Social media are gaining prominence as an element of destination marketing organization (DMO) marketing strategy at a time when public sector cuts in their funding are requiring them to seek greater value in the way marketing budgets are spent. Social media offers DMOs with a tool to reach a global audience with limited resources. The aim of this study is to explore the usage of social media among the DMOs of the top 10 most visited countries by international tourists. The study uses content analysis and semi structured interviews to examine the usage and impact of social media marketing strategies and identifies a framework of best practice for other national tourism organizations (NTOs) to learn from. The study argues that social media usage among top DMOs is still largely experimental and that strategies vary significantly.
More specifically, this study has four research objectives:
(1) To explore why and how top national DMOs strategically employ social media to market their destinations.
(2) To demonstrate the varying degree of usage of social media among top national DMOs.
(3) To determine what factors, contribute to advanced level of social media activity.
(4) To identify best practice examples from the use of social media by DMOs.
To meet these research objectives, this study reviews the social media literature and its use in tourism. The study then outlines the implications for DMOs and identifies best practice examples to enable effective use of social media in marketing destinations.
In conclusion, DMOs are at the initial stages of understanding and experimenting with how to use social media to promote their destinations.
Three key findings emerge from this research. Firstly, the majority of the examined DMOs are not currently utilizing social media to their full effectiveness when it comes to the ability to interact and engage with consumers. Secondly, social media is still not widely recognized and/or respected as a vital tool in marketing strategies, and thus is frequently underfunded and/or neglected. Lastly, DMOs could benefit from becoming even more innovative and creative when it comes to their social media strategies, in order to fully differentiate these efforts from traditional marketing methods. It is also evident that a destination’s ranking on tourist arrivals does not dictate a more developed social media strategy, as many less visited destinations (such as Queensland) are far more active and innovative in their social media efforts. This research confirms that ‘virtual tourism communities will provide a substantial foundation with which to foster communication among and between travelers and the industry’. Though in different stages of development and with different strategies, the DMOs examined are clearly working to incorporate social media into their marketing strategies.