Social media is playing a big part in the increased web traffic to Visit Fort Wayne, which saw double-digit increases across the board in 2017.
Traffic was up in terms of visits, unique users and page views, and a lot of that is due to the tourism bureau’s more effective use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, said Kristin Guthrie, the tourism agency’s director of marketing. Social media marketing also can be targeted more precisely than TV advertising, which also makes it less expensive.
“For a little bit of money we can share that with a lot of people,” Guthrie said.
Facebook is still the primary platform used, and if the tourism bureau desires, it allows each specific message to be targeted to a certain market – young mothers, millennials, youth sports participants, and other population groups, Guthrie said.
But other social media also have their loyal audiences.
“Each of those platforms reaches a different demographic, a little bit,” said Erin Okeson, Visit Fort Wayne’s social media manager.
Instagram, for example, trends toward a younger market. It’s free of many of the political posts found on Facebook, and is very visual.
“It is such a great advertising media because it is so inspirational and beautiful and fits so nicely for tourism marketing in general,” Okeson said.
Social media also offer an interactivity that traditional media do not.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a two-way conversation with anyone who sees our ads on social media,” Okeson said. “If they have a question, they can ask that and we’ll get them a response almost immediately. It’s a really great way for them to have an interaction with someone from our city.”
Visit Fort Wayne uses its social media posts to publish blogs, publicize festivals and events, promote new restaurants and breweries and direct visitors already planning a trip to Fort Wayne for one specific purpose to other attractions they might enjoy while they’re here.
The annual Vera Bradley outlet sale coming up in April is a perfect example of the latter, Guthrie said. It’s one of the biggest generators of travel traffic each year. So social media posts focus on restaurants visitors might want to try, shopping opportunities and so-called “girlfriend activities.”
“We do want them of course to come and enjoy the sale but we want them to spend a couple days, do other things and have a great time in our community, and so we will do a lot not just to promote the sale, but really to promote the experience,” Guthrie said.
Visit Fort Wayne’s web traffic is up, even compared to other cities nationwide. And Okeson is doing more posts that prompt visitor interactions, such as clicking through to request a visitors guide or information on hotel packages. “That is encouraging to us because we know that it’s working,” Guthrie said.
But calculating how well those web visits and interaction translate into actual tourist visits and spending in Fort Wayne is a little more nebulous.
With a convention or tournament or other special event, the city makes a bid and, if it wins, knows how many people are expected to come for how long. Tracking leisure tourism requires working with partners such as the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the Tin Caps and hotels.
After Visit Fort Wayne advertises in a new area, for example, it can use the data collected by those partners to see if more visitors are coming in from that area, Guthrie said.
Hotel traffic itself is a good indicator, and 2017 was a banner year. Hotels hit an all-time high occupany rate in August, and the rate for the year as a whole came in at 64.9 percent, up from 61.4 percent in 2016 and 57.6 percent in 2015.
Visit Fort Wayne also plays a role in the region’s efforts to attract new talent and new workers who will become permanent residents.
“We are glad to be one of the forward-facing representatives of Fort Wayne, to get people interested in the community and thinking it might be someplace they want to live,” Guthrie said.