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Savannah's visitors use social media for planning and on the ground

Although hard to imagine today, it wasn’t that long ago all of us were wondering what impact this new craze called “social media” would have on our daily lives. Well, so much for that great mystery.

I recently read an article online (of course) that said “… email is already a thing of the past” and instant messaging and social conversations are here to stay.

Is that a good thing? I’m not one to judge. But I do know this: When it comes to travel planning, social media marketing is where it’s at in today’s competitive world.

Our most current tourism research data deliver that message loud and clear. From 2011 to 2012, overnight travelers who “used social media for travel” went up from 52 percent to a whopping 75 percent — more than a 44 percent increase. For people taking day trips, say from a vacation week on Hilton Head to Savannah for shopping, dining or touring, last year’s number grew to 77 percent.

Even the savviest marketers could not have projected that level of growth.

Think about it. Many people today read their favorite travel, lifestyle or food publications on their smartphones or tablets. From there, exploring a destination, restaurant or an attraction is easy on Yelp, TripAdvisor or similar websites driven by user-generated content.

The so-called “blog-o-sphere” is chock full of every type of commentary about travel. From Digital Nomad to Solo Traveler to our own Savannah Secrets, it doesn’t take much to get somebody’s personal opinions and observations about a city or site that you may want to check out.

At Visit Savannah, we embraced the social media wave as early-adopters. When we got into it, our top travel and tourism industry expert “talking heads” had no idea where it was all going. But we took it seriously and hoped for the best.

Our communications and marketing team spend countless hours updating our social media sites every day of the year, and the discussion is fascinating.

Earlier this year, we topped 100,000 Facebook “likes” and more than 25,000 Twitter “followers.” And as much as we love YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram, we’re also heavily into Pinterest and Vine.

Wait. You haven’t heard of Vine? Well, get with it. Vine is the hottest new social media platform out there that lets smartphone users create short, six-second looping videos in a simple and easy-to-do way that allows viewers to enjoy a snapshot of what is going on in their world.

While at a travel industry tradeshow recently, international buyers visiting our booth were not interested in our paper handouts or our zip drives with all of our photos and information on them.

Instead they asked to view our Vine to see how other visitors to Savannah were capturing their own experiences.

And so it goes.

In today’s world, organizations and businesses must be nimble enough to adjust to the constantly changing times. Sure, this theory is not taught in business schools and classes every day, but those changes are coming more rapidly than ever before, and you must stay tuned-in to be relevant and competitive.

The Visit Savannah social media team is not only trying to affect travel-buying decisions while prospective travelers are “shopping” for where they want to go, but also once they get here.

For example, if we post that a certain show in town still has tickets available at the last minute, those advertising with us can be sure that people visiting our city that day who are also on social media will see that special offer and purchase the remaining inventory — all usually within hours of show time.

Our social media manager Amy Brock once told me: “If I put a picture of blooming azaleas in front of a Savannah mansion or in one of our beautiful squares, it’s like putting gold out there. People just want to be there!”

If you have not done so yet, check out Visit Savannah on Facebook (VisitSavannahGA) or on Twitter (@VisitSavannah) to see how we do it. And, be sure to read the comments that follow.

Seeing and reading about the love and desire that people have for our city is amazing.

Social media marketing: It is here to stay; it does work; and it can help your business grow.

Joe Marinelli is the president of Visit Savannah. He can be reached at 912-644-6437 or jmarinelli@VisitSavannah.com.

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In Case You Missed It