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Destinations: socially adept or socially inept?

22nd May 2015

Much like 20 years ago when websites first came to prominence, when it comes to social media, tourism destinations fall into two camps. Either they accept it as a necessary evil – with little or no understanding of how it works – or they embrace this upstart’s challenge to traditional marketing, by harnessing its power and not trying to control it.

So far in 2015 we learn that Facebook holds the top spot of the world’s biggest populations above China and India (only 3 of the top 10 are actual countries); more people own a smart phone than a toothbrush and Grandparents are the fastest growing demographic on Twitter.  What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas any longer – just ask a certain Royal prince!

Increasing numbers of private sector organisations have a dedicated social customer service channel on Twitter because of the speed and willingness of customers to broadcast their experiences – good and especially bad. Yet up and down the country there are destination organisations limiting access to social channels – even staff occupying front facing customer services roles with the requisite skill set and knowledge to perform the task.

Marketers often don’t fare much better, filling Facebook pages with prescriptive ‘pushed’ messages of what they want visitors to know. It’s rare to see such pages actually engaging with their online communities, responding to questions and asking what they want.

Of course there are honourable exceptions who get it – to a point. The really forward thinking destinations around the world are handing over content creation to bloggers and influencers to tell it like it is through their eyes, rather than following a carefully planned schedule. There’s a feel good factor associated with posting a great photo of your holiday and counting the number of contacts who 'like’ the image, remark how great it is and how lovely it looks there. And that’s before we consider the phenomenon that is ‘the selfie’.

From a destination perspective, lack of resources and speed of change are much cited as reasons for not fully embracing social and the opportunities it provides. But is it that, or is it fear of losing control? Because the subtle shift triggered by social is away from the controlled messages (and clichés) of the past and towards how individuals see, feel and consequently share their destination experience with others. The emphasis being ‘their’ destination experience – not yours.

Destinations: socially adept or socially inept?