Tourism agencies across the state take advantage of social media

Taryn Pratt Sammons, manager of social media and media relations for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, is putting social media outlets to work for the CVB to attract more visitors to restaurants, hotels, attractions and events. She’s has been with the CVB for 4 1/2 years, the first two years in the sales department.

“Our primary social media outlet is Facebook,” she said. “We have a little over 14,000 fans, all organic. We don’t do ads to get likes. People who have seen other posts or our own posts friend us.”

Hand holding a Social Media 3d SphereSammons posts articles about the Coast, photos of restaurant meals, attractions and the like.

“On Facebook we talk about everything Gulf Coast to engage visitors, potential visitors and locals, who help us promote the area,” she said.

The CVB has two Twitter accounts. One for leisure travel events and the other for professionals. Sammons said that if there’s a travel conference on the Coast, attendees can use that account to information from the CVB.

The CVB’s YouTube account was created right after the BP oil crisis in 2010, Sammons said. “We wanted to show the country that there wasn’t oil on our beaches and that there were other things to do like restaurants and attractions.” Now the CVB posts videos of events.

Sammons also uses Pinterest, a photo-heavy social media platform, to promote the Coast. “Pinterest seems to be rising in the tourism industry,” she said. The photo boards showcasing the Coast present wedding ideas, events and the casinos. Food photos and recipes are hugely popular on Pinterest.

“Dining boards seem to be the most popular,” Sammons said. “Food is very visual.”

A new aid is Foodspotting. The mobile app guides users to local food near them.

“If you’re looking for gumbo, the search will give you photos and descriptions that people have posted around you like ‘this is the gumbo at Beau Rivage.’ You look at reviews and get to see a picture of the food. It’s a really neat app for recommendations.”

Sammons said the variety of social media to help the CVB attract visitors has produced good results.

“We’re very happy,” she said. “Facebook has been the most successful as far as getting people engaged. It’s not just us promoting the area, it’s other people talking good about the area, too.”

When the CVB posts on Facebook, it can trigger a variety of comments, Sammons said.

“If we post something about our nice weather and warm temperatures, some people in Illinois might post, ‘We can’t wait to get out of the snow,’ and then locals encourage them to come down,” she said.

The CVB tracks Facebook activity to get demographics and other information to gauge who they’re reaching.

On Twitter, Sammons monitors key words such as names of coastal cities to identify potential visitors interested in the area “so we can reach out to them.”

She said, “If someone tweets ‘We’re heading to the Mississippi Gulf Coast’ we can respond and send them a link. We try not to be pushy but more conversational to just chat with a visitor.” The direct interaction, Sammons said, “makes people feel special.”

Keeping up with all the social media platforms and technology developments is a challenge for Sammons, who also handles media relations for the CVB.

“As far as new social media and technology, we try to be on the cutting edge,” she said. A recent example of innovation in social media is Foodspotting, an app that is fairly new to tourism professionals, she said.

Sammons said she learned about the Foodspotting app at an educational conference on tourism communication.

“It helps us to stay on the cutting edge,” she said. “We are always looking at how we can stay tech savvy.”

Sammons said the CVB encourages Coast attractions and its other tourism partners to use social media to promote themselves and the area.

With the nonstop development of new technology and social media outlets, she said, you never know which one is going to be the next Facebook.

“Only time will tell,” she said. “I’m always excited to hear about it and to tackle it.”

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