Photo by shayd johnson on Unsplash

One of the best parts of this job is meeting and learning about new businesses; the fact that we get to positively impact their success through digital strategy is the payoff. To make things even better, sometimes we get to travel to interesting new places and work directly with those businesspeople for intensive workshops where we pack weeks of strategy, training, and planning into just a couple of days.

That was that case this week, as two of us (Flynn and I) hit the road to work with 50+ businesses in the the travel and tourism industry over a 48-hour period. He headed to the Fraser Valley, while I posted up just outside of Victoria, and we huddled together with some of the best hospitality, tour provider, and cultural businesses in the region. They were there for the opportunity to focus on their digital strategies and learn from our curriculum, but what they likely didn’t realize was that they’d end up learning as much from each other as they did from the workbooks.

Meanwhile, we’re up at the front soaking it all in. There’s something so inspiring about watching managers and executives who typically work in isolation — depending on their own search engine skills to solve their problems — opening up their wealth of knowledge to each other, creating solutions and opportunities to collaborate.

Flynn and I learned from our attendees about guest behaviour, online booking challenges, and even some success stories from the social media front lines. Rather than horde all of that good stuff, we’re sharing it here in hopes that we can continue to spark conversation and ideas, even outside of travel and tourism.

Lessons from the Road

First, we’ve got the one that everyone wants to talk about: Instagram. Whether you’ve got 100 or 100k+ followers I can promise you this: You’re pretty sure that you could be doing it better. Here are a few common IG themes that we heard:

  • IG Stories are driving real business. Even for brands under 10k followers, we heard from several businesspeople who told us that they’d been struggling with Instagram for a long time, but now that they’re able to share real time stories, people are interacting with them much more, and they’re seeing new guests coming in directly from their content. They’re doubling down on Stories as a content opportunity, investing more time and resources, and experimenting with Instagram Story ads to ramp up their results.
  • DMs as customer service. Another recurring theme, especially among the more mature digital brands, was that they’re starting to see a lot of their customer service interactions show up in their Direct Messages. Where people used to rely on the phone to ask about conditions, hours, or let them know that they left their iPhone chargers behind, those messages are increasingly popping up on Instagram. The advantage to that we heard, is that a front desk staff member or host can quickly fire through 5 or 10 guest requests in a few minutes, where they would previously spend that same amount of time answering a single phone call. We heard a lot of businesses after our sessions looking to ramp up training for the front desk staff, and share the DM responsibility among non-marketing people in the organization.
  • Ads are polarizing. Nearly everyone has tried promoting a post by now, and they’ve all seen increased reach and engagement numbers, but it’s mostly the more sophisticated marketers who reported seeing a direct boost in business from that ad spend. When we dug a bit deeper and compared the campaigns, two things became apparent: 1. The successful campaigns were using specific targeting to match their creative to their audiences, and: 2. Those posts looked a lot more like an organic post with a clear call to action than they did like an ad.

There was a lot of curiosity about the new email and data rules that we’re operating with brought on by GDPR and CASL. It seems that there is a lot of awareness that the rules have changed, but exactly what those rules are is unclear. The result is that a lot of brands are standing on the sidelines, choosing to do nothing with their lists rather than make a mistake.

Fortunately there are some clear, straightforward resources out there to help – we shared them with our groups, and we’ll share them here as well:

  • CASL: Gov’t of Canada guide – start by watching the video (it’s actually really good).
  • GDPR: PwC guide  – take the quiz to see if GDPR applies to you.

Content marketing was a key point of discussion. It’s been such a buzzword for so long that there’s a misconception that we’re somehow supposed to just create blog posts, videos, and photo galleries and push them out into the internet, praying that they somehow return with business results for us. Fortunately, we had some very smart content marketers in the rooms with us who shared the following lessons that they learned:

  • They start by asking their most loyal customers what they’d want to see and how they’d want to receive it.
  • They ask their front desk staff what their most commonly asked questions are.
  • They look at search engines (using tools like Google Trends) and social media (using basic search features on tools like Hootsuite) to see what their market is talking about.
  • They make great content.
  • They they send it directly to the people who were looking for it:
    • Those loyal customers love that their voice was heard.
    • The front desk staff uses the content as a follow up the next time someone calls or emails that same question.
    • They tweet, or email, the content to the people who had been talking about that topic.

There’s a mountain of insights and advice that I could share here, but I’ll limit to one more: Using social listening and alerts to clear up misinformation.

A few instances had come up where blogs had misreported information, or even news reporters had posted simple facts about a business incorrectly (hours of operation, links, policies, etc.). Those posts had created major problems for the front line staff who had to let people know that they’d been misinformed, or worse, people showed up when the doors were closed.

To combat misinformation online, we heard that businesses are setting up multiple sources of alerts that would let them know every time their brand was mentioned online, and they were making that a priority. Here’s a few methods:

  • Google Alerts as the foundation. They’re searching their brand names, names of the owners, and any other term that people use to refer to the business.
    • Alerts sends emails letting you know when there’s a new mention, so one Outlook user reported setting up a folder where all Alerts messages would get filtered, allowing her to scan through them in batches.
  • Hootsuite search for Twitter. They use similar search terms to Google alerts, and broaden them to include more general geographic or industry terms that are just good to know about.
  • for serious searchers. This one comes with a monthly fee, but for the businesses who wanted to take their online info seriously, it makes sense.
  • Regular TripAdvisor searches. There’s no auto-alert for this one, but we heard that people were making monthly, or weekly habits of searching not only through their own listings, but through TripAdvisor’s forums, and its search in general, to find stray mentions.

This is the stuff that I love seeing – when businesspeople feel confident enough to share their experiences with each other, and find that in nearly every room there’s someone who’s experienced the same struggle that they’re going through and can help them to find a solution.

As we closed our session, I called that out to my group, and I’ll call it out here as well: There’s no reason why that active collaboration and support needs to end when we walk out the door. Who are the businesses and businesspeople in your industry that are working on the same challenges, and how can you all support each other?

You can start that conversation on your own, and if you’d like to explore what it would look like for us to lead you in a workshop where you train, develop, and facilitate constructive conversations either within your team, or in collaboration with other organizations in your industry, we’d love to hear from you: