The value of a website to tourism businesses, or indeed any business, is undisputed. However, doing it well – or badly - can mean the difference between having a fantastic showcase or an ineffectual one.
Yet it isn’t just a website that tourism businesses need to get right. At the time of publishing, Twitter had 645 million registered users generating some 45,000 Tweets per minute and Facebook 1.3 billion users sharing one billion pieces of content daily. Whilst LinkedIn remains the largest social media network in the world dedicated to business professionals with more than 300 million business members in 200 countries worldwide.
As a tourism business, you simply cannot afford not to be doing the basics of digital communications; and it is these which are discussed in the Tourism Intelligence Scotland ‘Managing your Online Reputation’ webinar.
Your website is your shop window and just as you, as a consumer, like to try before you buy you must provide customers visiting your website with the best possible introduction to your business.
Luckily, the internet is brimming with information on how to establish and maintain an effective website and the TIS ‘Shine Online’ guide is a fantastic place to start. Here you will find all manner of hints and tips including a link to 25 Beautiful Travel & Tourism websites and free online books on ways to enhance and promote a tourism website.
An outstanding website is one sure-fire way to positively manage your online reputation. From first entry, the site should convey your brand’s personality; at a minimum it should feature some striking photography (a very worthwhile investment for pulling in visitors), clear navigation and fast, effective functionality. Compelling, concise copy is also a must; so if you are not the best at this, consider a professional copywriter to help you convey your messages.
Needless to say, the best travel and tourism websites also have great maps and a booking system that allows customers to enquire, book and pay quickly and safely.
Blogs allow you to take a more informal, personal approach; talking about new developments, experiences and opinions that will give customers a sense of the people who will make their stay memorable. These are short and snappy - an optimum length is about 500 words.
Just as you know that word of mouth has always been the most powerful of communications; now the internet enables people to seek advice from an infinitely wider circle than the traditional set of friends and family.
You should view social media as an extension of your shop window, or, as Lesley Wood puts it on the Managing your Online Reputation webinar, “an extension of the telephone”. Where once customers would have picked up the phone, they are now choosing to trawl the internet for as much information as possible about where to go, where to stay and what to do. And that includes third party reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor and Google.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn each have their own character, so it’s worth investing a little time in exploring them and asking friends, family and business colleagues about their experiences with them.
We’ve all heard stories of how even the biggest companies have got it wrong; take BA’s mishandling of one customers lost luggage, which saw his promoted Tweet about the poor customer service being seen by more than 76,000 users. There are also plenty examples of best practice from which to take inspiration, and these are discussed on the Managing your Online Reputation webinar.
As the world’s largest social network, Facebook has been keen to develop the network’s marketing potential and have produced a handy guide for business.
You can create a hub for your business, introduce media-rich content such as video and – at a modest cost - adopt a strategy for introducing your business to specific types of user via promoted content and targeted advertising on the platform.
This social networking and micro blogging service enables users to send and read messages called Tweets, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the user’s profile page; they can contain links to other online content such as images and video or to your website.
Tweets are publicly visible by default; however, senders can restrict direct messages to their ‘followers’. Users can subscribe to other users’ Tweets – this is known as following.
Signing up for Twitter is simple. Go to www.twitter.com, pick a username that is as close to your business name as possible and a password that won’t easily be forgotten. If you are using a Twitter account to promote your business it’s best to link it to a work email address. If more than one person is going to be responsible for managing a company Twitter account, it’s advisable to set up an address than can be accessed by more than one person e.g. email@example.com.
Complete your profile by selecting suitable images. Twitter has recently developed its template to allow for uploading a panoramic image that best represents an individual or business, so choose carefully. Likewise, the 160-character bio is an opportunity to convey the essence of your business.
As the biggest player in the business social media market, it can be easy to become lost in the crowd. The priority, therefore, is to carve a niche that will help you forge alliances with like-minded businesses/individuals.
The more formal tone of LinkedIn calls for a business-like photograph and headline conveying the essence of what you want to say e.g. The Gleneagles® Hotel is a magnificent 'French chateau' set amid gently rolling hills in the heart of Scotland.
Additional fundamentals for successful use of LinkedIn include a simple description of the product/service you provide together with up-to-date contacts for further information and posting interesting content that may help an individual or business’s prospects.
There are also other platforms such as Instagram; Pinterest etc. which you might decide work best for you. The TIS ‘Shine Online’ guide provides inspiration on communicating with your market and maximising the benefits of current and future technologies, as well as links to examples of best practice.
One business that has embraced digital technology by making use of social media to reach their customers, and win new ones is Mull Eagle Watch. Read about how Mull Eagle Watch creates a buzz about the experience that people can have at their venue. Further case study examples can be found on TIS website.