Welcome to our series of interviews with local (and sometimes national) leaders in the social media and technology industry that will be featured on the Tourism Tech Corner. Today’s interview with Anne Hornyak (Senior Social Media Strategist at Sparkloft Media – an agency that primarily focuses on developing social media strategies and managing campaigns, social CRM, social videos, influencer marketing, social meetings, social SEO or social media policies and procedures for tourism agencies around the world) who is one of the co-founders and hosts of #tourismchat, a biweekly Twitter chat all about social media for the tourism industry. actually given to Remco Timmermans in the Netherlands a few weeks ago. He’s graciously allowed the Tourism Tech Corner to host the English translation of the interview. I’m glad to be able to host this interview since I’ve been participating in #tourismchat from its inception.#tourismchat on Facebook #tourismchat on Twitter @WhosYourAnnie @TourismChat @timmermansr
Anne Hornyak – #tourismchat
In January 2010 a group of people in the US started a bi-weekly online meeting on Twitter, under the #tourismchat hashtag. The chat was organized for professionals involved in social media for DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) and CVB’s (Convention and Visitors Bureaus). These often small organizations frequently had similar technical questions about their use of social media. In the chat they could easily reach out to their peers to share experiences with different social media and exchange tips. This concept of a regular scheduled tweetup quickly caught on. The number of participants increased from a few dozen in the beginning, until up to a hundred in the last few chats. Co-founder Anne Hornyak (@WhosYourAnnie) was in the Netherlands this week. She traveled together with Coos Bay DMO Manager Katherine Hoppe (@OregonKat), also a #tourismchat participant from the beginning. I asked them the following questions:
Where did you get the idea for the #tourismchat?
A colleague introduced me to a successful online chat for journalists, the #journchat. It looked like a great platform to use for subjects I had lots of questions about myself. I work on social media projects for tourism organizations, and I noticed many of my peers and clients had questions about the use of social media. So I came up with a new hashtag and invited my existing network to talk about social media in tourism at a certain date and time. It quickly became clear that this satisfied a certain demand.
How does #tourismchat work?
The chat is held every other week at a predetermined date and time. We announce this date and time on Facebook and Twitter. We chose a time in the middle of the day (3-4pm Eastern), because we reach out to a professional B-to-B audience that wants to discuss work-related subjects. Not every boss will regard this as work, but there is growing realization that this use of Twitter during work hours is actually time very well spent. We organize the chat on a bi-weekly basis, as there might not be sufficient topics for a weekly chat. In the current setup we choose a subject to talk about in each chat. This choice is often based on questions I have myself, or is provided by participants.
Once we have chosen the topic, we look for subject matter experts that can compile a set of relevant questions about the topic. These questions are used to guide the chat. During the chat, that takes about an hour, we ask 6 to 10 questions to keep the debate going. The experts that attend the chat try to provide relevant answers and insights.We ask the questions from a dedicated @tourismchat account, that we only use for that purpose. This makes it clear for participants that these are the ‘official’ questions, and perhaps discourage participants from asking other less relevant questions.
How do you make sure the right audience participates?
The #tourismchat started in a clearly defined group of tourism professionals. By explicitly inviting people from this industry and by choosing subjects that are relevant and interesting for this group, the audience stays focused. In addition we apply certain rules to our participants. When people discuss irrelevant issues, go off topic or tweet commercial messages, my slightly more strict co-founder Betsy Decillis (@decillis) will be prompt to point these people to their misuse of the hashtag and ask them to stay on topic. The popular #journchat has taken this a step further by publishing a list of behavior rules on its Facebook page, to which straying participants will receive a link in reply to their messages. You may think that these strict rules might discourage people from participating, but quite the opposite is true. It keeps the discussion relevant and on topic.
What do participants see as the main added value of #tourismchat?
We get a lot of positive feedback from participants, and they return every time. For many it has become a regular feature in their work schedule. People mention the simplicity and the easy access to a peer network and industry experts as important reasons to participate. Also the fact that it doesn’t cost a lot of time and money to meet each other this way, yet it provides them much of the same value they get from live networking events. Because many participants work in very small organizations, where they get little feedback on their performance, it is often a great relief to notice that others deal with the very same issues.
An important feature of the #tourismchat, also for participant’s managers, is the fact that it is often regarded as an hour of personal and professional training. Because the chats are often facilitated by specially-invited industry experts in the area of different social media, it provides participants with valuable and practical technical and commercial knowledge, focusing on their specific sector. This element alone really justifies the time spent. After all, participating is free of charge.
What works well and what doesn’t?
When we initially started we only had a date, time and rough idea for a subject. We noticed that people participated, but numbers really increased after we started to develop a set of questions that we would ask during the chat, together with subject matter experts. This was a good move. Also the use of a dedicated Twitter account to ask the questions helped by making clear for participants who is leading the chat.
To attract audience we use our Facebook page, that has many followers. We create a new Facebookevent for every chat, inviting all friends every time. In Twitter itself we create lists, in which we group people with a relevant background. For #tourismchat our target audience are worldwide DMO’s and the people behind these DMO’s. We encourage people to participate with their personal Twitter Accounts, and not with the DMO (marketing) accounts. On Twitter it is important to keep commercial and personal interests separated.
How will #tourismchat develop in the future?
There is no big strategy behind our future development, things will develop pretty much ad hoc. A new feature we would love to try is a live chat at the Social Media in Tourism Conference (#SoMeT) in November. We are thinking of projecting a live Twitter stream onto a big screen in the room, demonstrating the power of this platform to all attendees, by having a live and online discussion with people inside and outside of the room.
For our future existence we greatly depend on developments at Twitter. In the past the platform has not always been reliable, sometimes with long periods of technical issues and very slow performance. A major current issue is limited availability of historic data and limited search possibilities. It is therefore difficult to make good transcripts of the discussions. Also the user experience could be better. Tools like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Twitterfall and Tweetchat are okay, but a lot can still be improved. Especially when there are a lot of participants it can become difficult to keep up with the discussion. I think at about 100 participants at critical limit is reached, above which it becomes difficult to manage a Twitter conference.
Where do I find the #tourismchat?
The tourism chat can be found on Twitter through our hashtag #tourismchat and on Facebook at facebook.com/tourismchat. As indicated above, we will organize a live #tourismchat at the Social Media in Tourism Symposium inTunica, Mississippi (USA). You can follow this conference under hashtag #SoMeT and on Facebook at facebook.com/SoMeTourism.