Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last 6 months, you canít fail but to have noticed that the website Twitter is the latest Ďbig thingí, with high profile celebrity users and seemingly blanket coverage in the media. With this high profile, it is not surprising that a number of tourism enterprises and destinations are already using Twitter and a much larger number are actively considering using it. This article attempts to provide some useful insights and information for those in the latter group. It seeks to answer some key questions, such as;
- What is Twitter?
- How popular is Twitter?
- Is Twitter an effective marketing tool for tourism destinations?
- What can we learn from the tourism destinations already using Twitter?
What is Twitter?
Twitter launched in July 2006 and is the most popular of an estimated 100 websites that offer micro-blogging. This is a form of multimedia blogging that allows users to send brief text updates or micromedia such as photos or audio clips and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, digital audio or the web. The content of a micro-blog differs from a traditional blog in that it is typically smaller in actual size. A single entry could consist of a single sentence or fragment or an image or a brief, ten second video.
How popular is Twitter?
According to web monitoring firm Hitwise Twitter is the fastest growing website in the UK. During the 12 months to June 2009, traffic to the site grew 22-fold. In May, 2009, 37.3 million people visited Twitter.com (Source: Techcrunch).
Although official figures for the number of users with accounts on Twitter are not available, industry estimates put the figure at between 6 and 10 million users. Twitter forecasts that it will have 25 million users by the end of 2009 and 350 million by the end of 2011 (making it twice the size of Facebook).
How effective is Twitter as a marketing tool for tourism destinations?
Unfortunately there has been very little research into the effectiveness of Twitter as a marketing tool for visitor destinations. However, below we provide a few insights.
Driving traffic to travel websites
- Twitter has an increasingly important role as a source of traffic for other websites. For instance, during May 2009 Twitter was the 30th biggest source of traffic for other sites in the UK, accounting for 1 in every 350 visits to a typical website (Source: Hitwise).
- However, less than 1 in 50 users (2%) click through from Twitter to travel websites. By way of comparison Google sends 7% of its traffic to travel websites, while for Facebook the figure is 3%.
Popularity of tourism destinations
- Another way to measure the usefulness of Twitter for tourism is to look at how many people actually choose to follow the Twitter feeds of tourism destinations (in Twitter lingo, these are called followers). The table below presents the number of followers for a selection of UK tourism destinations.
|Organisation||Twitter Account Name||Number of Followers|
|Average||2,716 (Figs as at 15 Oct 2009)|
|Organisation||Twitter account name||Number of Followers|
|Average (excl. London)||796 (Figs as at 15 Oct 2009)|
You can see from the tables above that;
- Tourism destinations attract relatively modest amounts of followers, especially when compared with the hundreds of thousands of people that follow major celebrities.
- For instance, the 3 UK-based national tourist boards that are currently on Twitter attract an average of 2,716 followers. VisitBritain has the most followers (5,369) with VisitScotland the lowest (1,378).
- The average provincial tourism destination included in the table above attracts 796 followers. VisitLancashire is the most popular (with 1,407 followers) whilst Visit York has the least followers(289)
What can we learn from tourism destinations using Twitter?
- It is not sufficient to simply use Twitter as a channel for releasing mini-press releases. People want real insights and not PR-speak. For a review of which Tourist Boards do Twitter well and which ones make a ham fist of it, this article from The Times makes interesting reading
- Twitter accounts need updating regularly, at least once a day. Nothing will kill your credibility on Twitter faster than an infrequently updated Ďfeedí.
- Maintaining a Twitter account can take-up substantial resources. We are talking here, not so much in terms of upfront costs, but certainly in terms of personnel. You need to think carefully about whether you have sufficient resources to regularly update your Twitter feed. If this isnít possible but you want to maintain a regular online dialogue, you might be better off setting up a blog, where there arenít the same expectations about the frequency of update. (You can set up your blog so that new entries are also fed to Twitter).
- Twitter is supposed to be a two-way communication medium so it is necessary to answer any destination questions that users send your way.
- It is likely that followers of tourist destinations on Twitter are people who already have some connection or affinity with your destination (e.g. residents, ex-residents, people who have committed to a visit).
- Make sure that you promote your Twitter feed on your website, your blog (if you have one) and on other promotional material. It may seem obvious but some destinations that are already using Twitter donít provide links to their Twitter feed from their own destination website.
- Donít just measure success on the number of followers. Also look at the growth rate of followers, the number of interactions with visitors and the number of clicks-through from your posted Tweets to your destination web-pages.
Twitter looks set to increase in popularity for the foreseeable future. However, Twitter as a mainstream phenomena is a relatively recent one and it is still very early days in terms of working out how destinations should best engage with Twitter. Should you take the plunge? Well, hopefully this article has provided some useful information to help you decide whether Twitter is right for your tourism destination but ultimately you need to think of Twitter as just one way in which you can communicate to your various audiences. A good way to go would be to follow the example being set by an increasing number of businesses (and not just those in the travel sector). These businesses are considering Twitter in the context of drawing up broader social media strategies. These strategies look at a whole range of things such as engagement with Facebook, bloggers, YouTube, Flickr etc. These case studies from Visit London and Visit England provide some useful insights into the process of strategy setting.
How are travel companies using Twitter to add value? (EyeforTravel)