It’s no secret that social media has fundamentally changed the way the world does business. Brands can become an online hero or be destroyed in a matter of minutes in what many marketers call “the new reality” – so how does a brand like the Cayman Islands harness the power of this medium to communicate directly with consumers and strengthen awareness?
In 2010, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism began crafting a social media strategy to navigate the way through this ever-changing landscape.
When social media was first introduced to the world, many brands felt there was little return on investment for becoming involved in the space. A few years down the road, and all of that has changed dramatically. Social media enables brands to have one-on-one interactions with consumers, learn from them and respond accordingly.
It’s essentially a giant focus group where a brand can engage directly with their target market and influence their opinions and purchase decisions. It is for this very reason that social media has superseded many traditional marketing tactics and it is now a critical tool for selling the Cayman Islands as a tourism destination.
Over the course of the last two years, our E-business unit has been deeply focused on crafting and refining a Digital Media Policy document which specifically addressed the need for engaging in social media.
This involved outlining our global objectives, internal and external roles, techniques, metrics and more. Obviously this is no small task, but was deemed a necessary one to move our organisation forward and remain competitive.
Numerous objectives were outlined at the outset, including how to harness the power of social media to grow visitation, increase awareness of the virtues of the brand among our target market and increase brand engagement.
These objectives have essentially driven the focus for every social media campaign and project the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has been involved with to date. In addition to outlining these critical objectives, we also clearly defined our target markets globally and identified where to reach these consumers via the numerous social platforms they are utilising.
Through this process, it was ascertained that the Cayman Islands needed to develop a presence primarily on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at the outset, three of the world’s largest social networks.
Before jumping into the space however, the E-business unit defined roles and responsibilities as well as developed protocols and guidelines that dictated the acceptable use of social media both within the organisation and via its agencies and partners.
This critical examination of policies surrounding social media laid the groundwork for how the organisation would interact with the world at large and its various target markets. The Department of Tourism took the additional step of identifying key “ambassadors” of the brand that would work hand-in-hand to promote and support the Cayman Islands brand.
Working closely with our overseas agency partners and internal marketing units, we have continued to refine the social media strategy, particularly over the last year, whereby we have established country-specific Facebook pages to address global needs and speak more directly to our target markets.
In-market social media specialists are responsible for cultivating our community, understanding the subtleties of each market and tailoring messaging so that it is reflective of the Cayman Islands brand but is simultaneously cognisant of consumer preferences in that market. We are continuing to fine-tune our Facebook strategy and will be introducing more contesting to drive traffic and engagement both locally and abroad.
We know through experience that consumers are visiting sites like Facebook and Twitter to share, interact and win prizes, and therefore contests and giveaways will become a more important part of our social strategy in the future.
And while social media provides a place for consumers to interact with and experience our brand, we’re also acutely aware of the role it plays during crisis situations like hurricanes. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has developed a social media strategy for crisis events and a very detailed outline of roles, responsibilities and timelines has been defined to ensure all teams are in place should a crisis occur.
There is a deep understanding of how our social media networks can be helpful during a crisis to a wide range of stakeholders including locals, Cayman-based businesses, tourists, potential visitors, the international media and more.
For example, during the earth tremor incident which followed the powerful earthquake that devastated Haiti, the topic was trending on Twitter within minutes. The Department of Tourism teams, including the global PR unit, swung into action to communicate procedures, updates and educate consumers on the difference between an earth tremor and an earthquake, helping to mitigate the potentially negative impact the tremor might have had on potential visitors considering the destination for a holiday.
These procedures and policies surrounding crisis communications in social networks are constantly being honed and re-examined following each incident.
Next steps for the brand include the monitoring of new, growing networks like Pinterest and Google+ for example, but we must remain mindful that with each additional social network the brand chooses to engage in, there is a greater strain on resources and manpower.
The marketing value of the network must be closely evaluated to ascertain which social media platforms are most effective in responding to our objectives. As new networks are added to the mix, we must remain flexible and agile to make changes to existing networks as needed, such as what’s currently happening with Facebook’s new Timeline for brands.
We’re also continuing to find new ways to build our online community, identifying major influencers in social media and building relationships with them. Strengthening our virtual community also means shifting our digital communications to take advantage of social networking for the purpose of building buzz and creating engagement.
In addition to recently launching a series of videos streamed on YouTube, The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has also embraced other online applications such as the development of a destination specific travel app and online brand launches and more are planned for implementation in the future.
There can be no denying that PR plays a role in social media, not least by setting the tone for messages, provides guidance in times of crisis and interacting daily with influencers, bloggers and the media.
Being in the business of creating attention and having a keen sense of how to translate the destination’s unique messaging, tone and style into a “voice” that works well in social networks, PR plays an integral role in ensuring that our social media content ticks the ‘buzz box’ in a way that fits the organisation and its objectives.
What’s more, media and bloggers are increasingly turning to social networks to ask questions, find experts, information and contacts.
PR’s presence at the social media table means we aren’t missing out on these valuable editorial opportunities and equally, that we are positioning ourselves as open and willing to communicate in the social space.
Ironically, as our online community grows, transcending traditional borders, the department’s global PR team is working more closely together, helping to strike the right balance between local and international content when speaking to online communities.
Moving forward, the impact of social media will continue to reach far and wide. We’re integrating social media into all facets of our tourism marketing – from advertising and trade relations to media outreach, mobile communications and more.
We remain wholly committed to optimising all relevant channels and harnessing the power of this medium as well as measuring our success and examining our progress. Using a host of metrics, we are able to further enhance our efforts and track our brand influence over time.
Social media continues to be an ever-changing playing field, one which has completely altered how we do business today, but with a dedication to being effectively engaged in the space, we are confident it will reap tourism rewards for years to come.