Selling North Dakota: Instagram a tourism tool
by Cally Peterson
Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, oh my! In this age of digital connectedness and evolving multimedia content, finding one’s foothold in the online world may seem like a daunting task. Where should a business start?
“Come up with a strategy first,” says Kim Schmidt, public relations and digital communications manager for N.D. Tourism, a division of the N.D. Department of Commerce. “You don’t have very much time to capture people’s attention, especially in the multimedia world that we’re in right now.”
WHERE SHOULD WE BE PUTTING OUR EFFORT?
In 2008, N.D. Tourism began to develop its social media presence. “We kept on top of the research and tried to stay with the trends,” Schmidt says.
Today, N.D. Tourism engages with users on the three major social media sites – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But over the past few years, Instagram has grown in popularity, and N.D. Tourism took note.
“Instagram is a visual social platform,” where users share photo and video content, explains Alicia Jolliffe, social media strategist for N.D. Tourism. “It doesn’t focus as much on conversations, as it does on sharing imagery.”
Last June, Instagram announced that it had reached 1 billion monthly active users. Half of those are also considered daily active users.
“When the Instagram platform started to become popular, we saw it as a great opportunity, because it’s about imagery, it’s about inspiration – and that’s exactly what we, at Tourism, try to do,” Schmidt says.
Because Instagram is a platform for sharing photo and video content, it’s proven itself to be a successful marketing tool, especially for the tourism industry.
“It captures the essence of our state and what we have to offer. The visuals sell themselves,” Schmidt says. “People can picture themselves having those experiences.”
N.D. Tourism has 28,600 followers on its Instagram profile – northdakotalegendary – which grows about 500 users a month organically, Jolliffe says. In comparison to tourism divisions in states with similar population size, Vermont has 30,700 followers and Wyoming boasts 78,900 followers on their respective Instagram profiles.
Follower numbers, however, don’t alone capture a user’s or profile’s reach on a social media platform. Jolliffe reports that N.D. Tourism’s Instagram profile is seeing anywhere from 120,000 to 150,000 impressions per week. That means that N.D. Tourism’s content, whether a picture or video, is shown to Instagram users between 120,000 and 150,000 times, on average, in a given week.
What kind of content is N.D. Tourism sharing on Instagram? Approximately 90 percent of it is user-generated content, Jolliffe says, meaning that someone else creates a video or takes a photo, and N.D. Tourism shares it with its own audience through the Instagram platform.
“When it comes to really inspiring people on a social platform to visit North Dakota, we’ve found success in observing what other people are doing, finding out what experiences they’re having, and then repurposing their content,” Jolliffe explains. “We’re trying to share other people’s experiences, and then let you decide for yourself.”
“It’s like word-of-mouth on social media,” Schmidt adds. By portraying North Dakota through the lens of visitors, travelers and residents, N.D. Tourism is able to “give the best representation of what there is to do and see.”
“We could have shot (photos) all day and not captured that same experience that (an Instagram user) saw through (his/her) eyes,” Schmidt says.
“(Social media) is important to your marketing, your customers and your presence in the online world,” Jolliffe says. “We’re really transitioning to a point in marketing where social (media) is an extension of your website.”
Instagram reported, in an August 2017 press release, that individuals under age 25 spend more than 32 minutes a day, on average, perusing the social media platform, while those 25 and older spend over 24 minutes a day doing the same.
“We strongly encourage anybody, from the small-town museum to the larger destinations, to get involved in social media, because it’s an opportunity for them to tell their stories through their eyes,” Schmidt says. “We have a number of tools here at Commerce, and we’re happy to help any way we can.”
Ultimately, Schmidt says, having more North Dakota tourism-related businesses with a social media presence benefits the entire state. N.D. Tourism’s efforts may inspire a trip to North Dakota, but it’s the people, organizations and businesses that create experiences.
“Travelers not only want to ‘do as the locals do,’ but they want to have those unique, eclectic experiences,” Schmidt says. “We work really closely with our partners, convention and visitors bureaus and our local communities to deliver on those experiences.”