collective sentiment that was shared by millions – as it happened.

Social media and our ability to always be connected and interconnected has made us all story tellers, journalists, photographers, artists and sometimes therapists. The devices that connect us to our social networks have enabled us to participate in our world far outside 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.

This summer, I also experienced the sudden passing of a dear friend and mentor through social media.  Through posts on Facebook, I shared and heard from others who Clive Hobson had touched throughout his life, people and sentiments I would have never known in attending a service or reading an obituary.

We are sharing music, personal photo’s, locations, and are able to express ourselves with words; comments and reflections [and sometimes overused quotes from dead philosophers, Deepak Chopra and Oprah…but I digress…], but more importantly, we are now contributors to the collective story and not simply passive observers.

As a self proclaimed “Life Scribe“, I feel especially responsible to reflect on my highlights and observations of the past year as they played out in our digital world…so here they are:

1. Google tries to catch up:  Google+, and changes to search algorithms reflect consumers adoption to social media.

2. Tablets are the new black: iPad2, Blackberry Playbook, Amazon Kindle +++ make their way into our homes and offices and become a go-to device, and allow us to connect like never before.

3. Twitter found its place: The social media platform with the most nay-sayers found its place in the world this year as the place to be and be seen – and for up to the minute news, updates and access to celebrities and brands.

4. Mark Zuckerberg: Yes the man behind the machine is still working it out in his hoodie – with a few more public appearances this year keeping us all guessing what’s next.

I wonder where our new collective narratives will take us in the coming year…all I can promise is that I will do my part in documenting it.

Brave new Connected Mobile world

We hear so much about new technology, feeling pressured that we must embrace and integrate it into our lives. From ‘tweeting’ to ‘liking’ to ‘texting’ and ‘checking-in’ – our popular culture has been forever altered by…

Connectedness

Often we hear retaliation to our new digitally connected world with comments like;

“I don’t want to tweet,”    “what happened to the phone call?,”   “I still like to read the newspaper,”  “technology is killing basic communications skills,”     “these kids can’t go anywhere without texting.”

These comments do illustrate the reality of our world today, but I am here to say that it is not the technology that is the catalyst , but our ability now with mass 3G and 4G WIFI access to be hyper connected – all of the time.

It is only recently that consumers have been able to “check in” at their local pub, and be greeted with a free appetizer as a thank-you, or tweet about poor customer service on an airline, with an immediate response from an airline representative via Twitter offering a free upgrade.  And yet, still some are hearing the whistle of their computer modems dialling into their online world from a desktop computer. Yes, there are some communities where access to the internet is not as easy as finding your nearest hot spot or pulling out your iPad.

There has never been a time where access to the world wide web, has been so fast, easy and most importantly – Mobile.

Smart-phones were our first taste of extreme mobile access.  We could Google, text, tweet and Facebook [insert shameless like us on Facebook link here] message on the go. Then came the tablet, which revolutionized the way we utilize our connectedness. Without easy access to 3G and 4G WIFI (very limited until only 2010), the tablet technology would not have been as revolutionary.  Take the Kindle for example, we love that we can read a book, store our libraries, and save paper – but without connectedness to the rest of the WWW, its just another toy that is fun to have.

Remember when we first had access to the web via our mobile devices? It was euphoric when we could look up a phone number on our blackberry (albeit hard to read at times as mobile browsers did not really work well at first) and dial the local pizza parlor.

Fast forward only a few short years and we are connected to the Internet almost at all times via phones, 3G enabled tablets, laptops etc – all with connectivity available to us almost anywhere from the car, to the airport, and not just limited to the local Starbucks on the corner offering a free hotspot (and making us consume way too many caramel macchiato’s).

So there it is folks, the technology has only kept up with our increased access to WIFI, and the Internet world we have grown to rely on. Imagine that now, those using the iPhone 4s are utilizing a voice-enabled smartphone assistant (her name is SIRI) to not only book hair appointments (without even looking at a search engine to find the phone number or require us to type it into our calendar), and then reminding us of where we are supposed to be when late for said appointment. (I hope she doesn’t yell).

All of this and more is powered by technology – but enabled by…

Connectedness.

In the spirit of connectedness and technology, check out our freshly “hatched” website acoupleofchicks.com – and look!  We even look good on the iPad!

 

the evolution of an online marketing agency

Reflecting on the past 6 years, it is amazing just how much the online world has changed. When Patricia and I started A Couple of Chicks eMarketing over lunch in September 2005 (now that is another story!), we were inspired by a great idea and a passion for sharing what we knew about how the internet was changing how we reach our customers.

It was our mission to make sense of how the internet was going to change marketing and distribution, to demystify online marketing, and to provide a fun and non-intimidating approach to educating brands about the power of the web.

At the time, our primary focus was on developing strategies for marketing websites, and above all for making sure that websites could be found in the search engines.  It was all about search engine optimization (SEO), paid search marketing (PPC), and website usability – and specifically about showing marketers how to leverage this new powerful distribution channel to reach their customers.

Today, 6 years later we are living in a world where consumers are not simply going online, but living online. The pace of change has been fast and new media has pushed marketers to keep up in an ever evolving online ecosystem that now includes Social Media, Wifi Mobile access from devices such as smart phones and tablets, Cloud computing, instant messaging, Video sharing, VOIP technology and so much more.

It has been quite a ride! On behalf of Patricia, and our entire team of 14, thank you for sharing in our adventure – and specifically thank you to all of our clients who have allowed us to share in their growth and success.

We look forward to what the next 6 years brings!

How Google+ will change search

Since the launch of Google+, Google search results have omitted Tweets and Facebook ‘Likability’ in its search results – but the question is will the consumer adapt to a new type of social network or are we too comfortable where we are?

My guess is that Google will leave us no choice but to adapt, but usage will not be the same as Facebook and Twitter.  Some recent usage stats show that although Google+ launched strong that users and time on site is declining instead of growing.

I predict that Google+ will not be the either/or social network replacing Facebook, but will become a social search engine.

Google+ will most likely change search completely because the web as a whole has become socially integrated, with friend recommendations driving consumer engagement in content and thus high rankings in search and overall online visibility.

Google+ will give the search engine what has been missing, something that algorithms alone could not provide – aggregated data on consumer preferences, habits and interests as an indicator of relevancy.

Google is trying to do what they have done with content on the web from the start – organize content based on user preference. By aggregating the social web, Google is able to understand consumer behaviour like never before, and own the data – which is what makes Facebook so powerful.   Marketers have the ability to target their marketing messages based not only on user activity, but by circle of user’s activity, interests, social buzz – along with all of the other demographic information they have only been guessing about until now.

The number of Google+ likes that content has will affect ranking in both the paid and non-paid organic search results. If Google+ is adopted in the way the Google hopes, a Google+ “like” (for lack of a better term) will be an important indicator for ranking content as relevant.

If users adopt, Google+ will have access to consumer preferences, demographics and psychographics (much like facebook has gathered over the past few years) like never before. More than that, they will be able to tie that knowledge in to Google Adwords making it a marketing vehicle that will be able to serve almost personalized ads based on what Google knows we like.

So the question is, will Google+ take over as the social engine of choice?

Of course Google is hoping for that – but Facebook is not going anywhere. Facebook has been so widely adopted by consumers that I predict it will maintain and continue to grow its user base.  It will be interesting to see though how Facebook will evolve from here. Perhaps Facebook should add a search engine? (back at ya Google!)

Will users adapt?  Google+ needs to focus on integration into all their products and educating users about how to use their +’s.  My guess is that consumers will adapt, but not as a replacement to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Times are certainly changing in search. It will be interesting to see if Google+ has enough mass appeal to bring Google to the next level…whatever that may be.  Make sure you Google+ this post, Tweet it and Like it on Facebook – now that’s alot of love to give – and I thank you for it!

Social Marketing Steps To Success

Social media – the most overused term in marketing since Web 2.0 – is not simply changing the nature by which we consume online media, it has morphed into a way of life on the Web.

We are no longer talking about simply building websites, writing blogs, or optimizing Pay-Per-Click Advertising campaigns; the media world in which we live has become location-based, review dominated, App heavy, text happy, plug-in this and plug-in that – and do it all within 140 characters!

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 (or Community Manager, or Digital Marketing Manager or anyone else for that matter, we don’t even know what to call ourselves anymore!) 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.  Generally, an outside agency should be brought in to set up a social strategy, as well as train and execute a brand social community – but long term, the heart and soul of your brand should be managed by trusted and skilled team members within your organization.

Having said that – stick with the three S’s and your digital media efforts will be integrated with your overall marketing efforts and will ensure success and ROI.

Strategic, Streamlined and Sexy:

1. Be Strategic

Build your Social Media and marketing campaigns with a strategy in mind, and with the right resources and a plan in place to make it happen.  Start with what channels you need to build a presence on.  Don’t jump in on every channel until you are doing one really well.  Maybe you have a killer Facebook business page but it’s time to grow the community.  Perhaps you have not had the time or knowledge to dedicate to LinkedIn for your Sales team, but you know the networking tool could really make the sales process easier.

Write a pain point about each social channel you are already using or think your brand needs to have a presence on.  What are you (or your competitors) doing well, how could you improve, how you measure your ROI, what resources are in place to manage it, and goals for each community for next year.

As one wise Chick on our team always says “plan the work, and work the plan”.

2. Be Streamlined

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

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 do what you intend them to do.

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

3. Be Sexy

Yes I said sexy.  Digital media allows us to think outside the box.  Try some unique marketing 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.  You have to stand out, shout out, and be proud of your brand on the social web.  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 as you are building out your digital media campaigns for 2012, 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 in 2012 – you will be ready for any “likes” “Diggs” “pokes” “plus’s” “sparks” “circles” or “huddles” we may be talking about next year.

 

What's your Twitter handle?

What’s your Twitter handle?  Perhaps you don’t have a good handle on what Twitter really is and all the ways to use it?  (its ok really…we are all still learning).

Twitter is above all else a communications tool, a vehicle for any business or person to build buzz, discuss topics of interest with like-minded people, a place to engage in a conversation with your customers and colleagues, a customer service tool – and a way to increase reach much quicker than traditional media.

Unlike Facebook and other Social media channels, Twitter is about forming new connections with people you don’t necessarily know (or will ever know) in person.

Twitter can be used to push out content (new blog posts, articles of interest, photos and videos), to stay up to date on trends, and to drive awareness to brands and businesses, and most importantly – the people behind the brands.

Twitter’s greatest power, once you have developed a twitter tone, a good following – and you have figured out how to provide your followers with valuable, engaging content – is its ability to communicate quickly to large numbers of people.

Twitter is a great tool for crisis communications, for extending customer service online, and above all, a great tool for building brand personality and credibility.

Not a place for pushed out marketing messages, Twitter allows you to communicate and engage with your target audiences. Use twitter to draw attention to other places where your brand lives such as a company website, or Blog, or even your company Facebook page where there is more room for expanded messages.

You will need time and resources to set up and manage a good twitter account, and not having a Twitter strategy will certainly lead to poor ROI and possibly some mishaps along the way.

Twitter Tips from the Chicks:

• Make sure your Twitter handle (your Twitter name) is reflective of your brand, and ensure the bio is more personalized to the Tweeter

• Be strategic when developing your tone – be conversational and add value to the ecosystem

• Share and RT (re-tweet) newsworthy or quality content. It is a good practice to “return the favour” with re-tweets and thank those who RT your content

• Use @username (the Twitter handle!) when referencing another person in Twitter

• Mark positive feedback as “Favorites” in Twitter

• In general, follow people who follow you – but not always. It is not about how many followers you have on Twitter – tweeters will look to who you follow as an indication of who you are.

• Tweet interesting news and info related to your company and industry, and follow colleagues, industry associations and even competitors.

• Twitter lists allow you to categorize Tweeps (Twitter people) and better organize how you follow their content

• Use Hash Tags # to index and label your event or content in Twitter. ie. #TwitterTips and #Socialmedia for this Blog post will ensure that this content will appear in a Twitter stream of content related to using Twitter – and may then be seen by more people

• Set-up scheduled updates and manage your Social Media postings through tools like www.hootsuite.com

• Use tools like www.twitalyzer.com to track community engagement, and hootsuite.com

There are so many great resources we recommend including mashable Twitter Guide book, and Chris Brogan’s Power Tips.

Twitter takes time and commitment but can open you up to brand fans, brand champions, and new customers far beyond traditional marketing communications channels.

Be authentic, show some personality, don’t sell, make sure to drive traffic back to your transaction point (your website, a phone number, email sign up, Blog etc) use Twitter as a part of your overall marketing communications efforts – and have fun – it is ‘social’ media after all!

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

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