Four Ways to Make Locals Key Players in Your Marketing Strategy

By Camille Leonard

Four Ways to Make Locals Key Players in Your Marketing Strategy

It's time to think about how locals can help build your brand. DMAI identifies community alignment as a vitally important ingredient to the branding and marketing success of destinations. Find the experts in your community and use their voices to elevate your destination. Read time: 5 minutes

DMOs across the country, regardless of size, seem to be faced with a similar set of marketing problems to tackle—attracting visitors and meetings on limited budgets, finding the time to create fresh and authentic content, and convincing stakeholders and local government that your efforts serve their best interests. In the Destination NEXT 2021 Futures study, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) identified community alignment as a vitally important ingredient to the branding and marketing success of destinations. Very little can be accomplished within a destination, if entities are not working together. With this in mind, your Destination Marketing team could use a few new team members. Team members who love your community. Team members who are proud of the things your destination has to offer. Team members that are your cheerleaders. Here are a few ideas on how locals could add some pep to your DMO marketing program.

1. Harness the power of these locals by establishing a Tourism Ambassador Program.

There are several organizations offering training for front–line employees in hotels, restaurants and attractions. This training works to align your brand messaging to the visitor experience. Destination-smart drivers, servers, tour guides, hotel staff, and even police, pass in-depth knowledge to visitors in a way that reflects positively on your community. This approach creates a carefully coached team that supports the DMO’s mission. Some of these programs, like CTA, offer certification and ongoing training. There are over 15,000 communities across the country with CTA Designations. The I Am Mobile! Tourism Ambassador Program, created by Visit Mobile, recruited locals from all areas of interest to serve in a volunteer capacity. After a fun, six-week training program, certified Mobile Ambassadors attend local conventions, events and gatherings as support for the Visit Mobile staff. Perks of participation included free admission to area attractions and weekly prizes for top quiz scorers. Visit Mobile’s program gained so much interest that it was sold out just 3.5 hours after launching online registration the first year! They welcomed 80 new members to their team of destination experts. The ultimate goal—graduating thousands of ambassadors advancing tourism and enhancing visitor satisfaction in their area. Oswego County Tourism, from Oswego County, New York, hosts a one-day symposium covering topics from professionals on social media marketing, the hospitality and visitor experience, to the state of local attractions. Participants received valuable insights at this annual event making them key players in support of the efforts of Oswego County Promotion and Tourism.

Informed local ambassadors who understand the relationship between room nights and economic development can help shape the conversation about the importance of tourism on a grassroots level. They know a delightful visitor experience results in a win-win for both the tourism industry and the local economy.

2. Smart DMOs are using local talent to augment and enlarge their capabilities.

Just think of the opportunities! Ambassadors working as greeters in airports, helping to distribute welcome packs to accommodations, staffing welcome tables, assisting with conference registration, and more. The Lee County (Florida) Visitor & Convention Bureau has taken advantage of its local ambassadors and has staffed the Southwest Florida International Airport with volunteers. These knowledgeable volunteers answer approximately 275,000 questions a year at 5 booths located throughout the airport. One booth manned by German-speaking volunteers assists visitors disembarking from Air Berlin. Imagine a bilingual support team helping your marketing team prepare to greet the growing international market—out of love for your destination!

3. Build a team of social superstars.

Your community is filled with experts who are local players in their fields. Find a resident foodie or chef, a colorful historian, a local crafter, and a young professional in the know about nightlife or trends—highlighting expertise that supports your destination’s strengths. Invite them to guest blog and build a playbook of rotating content that promotes the assets of your community. These expert bloggers lend authenticity and personality to your destination marketing efforts—and by the way, are rewarded by the opportunity to promote their passion. Photography is the language of experience. Rich, emotional imagery sells your community best—that is if it’s seen. Make the most of the visual nature of social media to maximize your exposure. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are continuing to refine their offerings with features that are travel-brand friendly. Skift, the largest travel industry intelligence platform details the new and powerful “rich” pins you should be using in this article. Pinterest recommends creating a board of their Place Pins, one of the rich pins launched in 2013. You can set up boards and invite influencers or groups to take over that board for the week. For example, if you’ve got a Pinterest board for the museums in your city, invite the Public Relations or Marketing officer from your arts organizations to Pin on that board for the week. You could cycle through many of your boards by organizing stakeholder takeovers just once a month and reward your followers with exciting, new content.

4. Share a dedicated hashtag to steer your team toward their goal.

As your DMO builds a team of locals invested in seeing the community succeed with visitors, you can tie their efforts together with a dedicated hashtag. Originally utilized to support linking tweets together in a common thread on Twitter, hashtagged phrases now connect conversations on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest as well. Select a short, easy-to-remember phrase—make it unique to your city or brand. Then begin using it in your social posts, replies and comments. Encourage restaurants, shops, attractions and accommodations to utilize your DMO hashtag to populate your feed with posts from their social media accounts. Using hashtags will increase the post exposure and can be very valuable when promoting events. Don’t forget to use your hashtag outside of social media too. Just like your destination’s URL, your dedicated hashtag can (and should!) appear in traditional media. Think about adding your hashtag to your destination’s visitor guide, rack cards and even magazine ads. Encourage local users to use your hashtag by acknowledging their posts with a contest, repost or post of the week badge. Or go further—reward your fans and followers with hashtag swag. A good hashtag might make a great t-shirt! Even small to medium-sized CVBs are harnessing the power of social media through hashtags and other searchable data. Platforms such as Crowdriff allow authentic, fresh content sourced by locals as well as visitors to populate their websites and appear in marketing materials. Don’t be discouraged if this effort doesn’t take off overnight. This effort, like any other team building, takes practice and coaching. A local ambassador team can bring winning numbers to your feeds that your DMO staff couldn’t accomplish on their own. There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week. And there are only so many tasks each person on your team can do. Growing a team of ambassadors to help spread the word about all your city has to offer is a winning strategy. Whether through formal certification programs, annual informational meetings, volunteers strategically placed throughout the community, guest blog posts, or social media takeovers, utilizing locals is a way to get a little extra hustle in your marketing game.