Social Media Strategies for Destination Towns


Social Media Strategies for Destination Towns

mountainIt wasn’t so long ago that beach towns, mountain resorts, family destinations, historical sites and bustling cities had to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time creating and distributing four-color brochures, vacation guides, and destination and convention packets in order to show singles, couples, families, and organizations or businesses everything that they had to offer.

Businessmen would rely on travel agents and families would head triptikto AAA to get information and “TripTiks” for upcoming trips and vacations.  Once they arrived at their destination, eating and activity options were limited to previously scheduled agendas, places they passed on the road, or whatever could be seen from their accommodations or recommended by the concierge.  However, times have changed.

Today, thanks to the widespread access to the Internet and the pervasiveness of social media, people are presented with a plethora of options from where to travel and where to stay, to where to shop and where to eat and what to do.  Beach towns, mountain resorts, family destinations, historical sites, and bustling cities can now reach millions of potential travelers with the free and instant click of a button.

family-vacation-packing-list-resize1For all the good that has come to businesses and destinations from this change, it has also caused new challenges.  No longer can a destination rely on a polished picture presented in a guide book or brochure to be the only representation that potential travelers see.  Restaurants and retailers in those destinations are no longer able to attract diners solely because they have been there for years.  Travelers are no longer solely at the mercy of friends and family recommendations, hotel accommodation’s “chosen” reviewers, or the concierge’s pre-planned dining options.  People can go anywhere, do anything, and eat whatever and wherever they want.

But what does this change mean for businesses, cities, or destinations?

Locations and the attractions, restaurants, and retailers therein must now execute strategic plans for their social media presence not only to thrive, but to survive.


 St. Pete Beach, Florida


In the last fifty years, St. Pete Beach, Florida has developed its own identity and become a vastly popular vacation destination.  Kick back on sandy white beaches as the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico lap at your toes. With an average of 361 days of sunshine per year, this strip of beach is guaranteed to please. Close to attractions in Orlando and even closer to the cultural and cosmopolitan attractions of St. PetersburgClearwater and Tampa, St. Pete Beach strikes the perfect balance for the casual, laid-back beach bum and the active attraction seeker.

North_Chennel_Pass_A_Grille_3_18_111  01a2 St. Pete Beach as we know it was formed in 1957 when the four tiny towns of Long Key, Pass-A-Grille Beach, Don CeSar Place, Belle Vista Beach and St. Pete Beach voted to consolidate. Today, visitors can relive some of the area’s rich heritage at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, which traces the history of Pinellas County’s barrier islands all the way back to when Ponce de Leon first encountered them in the 14th century.

Minutes from St. Pete Beach is Ft. De Soto Park, where Ponce de Leon once anchored in search of the Fountain of Youth. This 900-acre park, once an outpost during the Spanish-American War, is now a peaceful refuge where visitors can walk, swim, or picnic amidst Florida’s unspoiled natural beauty.

St.Pete-Beach-Florida don

A Pinellas County destination and home of award-winning beaches, St. Pete Beach is where you can also find the architecturally and historically grand Don CeSar resort. This is a historic landmark once used as a hospital and rehabilitation center, the area’s first hurricane shelter for residents and pets, and in 1945 as the Regional Office of Veterans Administration and painted army green. Also known as the “Pink Lady,” this structure is one of only eight hotels in Florida that is listed on the National Trust for Historical Preservation, Historic Hotels of America.
St. Pete Beach plays host to many activities that the entire family can enjoy.  Art festivals, dance performances and musical events are sure to keep spirits high, while tropical boutiques, seafood restaurants and nightclubs offer a taste of Florida’s fun-loving beach town lifestyle.

st.pete_1Visitors can watch awe-inspiring sunsets and enjoy great weather and pristine white sands, all within a short drive of world-famous attractions.  Conveniently located just a few miles from St. Petersburg’s restaurants and entertainment, a quick drive from Tampa’s professional sporting events and Busch Gardens, and less than 100 miles away from the Orlando attractions, St. Pete Beach is the best of both worlds.

Here is a short video of Pass-a-Grille and St. Pete Beach by the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce:

Social Media Strategy: 

Hand holding a Social Media 3d Sphere

In order to evaluate the social media presence of St. Pete Beach, one must first research the existing social media accounts for St. Pete Beach.  In today’s world of publish then filter, one must discern which accounts are active, who manages each account, the purpose of the account, and so on.  Once the accounts have been filtered, you can begin evaluating the “official” social media of St. Pete Beach.  For this process, I examined 2 separate entities that represent the area in order assess the overall social media strategy for informing and attracting locals and tourists.

    1. Website
    2. Twitter (@spb_gov)
            1.  Website
            2. Twitter (@VSPC)
            3. Facebook (Supplemental Information for Metrics)

No one entity fully represented the social media presence of St. Pete Beach.  Each showed some strengths and some weaknesses.


  1.  The City of St. Pete Beach

The website and corresponding Twitter account are maintained by the City of St. Pete Beach.  It became obvious that the city does not have a full-time media staff to maintain and regularly update these accounts.

  •  Website:

front page 1 GOVThis site provides a lot of information for the residents of the City.  Although some of this information may not be the kind that locals are frequently searching for, it is helpful for the City of St. Pete Beach  to have it located on their website and clearly marked and linked.

Content Overview & Summary:

Home Page: 

  • District plans
  • Roadways Closures
  • Current city projects
  • City Initiatives such as library fundraising campaigns
  • upcoming meetings for the Commission and the Police and Fire Pension Boards
  • City Events
  • History of St. Pete Beach
  • Virtual Video Tour of St. Pete Beach

The 4 Headings of the Site: 


  • City Codes
  • Contact information for the Mayor’s Office and the Court Clerk
  • New Resident Information and links to the proper sites and forms


  • Building & Zoning Information as well as links to the proper forms


  • A Beach Cam
  • Recreation Division
  • Library
  • Parks
  • Historical Information

City Government:

  • City Commission
  • Board and Committees and their purposes as well as links
  • A list of all the City Departments and their functions as well as links

 Metrics related to this Website:

There were not enough traffic to evaluate this site on any analytic software available to me.

  •   Twitter (@sbv-gov):

GOV twitter main box only

This Twitter account’s description says: “Information on City Project, Planning Efforts, Events, & Other News.”

Content Overview & Summary: 

  • Updates to the Project information on the website
  • City Event notifications and reminders

 Metrics related to this Twitter Account:  

Summary of Strategy: 

With this information, it is easy to conclude that both the website and especially the Twitter account are significantly underused by the City of St. Pete Beach.  The website appears to show that they are trying to portray themselves as “fun” and “eventful” but their execution fell short in engaging the citizens of the city as well as reaching the visitors and providing them with up to date information on where to stay, eat, drink, shop, and play.  The City is only following 4 Twitter accounts and not one of them is the St. Pete Beach/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau—which they mention on the website but do not provide the correct link to reach them.  The event information is frequently past date and the Virtual Video Tour is most definitely out-of-date.  Overall, the City of St. Pete Beach is providing the bare minimum to its residents, hardly anything to its visitors, and is missing out on many opportunities to do both.

The site and corresponding Twitter is SUCCEEDING in the following ways: 

  • Linking & Curation:

Good use of links to help site visitors find relevant information

This site and corresponding Twitter account are LACKING in the following areas: 

  • Social Photography and/or Video:  

No pictures to show visitors one of the most gorgeous places in the country

No pictures or videos of local events, public figures, or interview.

  • Demographics:

Does not provide something for everyone

Missing out on opportunities to inform, reach, engage a broad variety of people

  • Maps & Interactive Databases:

Does not use map to show information about city events, projects, road construction, or crime

Does not use maps to show local businesses

  • Crowdsourcing:

Does not seek photos, videos, or stories from readers or followers

Does not often Retweet others information

  • Reviews:

Does not list local restaurants, retailers, or organizations on their site

Does not offer customer reviews of restaurant or retailers in the area nor does it link to them through external sources such as Yelp

  • Aesthetics:

GOV website page 1 part 4Website looks clean and the upper portion of the Home Page is off to a great start but soon it falls short.  There is no continuance of the colors, the pictures, the scrolling newsfeed, or the bright and fun look.

Has not updated their Virtual Video Tour

The Virtual Video Tour is hidden at the bottom of the page with no mention of it and it isn’t easily recognized as a video.

  • Two-Way Communication:

No place for the residents or visitors to comment on the website

There is no forum for residents to talk to each other, recommend businesses, or share information

The twitter presence is pretty much nonexistent but as of today, no one has tweeted to the City of St. Pete Beach nor has the City of St. Pete Beach tweeted to anyone.

  1.   The St. Petersburg / Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau

The website, corresponding Twitter account, and Facebook page are maintained by the St. Petersburg / Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is obvious that this organization does employ a full-time staff to maintain and regularly update these accounts as well as a Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+ account.

  •  Website: 

This site provides more information than I could possibly explain.  See for yourself:

Content Overview & Summary:

Home Page: 

  • Florida’s Natural Giveaways
  • Interactive Maps and links to Google Earth, Planning Tools, Web Cams, and Weather
  • Best Beach Bars with video and a link to more videos
  • Book a Room
  • Information on CityPass, What’s New, and What’s Happening
  • Connect with St. Pete/Clearwater–“Discover what’s happening in our communities now with live social updates from local experts, residents, visitors and top local businesses”

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 4.37.30 PM

  • Instagram, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Feed powered by Storify
  • Information for Meetings, Media, Travel Trade, Sports, Film, and Weddings
  • Live Chat
  • Connect to Trip Advisor
  • Newsletter Sign-Up
  • Order a Destination Packet
  • Button Links in multiple places to all of their social media accounts

Main Divisions of the Site: 

  • Deals
  • Hotels & Rentals
  • Beaches & Outdoors
  • Events & Festivals
  • Dining & Entertainment
  • Arts & Culture
  • Cities & Towns
  • Maps & Planning

Metrics related to this Website: 

  •  Twitter

VSPC FB pageTwitter Screenshot @vspc

This Twitter account’s description says: “It’s all about #AmericasBestBeaches

 #StPete #Clearwater features those and some of the best sunsets around. IG:@VSPC

St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida

Joined March 2009

Content Overview & Summary:

  • Event notifications and reminders for the following areas:

o   Belleair Beach
o   Clearwater & Clearwater BeachScreen Shot 2014-05-08 at 5.26.50 PM
o   Dunedin
o   Gulfport
o   Indian Rocks Beach
o   Indian Shores
o   Largo
o   Madeira Beach
o   North Redington Beach
o   Oldsmar
o   Palm Harbor
o   Pass-A-Grille Beach
o   Pinellas Park
o   Redington Shores
o   Safety Harbor
o   Seminole
o   St. Pete Beach
o   St. Petersburg
o   Tarpon Springs

  • Pictures of beautiful beach and water scenes
  • Community Events
  • Road closures
  • Weather updates
  • News updates
  • Website updates
  • Sports events and Information from all teams in the Tampa Bay area
  • ReTweets from Tons of other social media accounts to include Expedia,, and various hotels and sports teams

Metrics related to this Twitter Account: 

Summary of Strategy: 

With this information, it is easy to conclude that both the website and the Twitter account are exhaustive sources of information for visitors.  The website and tweets are centered on the beaches, hotel accommodations, and the many things for people to do while in the St. Pete Beach area.  The St. Petersburg /Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, does a phenomenal job keeping the information and content current and entertaining as well as offering a call to action to their followers on the Twitter account.

With over 7 tweets by 7pm EST, each with a link, a picture, or a video, and a hashtag, they are actively engaging their audience.  However, I have noticed that their use of different hashtags is quite prolific. @VSPC seems to use the following hashtags quite regularly:

#LoveFl, #LiveAmplified, #AmericasBestBeaches, #Clearwater, #ClearwaterBeach, #StPete, #StPeteBeach, #sunset, #LoewsDonCeSar, #iNeedSun, #NTTW14, #TourismGivesBack, #Beer, #TravelEffect, #beachlife, and #SundayFunday,

I find there to be a lack of cohesiveness with the use of hashtags.  You never know which one is for a campaign they are running or a partner organization is running.  I also found the majority of the posts to be about the beer or some sort of sporting event or nightlife activity.  I didn’t see anything that was really meant for family entertainment or those who are beachgoers and drinkers.

The site and corresponding Twitter is SUCCEEDING in the following ways: 

  •  Linking & Curation:

Good use of links to help site visitors find relevant information such as websites of local restaurants and businesses

  • Social Photography and/or Video: 

Tons pictures and videos of local hotspots, restaurants, beaches, parks, shops & activities

  • Maps & Interactive Databases:

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 6.37.29 PMGreat use of maps and interactive databases – they have an entire section for mapping and planning.

The maps allows you to pick the community and what type of activity, dining, shopping, or accommodations that you’re interested in.  They not only map it for you but also allow you to share, download, or print the map. They also give a listing of each of the venues below the map for those who want to scroll

  • Two-Way Communication:

No place for the residents or visitors to comment on the website unless they are interested in chatting with an agent

There is no forum for visitors to share information with each other on the website but they have an extensive presence of most social networking sites

They are quite active on Twitter and respond quickly to those who Message and ReTweet them

This site and corresponding Twitter account are LACKING in the following areas: 

  • Demographics:

Does not provide something for everyone

Missing out on opportunities to inform, reach, engage a broad variety of people – such as those traveling with families and looking for activities that do not involve the beaches or water sports and eating or shopping (with one exception – the home page does include information on City Pass and the Aquarium, however there are many more opportunities and adventures that go unmentioned)

  • Crowdsourcing

Does not seek photos, videos, or stories from readers or followers but does ReTweet them

  • Reviews:

Does not offer customer reviews of restaurant or retailers in the area nor do they link to them through external sources such as Yelp.  They do say that they have Trip Advisor reviews but when you click on it, it is for the actual city of St. Petersburg, Florida (about 15 minutes north and across the Boca Ciega Bay).

  • Aesthetics:

Website is gorgeous.  Functional.  User-Friendly. Well-labeled. Bright colors that feel “beachy”

  • Two-Way Communication:

No place for the residents or visitors to comment on the website unless they are interested in chatting with an agent.


All generations are adopting new social behaviors, taking advantage of social technologies online to interact in unprecedented ways. Debunking the myth that social media is used exclusively by younger generations, multiple studies have highlighted that not only is there a true cross section of age groups regularly using social tools, but also that these tools are seen as an appropriate channel for solicitation. That means each generation of your audience is active in social spaces, and considers social media on par with email when it comes to engaging with them and soliciting their help

personal_branding_social_mediaIn an increasingly wired world, supporters are deciding how they want to communicate and receive messages in accordance to their personal preferences.  While email, direct mail and traditional websites will continue to play an important role in marketing, social media is now a preferred channel of communication for many people. By “fishing where the fish are,” cities and destinations can reach their audience through their preferred means of communication.

Multi-channel marketing is not a new concept, but as cities, destinations, and advocacy organizations are now witnessing, limiting the scope of communication activities to traditional channels is becoming increasingly risky.  In addition to the changing preferences of the current audience, new visitors will be more challenging to reach if social media is left out of the marketing mix.  By incorporating social elements into communication plans, a broader audience can be reached, thus impacting the awareness of your destination and opportunities for engagement

Social media isn’t a silver bullet that can instantly make your destination’s communications more effective, but it does provide you with the ability to extend the reach of those communications.

Moving forward, I believe that the City of St. Pete and the “official” Pass-a-Grille website and Facebook page (not evaluated in this critique) should combine their efforts in order to provide a unique destination site for locals and visitors alike. I would suggest using as it is currently available and goes well with the Florida Convention & Visitors Bureau‘s as well as the St. Petersburg /Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureaus

This site should employ many of the tactics used by the St. Petersburg /Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, such as interactive maps, streaming pictures, video posts, links, and multiple social networking sites.

 Interactive Map 

Provide an interactive map on your new site that allows visitors to see all the local dining, entertainment, and shopping options.  For each location, provide the web address, phone number, hours, and link to the restaurant or retailer’s web address. You will also want to link each location to Yelp so that your audience gets honest views, 100 % of the time.


I would also suggest using 2 specific hashtags for each location, one for local and one for tourists.

  • The local hashtags are:


  • The tourist hashtags are:


  • Some variations for beach life posts are:


  • Since St Pete Beach is known for being dog friendly, we don’t want to leave the fur-babies out:



shutterstock_134112389-300x200One of the main reasons so many people have flocked to social media and made it their primary online activity is that they seek out information and find value in what they find shared in social channels from friends and colleagues. As a destination, to be successful in your efforts, never forget that value has to be at the root of the content you share.

Basic Content-Sharing Tips: 
  • Create a branded Twitter account and start sharing updates about your city through at least two tweets a day.
  • Expand your footprint to third party communities by posting to social media accounts such as the St. Petersburg /Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau – where you will find a pre-existing base of supporters on relevant topics.
  • Create a branded Facebook page and distribute newsworthy links it as timely events occur.
  • Share relevant images from your city’s events, functions and supporters on photosharing sites such as Flickr and Instagram.  You can even enable social sharing on your website to make it easier for your audience to distribute information upon your behalf.
  • Create a branded YouTube account, leveraging video on your blog and website(s) in various capacities.
  • Cover your city’s live events in real-time using social media tools with updates and news

Basic Tips for Engagement:


  • Respond to and retweet Twitter updates that support communication objectives.
  • Post photos from past years’ events on Facebook to better market the event and share experiences with users.
  • Comment on blogs, forums and online communities to build awareness of your city’s social media presence.  Share links to your website(s) within your comment.
  • Add “Connect with Us” links on your city’s website(s) to build awareness of your social media presence.  Do your best to always be promoting your social presence online.
  • Interact with event and conference attendees in person at events and encourage them to spread news about your activities within their network. After all, they are enjoying your city and you want them to tell their friends.
  • Add Facebook’s “like” feature and Twitter’s “tweet” feature on your city’s website(s) to allow wider range of social sharing capabilities and thus increase engagement across the Web.
  • Create a meme using hashtags that are relevant to your audience, allowing them to engage with you and your city in an ongoing, fun manner.
  • Encourage locals and visitors to share video and images to use for marketing purposes.

 Here are some other Objectives & Tips for the “new” St. Pete Beach site:

Objective #1: Building Awareness: 

  • Gain a better understanding of the perception of your city or destination among locals and visitors.
  • Be more responsive to your audience on a regional, local, or individual level.
  • Build a more meaningful relationship with locals and visitors by providing them with useful information online.
  • Establish your city or destination as an expert resource and information provider without relying on a partner organization such as a Convention and Visitors Bureau

tumblr_lihuqf8FVb1qf449sObjective #2: Driving Action: 

  • Empower your audience to create content for your site.
  • Drive traffic to your city/destination’s various web entities—website, blog, social media instances, etc.
  • Gain more exposure online by leveraging the peer-to-peer nature of social media.
  • Grow your email list by driving people through social media to online sign-ups.

Objective #3: Advancing Engagement: 

• Enable your most passionate locals to distribute information on your behalf and amplify the impact of your marketing efforts.
• Leverage influential users online to drive action around timely campaigns. Passionate people want to contribute to your city’s success.
• Mobilize locals to take a specified action in times of crisis or timely issues.
• Organize local volunteer efforts in emergency situations.

 Social Media-Specific Campaigns

Once you are able to get this accomplished it will be time for the City of St. Pete to Graduate and create a campaign of your own, complete with a campaign-specific hashtag.

social-media-and-relationships-500pGraduate from the Basics and Create Social Media-Specific Campaigns 

Once social media has proven itself as a viable communication channel for your city, the next step is to get creative with the campaigns you develop, making sure you maximize the potential of social media. This is a chance to experiment and use creative ways to leverage the social nature of the new tools. From asking supporters to change their avatars on social networks to reflect your campaign to empowering social sharing of personal stories and experiences, the potential for campaigns that stand out are endless.

Get started by asking a few key questions: 

  • What new audiences could you reach with social activities? What activities are they
  • drawn to most?
  • Are there current goals that could be achieved sooner with social media platforms,
  • and how can you create or enhance campaigns that help achieve those goals?
  • How can you leverage your city’s current culture and established voice to
  • build a vibrant social presence that creates memorable experiences for audiences?

 #LoveStPeteMore Campaign: 

Locals are also using the power of social media to network and share pertinent information about their town.  Campaigns such as #Choose901  for Memphis, TN or #DallasBIG for Dallas, TX promote each location as the premiere city in the country for someone to invest and enjoy their life as well as help locals connect with each other and share facts and finds about their city.  Over 3,000 local mayors and city councils, performing arts organizations, nonprofit news networks, local newscasters, indie filmmakers, and good causes currently get their word out through the use of strategic hashtag campaigns. Try a campaign of your own.


What about the #LoveStPeteMore campaign?

Ask locals and visitors to submit an original photo of them enjoying everything your city has to offer via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for a chance to win a two-night stay vacation package in St.Pete Beach.  Partner with local businesses and vacation rentals in order to offset the cost.

Using the hashtag #LoveStPeteMore, you can track entries across all three platforms. 

One of the manyColorful chairs at a trpoical beach in Miami Florida hassles of finding accommodations when traveling is the fact that there is no one comprehensive spot to find all the locally owned vacation properties.  Since St. Pete Beach and Pass-a-Grille have a huge number of FRBO properties, I suggest creating your own vacation rental section of your new website.  Many of the other websites that are competing for views with your new website are owned by local inn proprietors.  Why let them get all the visitors?  Create a free listing site at the aforementioned web address (Yes – it’s available) and collect the information from all the owners of vacation properties in your town.  Local businesses can buy ads on the site to supplement the maintenance cost.  You all want the same thing.  More visitors vacationing in St. Pete and more locals promoting the area.