Head-to-Head It’s DC vs. Chicago! Who’s More Social?

I’m back with Destination DC, Washington DC’s destination marketing organization. And, really, what I want to do is help them with their social media efforts. If you recall, in my last blog post, 4 Best Practices Destination DC Should Do to Increase Social Media Engagement, I pointed out what they were doing right and what they were doing wrong. I conducted a social media audit on one of my favorite cities for a grad school project. I didn’t know that I would find a severe lack of two-way engagement on their top social media channels.

The average engagement rate across industries on Facebook is less than 1%.

The next project that was part of this Strategic Social Media Communications course was to conduct a mini-version of a competitive analysis. A mini-version because we only audited one social channel with the competitive examination.  After researching the nation’s top cities for convention and tourism, and comparing social media numbers, I decided on Choose Chicago. The platform I chose was Facebook.

For July 2020, the top-performing post for Destination DC is a beautiful sunrise shot at the National Mall on July 18, with the caption, “There’s truly nothing like sunrise 🌅 on the National Mall.” The top post for Choose Chicago was posted on July 4, 2020. It’s a photo of the American Flag on the side of a building with the message: Wishing you and yours a happy 4th of July with a flag emoji. According to Social Insider, both of these blog posts follow best practices on social media as photos receive the most engagement for travel brands.

So, which image post do you think received the most engagement? The one on the left of the Wrigley Building or the one to the right of the National Mall.

If you chose Chicago, you’d be correct. Destination DC’s image post has an engagement rate of 19.7%. These are excellent numbers and fantastic engagement for Facebook.

A recent report published by Rival IQ has the average engagement rate across industries on Facebook as less than 1%. However, Choose Chicago’s post has an engagement rate of 42%. It might seem that, of course, an image of a flag would generate a lot of engagement on the 4th of July. However, there’s more going on here than the holiday. Choose Chicago’s high engagement rates is based on a deliberate plan to engage and deliver high-quality content. 

Destination DC vs. Choose Chicago: Media Mix

Choose Chicago utilizes a mix of links, photos, and video versus Destination DC that posted links 93% of the time during the examination period. Out of 33 posts, 31 were links, and two were images. Hootsuite’s 14 Best Social Media Practices You Should Follow in 2020 suggests a rule of thirds media mix; 1/3 posts to promote the business (e.g., links to content on tourism site), 1/3 share ideas and posts from influencers, and 1/3 share personal stories. Honestly, many travel brands aren’t there in regards to engagement and media mix. However, Choose Chicago is closer to this practice than Destination DC. Destination DC is posting more often, but getting less engagement. A clear indication they need to change up what they’re posting. And, once they start posting higher quality content, they have to get social.

I’ve always been told a smile never hurt anyone, but it may brighten someone’s day. Social media is about being social, and socializing is a two-way process. Destination DC needs to engage with its audience. They can do something as simple as setting the goal of interacting with a third of those who comment by either liking the comment or responding to the comment or post. Sometimes it really is the simple things.

Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think of this comparison between DC and Chicago. Who do you think had the most engagement? Have you been to either of these fantastic cities?

4 Best Practices Destination DC Should Use to Increase Social Media Engagement

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.

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?