Kristal - Welcome to YorkshireKristal Ireland is Digital Marketing Manager at Welcome to Yorkshire, and has been using social media to crowdsource content and promote the county as a tourist destination. 

This has included experiments with Foursquare, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, as well as a couple of iPhone apps. 

I’ve been talking to Kristal about using social media tools to promote tourism, and crowdsourcing great content for the website. 

Can you tell us a bit about Welcome to Yorkshire?

We are the tourist board for Yorkshire, and rebranded as Welcome to Yorkshire about 18 months ago. The idea was to make it a more dynamic brand, we like to push the boundaries. 

This sets the scene for what we want to do with digital, using all of the available channels to push our brand out there with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of visits to Yorkshire. 

We are funded by the Regional Development Agency; we’re now in year two of a three-year programme. 

Let’s start with Foursquare. You created a branded page last year, how has this worked for you so far? 

Welcome to Yorkshire was the first tourist board in Europe to have a branded Foursquare page. We wanted to be innovative and test the water with geo-location tools. 

We trained about 400 to 500 of our members on using Foursquare to claim their business, set up offers etc. 

Tourist boards do get accused of being boring with their marketing, and just printing leaflets but this is something different, and it didn’t cost us anything to set up. 

We have around 4,500 friends on the page, and I’ve been monitoring the level of check-ins, and have been seeing a steady uplift in the numbers. 

I think London and the South is the main area for Foursquare adoption so far, and it hasn’t hit any kind of critical mass yet, but we were interested in exploring the possibilities for its use in promoting Yorkshire.

How have you been crowdsourcing content using social media? 

We have done a lot of this via social media channels, it’s all about asking questions of people and getting them to participate rather than just pushing the message out. 

For example, we have been using Facebook to find the best pub in Yorkshire, and these kind of questions and surveys create some great tips for visitors. 

As part of a destinations project we’ve been running via, we’ve been asking people to contribute content on for visitors to the site. 

This is born out of research on what people are looking for when they visit the site. They want local knowledge about the places they visit, they want to know what the ‘hidden gems’ are, and they want things like lists of top ten things to do etc. 

We are playing on Yorkshire pride here to get some great content by making the population the key advocates. There has been some great response so far and social media is really helping us to create content, and get the buy-in from local people. 

We’ve also been using Flickr, and have created groups for each of the destinations in Yorkshire. We have been inviting people to post their pictures of various places around the county and using these pictures on the website. 

How many visitors does the main website get? 

We’ve had 4m unique visits since the launch 18 months ago, and we are always looking to improve the user experience and add more functionality, things like integrating Google Maps. 

You also have an iPhone app; can you tell me about it? 

Yes, we’ve had over 8,000 downloads of the app so far. It uses geo-location and serves users suggested destinations within a certain number of miles of their current location. 

Users can build up to-do lists, and plan an itinery for their visit. This is also integrated with Google Maps so people can find directions to their chosen destination. 

For phase two of the app, we want to pull in more social media sharing. It’s very much experimental. 

What are you doing to measure the impact of this social media activity? 

People want to know how much a Like on Facebook is worth, or x number of Twitter followers, but these can be hard to measure. 

It’s less easy to quantify direct sales, but we use our own monitoring tool and look our share of voice across media channels compared to our competitors. 

It’s not really all about stats though; we want to engage with key bloggers and Twitter users to help promote our message. 

We will get to a point where we can track back a visit to a particular attraction to a starting point on a social media platform but at the moment it’s all part of the marketing mix. 

Did you have any problems in ‘convincing the boss’ about using various social media platforms to promote Yorkshire tourism? 

Well, we can’t be distracted from the core job on, and we have to be well managed as far as time spent on social media projects is concerned. 

I’m lucky that the management here is very supportive of what we have been doing, but we have been going the extra mile to support our social media presence – working on things out of normal office hours, tweeting around TV programmes related to Yorkshire and so on. 

We have demonstrated a passion for using social media, and this has helped us to get buy in from senior stakeholders. Using these tools, working with social media has made our jobs more enjoyable. 

Have you got businesses in the county to buy in to the use of social media? 

Yes, we have been working with the industry to upskill them by running social media workshops. 

There is a varied skill level but we are finding plenty of enthusiasm. For example, I spoke to someone running a falconry centre in Thirsk who was thinking about using social media. 

Within a couple of weeks of the workshop, he had Twitter and Foursquare profiles up and running. He has great content, lots of information and fantastic photos of his birds of prey. 

Technology is only as good as the content on offer, and you need the passion to get involved and really engage with your followers or customers. 

In the current economic climate, businesses have to look at cost-effective tolls that can promote their business, and social media fits the bill. 

People enjoy doing it, staff are engaged, and people want to work with us to help promote Yorkshire.