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Thank you all for joining me this morning for a pretty comprehensive presentation. Today, we’re going to talk about social media – particularly the recent changes that affect destinations. We have a particular interest in social media for Virginia destinations for somewhat obvious reasons and this presentation is designed specifically for that.

I’m Patrick King, founder and CEO of Imagine. We’re a multi-disciplinary marketing agency headquartered in Manassas with offices in Richmond and Norfolk. Multi-disciplinary is just a fancy way of saying that we cover research, strategy, digital, branding, web development and campaign management. Just fewer syllables.

All of the complexity of social media’s willingness to block or improve our posts’ visibility comes from one word: algorithms. Put simply, algorithms are calculations that provide a pre-determined action to data that users present

Understanding every nuance of each platform’s algorithm can be exhausting – they can be triggered by how frequently you post, how popular your channel is, even what you do in other places online. Fortunately, you can impact all of these.


Latest Algorithm Changes: Facebook

Let’s start with the big momma of social: Facebook. The algorithm changes that Facebook throws out probably draw the ire of more marketers than any other platform. Anyone with a company page on Facebook knows how frustrating it can be to publish a post, only to have it seen by a small fraction of your followers. There are some techniques you can use to combat this that I’ll share momentarily.

But first, the algorithm changes. First, Facebook has expanded the areas of content that it frowns upon to now include regulated products. While most may not apply, the mention of alcoholic beverages might. This can be troubling for brewers, distilleries and wineries, so they need to be careful how they talk on their page, promoting an experience instead of a product.

Next, and this is a long time coming: contests and giveaways. I’ve seen the popularity of these die off but for those that are looking to take this route to get some quick followers, know that its time has come.

Next, unoriginal content. By this, they’re typically talking about a pattern of third-party links. Facebook doesn’t want its users to leave, so links to other sites have become increasingly frowned upon. One or two every long while is fine but try to make sure that your posts are original content more times than not.

Finally, and this is a very new one: a disproportionate amount of traffic from Facebook. If Facebook is where you do a bulk of your marketing, the algorithm will now devalue your posts, making it a good idea to spread out your social visibility, publish some articles elsewhere online, maybe run some PR or paid ads on Google.


Overcoming Facebook

I mentioned earlier that there are ways to improve your visibility when you only get a handful of eyeballs on each post. I just said a handful of eyeballs. Gross.

A few techniques to use are first, tagging people and other companies in your posts, where relevant. Doing this notifies those people or companies, encouraging them to engage with the post – sharing, commenting and so on.

Another approach is to stick to a schedule of conversational posts. The frequency in the schedule doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. I’ll talk a bit more about that later. And when I say “conversational”, I mean that your posts can’t just be one-sided announcements. They have to ignite conversations. Likes won’t help much if your visibility has been punished. You need heavier engagement.

One more thing regarding Facebook. You may have noticed over the past few months that posts in public groups are now more visible. This can be used to great effect if your page is involved in local groups. Just make sure your posts aren’t spammy and that you’re also engaging with other members’ posts as well. This helps visibility and also builds trust among members.


Latest Algorithm Changes: Instagram

Moving on, let’s talk about Instagram, which is my personal favorite for a bunch of reasons, most importantly the lack of bickering you see on Facebook or spammy, sales posts you see on other channels.

They’ve made a lot of changes recently to the overall experience – maybe the most drastic of any of the platforms I’ll cover today. First, they’re expanding options for online sellers with product feeds that flow right into your profile, and they’re adding new shop buttons to profiles and some posts without paying for them.

But there’s a catch. This functionality isn’t available to everyone. You have to be an established account, meaning that you’ve been on Instagram for some time, and have a sizable following. Next, your products have to be reviewed and approved before your feed can go live.

Next is their increased preference to accounts that post stories and are playing with their new feature, Instagram Reels. Reels is their response to TikTok, with a bunch of video effects that you can use to get the same experience, just with fewer of your kids’ friends watching.

They’re increasing their preference for accounts that engage with other accounts – the social part of social media. A good rule of thumb is to comment as much as you post, if not more.

Finally, they’re working on a feature in the app that’ll let you see more than the handful of stories that are currently at the top of your feed. This is to encourage users to post more stories, so if you know it’s important to them, it’s something your account should probably do.


Latest Algorithm Changes: Twitter

Ahh, Twitter. Not much happens with Twitter’s algorithm. It’s pretty simple and consistent, which in a way is the beauty of the platform. There are some things you should know about it though if it’s part of your toolset.

First, engagement rules. The more engagement, the longer the tweet will be shown. By engagement, I don’t mean likes. In order to get the most miles out of your tweets, they need shares and discussion.

Recency is obviously a thing, but we want longer-term visibility.

The only big change to the platform happened last year when they gave users the option to load the most popular tweets instead of just recent ones. That’s not really a novel feature; other platforms have had it for years. So really, not much to report on here.


Latest Algorithm Changes: YouTube

The same can’t be said for Youtube, whose algorithm changes may one day incite a riot from content creators.

One recent change is more attention being given to the user. Traditionally, the success of a video was totally up to the video and its publisher but now, Youtube is factoring in the viewer’s history more and more.

Things like the amount of time spent watching each video get taken into account, so if the viewer normally watches 3-4 minute recipe videos, it’ll be harder to get them to watch a 30-minute video on how to smoke a brisket.

A big change – and frankly a welcome one – relates to “Borderline content”. This is content that doesn’t quite violate Youtube’s policies but just skirts around them. This includes inaccurate information that could be taken as fact

Finally, more attention – and more scrutiny – is paid to content that the publisher confirms is Ok to show to kids. The goal is to make Youtube a more family-friendly platform. I kinda sped through those last two points because while it’s important for you to know them, it won’t influence your content choices as much.


Latest Algorithm Changes: Yelp

So, Yelp. The channel we love to hate. While a lot of what they program into the site is an obvious cash-grab, there are some features that make sense when you think about it. First, like Youtube, is the consideration they give to the user when showing results. The activity the user takes, the number of solid reviews they’ve given, and so on can impact what they’re shown since the platform knows the user better.

Some of you may have noticed this, when you get a review and it doesn’t factor into your overall star rating? If you get a bunch of reviews all at once, Yelp has a way of saying that some reviews may not be authentic or “suggested”. The rule of thumb here is to get good reviews over time. You can’t control when someone posts a review, of course, so you have to play the long game with this one and build your reputation on Yelp over time.

For the next feature, this also takes the user into account. The listings they’re shown have more to do with the user’s history and geography than your star rating. Having 100% 5-star ratings doesn’t necessarily improve your visibility but increasing your number of business categories can since you’re showing under more searches.


Latest Algorithm Changes: TripAdvisor

Just as important to many of you is TripAdvisor. Keeping your account in tip-top shape is pretty simple. Just be consistent in your campaigns to get customers to review you on the platform. But be careful since negative ratings are factored in differently. It’s not just the bubble average (yes, they’re called bubbles, not stars) but the quantity of negative reviews also plays into the algorithm.

Recency is also very important. If you have 100 great reviews from a year ago, you’ll lose ground to other accounts that only have 20-30 but they’ve been added over the past few months. In fact, then your bubble rating is the same, it’s the recency that determines who gets a higher ranking.


Strategy: Social Media for Virginia Destinations

Ok, that’s a lot of algorithm talk. I could go on for longer but I’m sure you all have other things planned for the rest of the week so let’s move on to what you can put into place right now to make the most of these channels.

There are five main strategies to follow and while many of you are doing these to some degree, it’s important to stress consistency. Your channels will be rewarded over time but you have to know what to be consistent at, and where to put your attention.

For each strategy, I chose a great photo from a different part of Virginia. They don’t pertain to the strategies – I’m just travel-deprived, as many of you may be, so I threw in some Virginia beauty.


Timing, Recency, Frequency

Which leads me to the first strategy: time. Timing, recency and frequency will be your friends in the long-term. I can’t reliably give you all a universal time when all of your posts are going to work. It simply doesn’t work that way, regardless of the infographics you read. You have to find the right time for your accounts. You can find those times in either Hootsuite if you use it, Google Analytics, or in the insights sections of each platform. Only those times can be accurate for you.

Frequency and consistency will maintain recency. In terms of frequency, it’s a tortoise and the hare situation. Don’t commit to 4-5 posts per week if you can’t maintain it. You’re better off in the eyes of these platforms if you post 1-2 times a week but do it consistently. Make sure that the schedule you commit to is sustainable.


Social Media: Use As Intended

This one can be strangely difficult but it’s vital to your social media plan. Use it as it is intended. By that I mean use it for conversations and engagement. Comment on other accounts, aim to have responses to your own posts, use it as a communication tool – just as you would personally. That activity plays into the reputation of your account and will have a tremendous impact on your visibility.

So many accounts have one-way information: promotions, announcements, and so on. Those won’t get you engagement and they hurt your visibility over time. You don’t always have to ask questions, though. Share stories of your team, or in the case of localities, residents. Find ways to tell stories of your organization’s history, customer experiences, things that bring a human factor to your content. People engage more with people than promotions.


Use New Features

I alluded to this earlier when I was talking about Instagram. When a platform rolls out a new feature, they will always give preference to those accounts that adopt it.

So, take a look at Instagram Reels and see if there’s a way to use it in your marketing mix. Facebook an Instagram Stories are probably more relevant options, so find ways to use them at least.


Re-learn Your Audience

Next, your audience has changed. I know I’m speaking to a bunch of different organizations right now, but I can say without a doubt that if you haven’t done persona research in the past six months, you’re overdue. If you’re not sure how – or even what persona development is, don’t worry, I’ll give you a run-through shortly.


Adopt an Omnichannel Strategy

Finally, once your personas are current, build an omnichannel strategy to capture them on every channel and lead them to the desired action. By using all of your social channels – as well as your website, email and other tools – in unison, you build a more impactful, longer-term marketing program.


Persona Development

The first step to an effective strategy is knowing your customer. This is a persona builder that we use in the early stages of campaigns here at Imagine and it helps us to determine the needs, values, desires, and ultimately what fulfillment means to each type of customer of an organization. It also helps us determine where, when, and with what type of messaging we can best communicate with them.

You’ll see here that I’m not going with a specific business. We work with a lot of localities on tourism and economic development campaigns, and it’s often a more extensive challenge so I’ll use a visitor to a new town, during this pandemic, to really test our approach.

For the purposes of our previous persona, we’ll look at the challenges of a destination and there are a lot of customer variables to consider. Each group profile has different motivations, levels of involvement, or desired outcomes so it’s important from the jump to create separate personas within your audience. You take all of the data at your disposal and start to formulate your perfect customer by the behaviors they’ve already demonstrated.

Where you get all of this data on where they’re most active or the kind of content they care about depends on how you’ve been marketing – mainly online but speaking with the people on your front line can also give you insights to round these out. These are some common platforms and where you can get a lot of the information to build out personas. For financial history, of course, there’s QuickBooks or a conversation with your finance department.

These are just platforms. I’m sure that everyone on the call has industry publications for your target audiences that help as well.

Now, you have a clear vision of your new customers – their needs, their activity, their preferences. We’re now going to place them all into a customer journey that takes them from being completely unaware and possibly cynical to becoming a delighted and voluntary promoter of your destination.


Creating the Customer Journey

This is the trusty marketing funnel, sales funnel, customer journey, workflow, methodology… the process has a ton of different names. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this. The purpose of this diagram is to craft and track each step of a person’s experience with your company so that the entire experience is designed for their enjoyment, with their needs at the center of your marketing activity.

You see, we’ve populated the journey with the tools or tactics we know will reach that previous persona. Next, we place our key performance indicators (or KPIs) for each tactic so we can quickly know if we’re doing well at each stage.

Finally, we’re going a step further and will design the customer experience. How can we use each stage as an opportunity to do something that our audience thinks is remarkable? We’re going beyond what others are doing in these channels to something that’s both unique and tailored to the interests of that particular audience.

Things like scavenger hunts or games that people can easily and comfortably engage in can be a big help for first-time visitors to a new town. Depending on the complexity of your organization, or simply the personalities of your personas, this can be more complex. And increased complexity is fine since a lot of the work you can do at each stage of the journey can be either automated or used over and over without developing new pieces for each opportunity.

This is a customer-centric experience. It takes into account what we know has changed about our customers, puts their desire for trust – as well as any nuances we need to consider – at the center of our marketing.


The Customer Journey in Action

We’ve used this methodology for a series of campaigns we did for Massanutten WaterPark. They gave us a couple of months to turn around two campaigns to boost visits to their park with the reach goal of making the park enough money to afford a massive expansion.

The two campaigns positioned Massanutten as a favorable alternative to going to the beach or just a break from the everyday. They got enough to do their expansion and we picked up a few awards as well. All of that is to say that the methodology works for a large waterpark and it can work for your destination as well.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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