The first question you may be asking is, why am I all up in Destination DC’s business. Why them? Ironically it’s because I love DC, and I do a lot of traveling and a little bit of travel blogging, so it was a natural fit for me to look towards a tourism brand for the social media audit I had to conduct as part of the Strategic Social Media Communications course that is part of my MS in Communications program. While I was doing the social media audit, I discovered that Destination DC wasn’t practicing many of the best practices that I’m learning about in both the course and the research, especially in regards to engagement. I have some advice for this worthy organization.

Destination DC is the official tourism and destination marketing organization for Washington DC. The product they are selling is Washington DC, and all that DC has to offer. And it has a lot to offer. However, on social media, not so much. Image the tourism board representing the nation’s capital not posting about Independence Day on their social media channels. Not to be dramatic, but I think it’s egregious. If you’re representing the nation’s capital and don’t wish the country Happy Fourth of July, you’ve lost your way. There seems to be a lack of both engagement and enthusiasm for promoting the brand, which is too bad because DC is a fun, vibrant town with many great restaurants and local happenings. But, it’s not all bad news.

What They’re Doing Right

There are many things that Destination DC is doing right. Destination DC posts 8 – 15 posts per week on Facebook, 5 – 10 per week on Instagram, and 21 – 70 per week on Twitter, which meets the best practices outlined by Michelle Charello in Essentials of Social Media Marketing.

Their branding style is consistent between all three social media channels that I audited; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Destination DC is also taking advantage of branded hashtags. In a recent article Social Media for Nonprofits: 13 Best Practices by Anna Bredava, she mentions the benefits of using branded hashtags to draw attention to a collection of posts. Destination DC does this well with their #MyDCcool. They’ve asked their fans to tag their DC photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with #MyDCcool. They frequently have new UGC images that they’re sharing across platforms; however, it’s Instagram where Destination DC is most often using the #MyDCcool hashtag. The response seems to be a hit, as these posts typically have a higher rate of engagement.

Their call to action to photographers, using their branded hashtag #MyDCcool, to share their photos of DC is an excellent example of the type of engagement that Destination DC should strive for across social channels.

visit-dc-top-post-july-18-2020
Destination DC’s Top Post for July 2020

What They Need To Improve

The two areas they need to work on improving is their social media engagement and content strategy. There is a lack of diverse, high-quality posts that invite two-way engagement. One third should be to promote the business, 1/3 should share ideas and posts from industry influencers or allies, and 1/3 should be personal brand stories that create authenticity; which are the best practice strategies Hootsuite, the industry leader in social media management, recommend in their 14 Social Media Best Practices for 2020.  The majority of Destination DC’s social media posts are links to their website. Links accounted for 100% of the content on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, they repost the same material, without a change of feature image, making their Facebook and Twitter timeline look repetitive.

Low engagement rates indicate that they need to post high-quality content

There is a severe lack of two-way engagement on Destination DC’s social channels. Almost all questions go unanswered, which goes against what Sprout Social has published as the 5 Social Media Practices Every Marketer Must Follow. Destination DC’s social media engagement numbers are low when compared to industry averages. According to the Digital Marketing Institute’s article on Top 3 Social Media Benchmarks, You Need To Know For Your Business, Facebook’s average engagement rate for the travel industry is .13%. For Instagram, it is 1.73%. For Twitter, it’s .07%. Based on the social media audit I conducted, Destination DC’s engagement numbers are at .04% for Facebook, .013% for Twitter, and 1.03% for Instagram. However, a city such as Chicago, which has a comparable social following, has engagement rates of 3 – 5%, not to mention, cities such as Orlando and Las Vegas garner engagement rates well over 50%. Destination DC can achieve such numbers if they work on their content strategy. Low engagement rates indicate that they need to post high-quality content, which is excellent news for Destination DC because it’s an area where there are many opportunities.

How They’re Going To Fix It

  1. Respond to all comments to increase engagement rates or set a goal to respond or engage a certain percentage. Find a way to respond to negative, politically related comments. Destination DC will always have to deal with political spam or rants because they represent the nation’s capital. However, there should be a protocol on how to handle negative or hostile comments.
  2. Tell stories. Create a series of posts featuring a local tourism partner with a unique service, or behind the scenes footage at a popular local restaurant or attraction. If they start thinking along the lines of storytelling, this will create more authentic content.
  3. Create a mixed-media content strategy. Include high-quality images, text, text on images, polls, infographics, videos, live videos, podcasts, behind the scenes content, and links to website blog posts. Collaborate with business partners, allies, and influencers, and share their content. Remember, 1/3 should be business promotion, 1/3 should be posts from influencers or allies, and 1/3 should be personal stories that create authenticity.
  4. Optimize content for each social media channel. Please do not repost the same message across social media channels. Change the messaging, the feature image, and the hashtags to create a unique post, versus cross-sharing across platforms.

Destination DC is doing a great job of being a resource for all things Washington DC. These times of COVID-19 are unprecedented. They’re doing a great job of using their social media channels to inform about the latest developments in reopening the city with content such as Coronavirus-Related Reopenings, Closures, And Canceled Events In Washington, DC, and Travel Status Update. However, it’s time for them to breathe new life and enthusiasm into their social media activities.

What do you suggest? What else can Destination DC do to increase social media engagement?

5 thoughts on “4 Best Practices Destination DC Should Use to Increase Social Media Engagement

  1. It’s great that Destination DC posts consistently on its social media: however, it is worrisome that the majority of Destination DC’s posts are links to its website. Posting links does not invite engagement and that seems to be a problem for Destination DC. Additionally, Destination DC’s top post for July was an image rather than a link to its website. Clearly, Destination DC should post a variety of content to boost engagement!

    1. Destination DC does not recognize the value in social media outside of it being a mechanism to drive traffic to their website if they do; it doesn’t show on their audience pages. It’s not the best approach, or best practices, to use social media solely for this purpose, considering that most people do not open links. Additionally, images get the most engagement for travel brands, and they’ve pretty much abandoned that on Facebook.

  2. I certainly agree with you here – while they definitely have some strengths, there’s a lot of work needed to be done in order to get them to be competitive with other tourist locations. The fact that they didn’t mention the 4th of July this year is honestly quite shocking and perhaps a little disappointing. Given the criticism that Washington (legislatively – maybe not as a municipality) is going through right now, I think that being able to deflect negative comments or repurpose them into something more positive is definitely needed for their strategy. While traveling is difficult right now, they could put together some type of sweepstakes or raffle for people to have a visit to D.C, with entrants having to repost or share or something along those lines to broaden the reach of the organization. Food for thought!

    1. For sure, not posting on Independence Day was a huge misstep. The thing is they have a great product to work with, in my opinion. That love they have for their city and wanting to share everything about DC has to come through their social media activity. And, if the person who is doing their social media doesn’t love living in DC, they probably should reassign that person and get someone who wants to engage with those who are interested in DC.

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