Social media is moving so fast that many organisations find some basic rules quite helpful.
This is a one of a series of tips we've created for travel companies to consider when thinking about developing a social media campaign. These ideas focus on Twitter and we hope you find them useful to share, use and develop.
A. What? These notes are designed to help travel companies and tourist boards to establish and maintain a corporate presence on the microblogging social network Twitter.com. They provide guidance for the communications team and other third parties who might manage a destination's Twitter presence. We cover:
- Risks and mitigation - how we will contain the risks to our corporate reputation
- Channel proposition and management - how to use the channel effectively
- Promotional plan - how we will promote our presence on Twitter to maximise value
B. Twitter overview Twitter is a 'microblogging' platform that allows users to post short text messages (up to 140 characters in length) and converse with other users via their phones or web browsers. Unlike email or text messaging on mobile phones, these conversations are public. The platform is popular amongst a number of important travel stakeholders including celebrities, politicians, marketers and journalists. It is free to use with a relatively low impact on resources and has the potential to deliver many benefits in support of a destination's communications objectives.
C. Why use Twitter? The rationale for using Twitter is that it:
- Extends reach of existing travel organisation messages online, e.g. promoting and linking to news, press releases, web updates, YouTube videos, crisis statements etc
- Enables the development of relationships with relevant audiences including intermediaries,
stakeholders, and key influencers such as journalists and bloggers
- Provides an informal, 'human' voice of the organisation to promote understanding of and engagement with our stakeholders
- Provides a destination with an important listening and feedback channel
- Provides a direct link to all destination web content
D Risks There are risks associated with creating a Twitter presence. Here are some of those risks with recommendations:
D1. Criticism arising from an inability to meet the demands of Twitter users to join conversations/answer enquiries, due to resource and clearance issues or an overwhelming amount of Tweets (e.g. during a crisis/natural disaster).
- Use holding replies where answer will need research.
- If an overwhelming number of tweets are received, respond to 'themes' not individual replies.
D2. Criticism that a destination's use of Twitter is out of keeping with the ethos of the platform (e.g. too formal, self-promoting or 'dry')
- Reduce by agreeing appropriate tone for a travel organisation's Twitter feed that will be adopted by all parties managing the Twitter feed.
- Source varied content from related web sources and other Twitter users, not just pushing a tourist board's corporate messaging.
- Accept that there will be some criticism regardless.
D3. Inappropriate content being published in error, e.g. news releases under embargo, information related to crisis management tweeted without approval, personal tweet sent in error
- Ensure Twitter feed is managed only by experienced Twitter users who have read and understood these guidelines.
- Ensure clearance of tweets about selected issues/themes (e.g. crisis related) through a destination communications team.
D 4. Technical security of the Twitter account and potential for hacking and vandalism of content
- Change Twitter password every month using strong passwords; only one nominated tourist board or relevant agency team member to have access to updated password.
- Avoid using unknown 3rd party applications that require the account password, e.g. listorious.com
D5. Lack of availability due to Twitter being over capacity
- Accept that this affects all Twitter users and occurs rarely.
D6. In the event of a crisis or disaster, Twitter users will seek official sources of information and advice and show concern for the safety/wellbeing of those affected. There is a risk that a tourist board or travel organisation feed might fail to provide timely and appropriate help and guidance via Twitter in the event of a crisis in the region
- Ensure that the appropriate source of official information (other Twitter feed or dedicated website/page etc) is clearly highlighted at earliest stage via the Twitter feed.
- Link frequently to appropriate area of the tourist board's website, or other regularly updated sources of official information and assistance.
- Ensure that a member of the crisis team is available and can provide regular Twitter updates to the feed or to the person administering the tourist board's Twitter feed.
- Avoid promotional tweets about destinations, resorts and celebrities during any crisis.
D 7. Changes to the Twitter platform or service, e.g. charging for use of service
- Review the business case for continued use of service.
- Amend these guidelines and procedures appropriately.
D8. Twitter cyber squatting or impersonation, e.g. non-related feeds are created by impersonators that provide misleading or malicious information.
- Reduce risk by registering alternative Twitter names
- Monitor for impersonation and review Twitter terms of service and advice before reporting spoof or malicious accounts to Twitter http://support.twitter.com/entries/15789-how-to-file-terms-of-service-or-rules-complaints
E. Channel proposition and management
E1 How should the Twitter feed be used?
- To listen and monitor to conversations related to the travel organisation
- To gain insight from the travel organisation's stakeholders and inform communications strategy
- To develop relationships and engage with key travel organisation stakeholders such as journalists
- To signpost web content providing information about the travel organisation and related partner activity
- To act as a central hub amplifying and promoting and highlighting news and ideas on Twitter from tourism stakeholders
- To assist with travel organisation crisis communications
Though the account will be anonymous, tweets from multiple sources should be presented in a consistent tone.
Ensure that the Twitter profile links to appropriate area of the tourist board website.
The background image can be used to provide additional, non-linking profile information that can clearly highlight when the feed is manned - i.e. Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm (GMT or Caribbean time???).
The New Twitter interface means that this information needs to be on the right hand side of image and clearly visible through the transparent green area on the right hand side of the screen.
Note that users accessing Twitter through desktop applications such as Seesmic, Tweetdeck and mobile Twitter applications such as the iphone Twitter App will not see this information, therefore it is important to clearly highlight on the tourist board website when social channels such as Twitter and Facebook are manned and any social media policies:
E3 Following others
The travel organisation should pro-actively follow other relevant organisations and professionals by seeking them out through services such as Listorous.com and Twitter search. Automated following services are not recommended, but it is good Twitter etiquette to follow people back when they follow you if they appear to be genuine Twitter accounts and users
E4 Direct messaging
The travel organisation can send Direct Messages (DMs) to individual users provided it follows the user and the user follows the travel organisation
These are private and can only be seen by the sender and recipient. It is good etiquette to send DMs to users if a conversation with a particular individual is lengthy, informal in nature and could be irrelevant and annoying to others following.
The travel organisation should include keywords in its updates in order to associate those updates with a particular place, event, trend or issue by adding a hash sign (#) in front of a word, e.g. #ecotourism.
At events and conferences, Twitter users or event organizers will often agree a common tag to identify themselves to each other and collate their thoughts and Tweets e.g. 2010 World Travel Market Conference might be#wtm2010. A travel organisation should use hashtags in this way. Do not use inappropriate or trending hashtags to reach a wider but untargeted audience, e.g. #Apple, #stevejobs.
E6 Images and videos
There are many Twitter applications that can enable instant publishing of videos and images linked to a Twitter feed, e.g. Twitphoto and Twitvid. It is recommended that where possible, the tourist board publishes photos on Flickr and videos and YouTube and uses bitly.com to create a shortened link to the source. This may not be possible at live events or in crisis communications where timeliness can be critical, so in this case other instant applications may be used.
E7 Content principles
Content for a travel organsiation's Twitter channel should be:
- Varied: Tweets should be variesd and sourced from multiple, relevant content channels to retain interest levels
- Human: Twitter users can be hostile to the over-use of automation (such as generating Twitter content entirely from RSS feeds) and to re-gurgitation of press releases. While corporate in message, the Twitter tone should be informal spoken English and paraphrased for the limitations of 140 characters.
- Frequent: A minimum of 3x weekly tweets and maximum 10 tweets per working day to avoid flooding followers. (n.b.. excludes @replies to other Twitter users, or live coverage of a crisis/event)
- Re-tweetable: To make it easy for others to re-tweet the most important announcements, restrict those tweets to under 120 characters
- Timely: Tweets will be about issues of relevance today or future events/opportunities coming soon. Replies to individuals or themes should be within 2 hours if received during working hours.
- Credible: Where possible there should be an actual link to related content from influential sources or a call to action
- Inclusive: The travel organisation should highlight relevant content elsewhere on the web and re-tweet messages from stakeholders. Exclusive use of Twitter for self-promotion can lead to criticism
F Suitable types and sources of content
Leveraging existing web content - e.g. News releases, speeches and reports published on the web. Where possible publish a shortened link using a service such as bitly.com which can provide data showing how many people have shared the link and clicked through to the associated web page.
Marketing campaign messages - Information about events that the tourist board is involved with, campaign materials, videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr as well as any new rich media content on our other social channels, e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
Exclusive content - Updates on key spokespeople movements, celebrity visits. Pre-announcement and promotion of forthcoming events. Conversations, Tweets and coverage during and post event. Highlighting relevant research, events, awards etc elsewhere on the web to position the tourist board as thought leader and reliable filter of high quality content.
Asking and answering questions - The tourist board can ask questions of its Twitter followers for immediate insight. More often, it will answer questions from its followers. These answers will be visible to all, not just the person who asked them.
Crisis communications - In the event of a major incident where the tourist board needs to provide up to the minute advice and guidance, Twitter would be used as a primary channel alongside the corporate website, Facebook and YouTube.
Other website updates - New or updated sections on the tourist board website or from key partners websites. The travel organisation should actively seek opportunities to re-tweet content that helps position the tourist board as a filter of business intelligence for stakeholders. Consider re-tweeting interesting content that shows up in the travel organisation's Twitter stream, e.g. research, events etcE Promotion of a travel organisationTwitter feed
G. Promotion of a travel organisation's Twitter feed
A travel organisation Twitter feed can be promoted by:
- A link from the travel organisation's website homepage and in the editors' notes on relevant press releases
- A link from the travel organisation's other social media outlets, i.e. Facebook, YouTube
- Finding and following relevant Twitter users
- Asking key influencers on Twitter to announce us to their own Twitter stream, via "Follow Friday" when twitter users suggest other interesting people to follow
- Adding the link to the email signatures of all travel organisation staff
If you have any other thoughts, or advice please share it with us.