When Lee Hopkins and I decided to “road trip” from Seattle to San Francisco this year, we turned to social media – Twitter, Facebook, Tripadvisor – to help us plan the trip (which we are still planning). Since neither of us has been to the Pacific Northwest, it seemed sensible to ask our networks. Where to go? What to see?
We also asked “What towns should we stop in?”
One respondent on Twitter was @travelcoosbay of Coos Bay, Oregon (pop. 15,000), who suggested we drop into that town for the night. I thanked @travelcoosbay & made some offhand remark that if Lee Hopkins podcasted from Coos Bay, it would become a famous(er) place.
Here’s where our road trip planning started becoming a case study in novel ways to use social media.
Many towns confronting the prospect of a couple of social media nerds passing through would simply point the way to the Motel 6 about an hour down the road.
But @travelcoosbay replied that Coos Bay, Oregon is a pretty attractive place & that we would be simply cheating ourselves to miss it. To prove the point, they set up a Flickr account dedicated to demonstrating to Hopkins how beautiful the area is.
Well, fair enough. Except Hoppo and I are not strangers to “pretty” places. He lives in the glorious Adelaide hills, in South Australia, and I live right on the ocean on Denmark’s prettiest island. We can show you natural beauty from here to Christmas.
We asked, in some roundabout way, if the people were as nice as the local scenery. After all, social media is all about communing with people. Their reply was to take it to the streets.
They thoughtfully included me (and rightly so, since I am driving and can take us to Boise, instead, if I have a mind to. Which I don’t).
What are we to do? We are self-confessed social media enthusiasts – companies even hire us to advise on social media – and here an entire town is using Twitter and Flickr to get us to show up for a night.
Well, we did what anyone would do. We hemmed and hawed. Didn’t commit ourselves. Kept our options open. Kept our powder dry.
Then they took it to YouTube.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d feel churlish and dead to all human emotion if we didn’t go to Coos Bay after that volley of invitation. Truth is, we were pretty warm on Coos Bay from the start – I won’t say “You had me at hello,” but we were warm. After that blast, we just rolled over and submitted.
And that’s why Lee Hopkins and I are going to Coos Bay this summer.
Social media at its small town best
While we are there, we are going to give a talk about social media to local businesses. But it seems to me Coos Bay’s promoters have a pretty good handle on social media already:
1. They were watching Twitter for any reference to the Oregon coast by potential tourists.
2. They responded immediately with a very low key “you might be interested in us, if you are passing through” approach. Enough to pique my interest without “selling” me. (And this is not just me… this is routine).
3. When I responded and added a “wink,” they were ready to add Flickr to the equation – and ask locals to get involved. And locals started Tweeting me.
4. A big sense of humor, but always on message — “you’ll love it here.”
5. And a “coup de grace” – taking it to YouTube with an ironic, fun on-message invitation. We may not meet any of those people this summer , but we want to meet all of them.
6. @travelcoosbay (and the person behind @travelcoosbay, on her own twitter account) have become a part of my daily Twitter stream on topics far removed from this trip. Through @travelcoosbay, I have “twittermet” several others who are, like me, interested in using social media to promote small town and rural tourism.
What has this cost Coos Bay? Not a dime, really. Some time on the part of @travelcoosbay, of course. What has it cost Hopkins and me? Not a dime, really.
Benefits? At the very least, Coos Bay gains two new fans and whatever we spend there (and I should add here that some of our expenses will be covered in Coos Bay in exchange for our presentation). Hopkins and I get to stay in a town where the welcome mat is already out for us & meet some people we never would meet “just passing through.”
For a few 140-character exchanges on Twitter and a YouTube video, that’s not bad going for either side.