Travelling in your own back yard (and getting a social buzz for your event)

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This time seven years ago I was sitting at an airport with no job, no responsibilities and a round the world flight ticket burning a hole in my pocket.

The only thought on my mind was which fruit would be going into my Daiquiri and how many countries I could fit into my carefully planned flight schedule.

How times have changed and although I wasn’t getting on a flight this week, my thoughts have been closely focused on tourism and how we use social media to inspire our locals to live like a tourist in their own backyard.

A couple of years ago we set up the Our People, Our Places weekend which let residents access some of the best tourist attractions for free or at a discounted rate.

I blogged about it here last year but the general idea was that it would give something back to local people and at the same time showcase some of the best tourist attractions that the county had to offer.

Tourism is worth about £650m to our local economy, supporting more than 13,000 jobs so it’s vital that we keep attracting more tourists into Northumberland and ensure that people from our own region keep spending days out here.

Social media plays an increasingly important part of this festival because of the global pull of sites like Twitter and Pinterest, where we’ve already got a really well established presence and have focused more and more effort in the past three years.

So I was going to tell you that:

  • Almost 4,000 people clicked, liked or commented on our Facebook updates.
  • There were 1.3m impressions and 606 tweets on our event hashtag (#resfes13)
  • We furiously tweeted constantly over the weekend using our accounts and linking up with businesses and attractions right across Northumberland.
  • Visitors sent us more than 200 of their photographs from the weekend via social media (You can see the galleries by clicking here).
  • Hundreds of people downloaded e-vouchers from our website.

I was going to tell you about all that but it was something else about the week that really struck me about the weekend.

Although the conversations online really made the event tick and undoubtedly added another dimension with our local businesses it was analysis of some of the offline statistics that really hit me.

Of the five and a half thousand people who turned up to the event 20% used entry tickets that were torn out of an advert in the local paper.

This was really a bit of an afterthought to make sure we’d covered all the bases and I didn’t think it would be anywhere near that high.

An even higher number (26%) downloaded the e-tickets which again was much higher than I thought it would be. The rest used a leaflet that we gave away in libraries and local shops.

So the lessons I took away from all this are:

  1. Market segments are divergent and can be really confusing. We’ve got a big emerging digital audience but also large numbers of people still relying on more traditional means. You need to make sure you cover all the bases – digital and offline to ensure success.
  2. It’s becoming much harder to hit a mass market and you have to consider all the tools in the box (not just the shiny ones).
  3. At a local and hyper-local level the traditional media is still a key player (on our patch at least).
  4. If you research and promote your event well enough people will come – even when it’s about minus 2 in England’s most Northerly county when it’s meant to be spring.

Here’s hoping for a sunnier Easter next year or maybe a holiday.

(Huge credit to James Fell, Kristina Owen, Anne Marie Slattery, Nigel Walsh, Angie Tait and all our venues in Northumberland for making this event so special).

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