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Experience Grand Rapids develops targeted online marketing strategy

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Related Document: Experience-Grand-Rapids-develops-targeted-online-marketing-strategy.pdf

By Joe Boomgaard | M&C
jboomgaard@mibiz.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

GRAND RAPIDS - When it comes to marketing, organizations need to be engaging with their target audiences wherever that audience may be. For Experience Grand Rapids, that market is increasingly online.

"(Our audience members) were going to be there anyway, and if we're not there, they'll be there without us," said Andrea Robyns, interactive web and design manager for Experience Grand Rapids. "Once we realized we needed to have voice, that's when we started moving."

In 2008, the destination marketing agency added its "Social Lounge" to its website in an attempt to pull together valuable local social media connections. Last year with the group's rebranding, Robyns said the social feature was integrated to the bottom of each webpage section. When people click on the restaurant section, for example, they see postings from local restaurants.

"When we launched the site, we knew we wanted to take some big steps in social media," Robyns said. "But we knew we had to have a plan. ... If you're talking to 20,000 people, and only 10 people engage with you, are you really talking to those people? We're Experience Grand Rapids and we want people to share their experiences."

Experience Grand Rapids tapped local firm Pomegranate Studios to develop that plan as the organization worked on more improvements over time.

"We wanted to take that role of expert on information, and if you're not there, they'll not come to you anymore," said Kate Wiltzer, multimedia communications manager for Experience Grand Rapids.

As is most often the case with social media and online strategies, the group realized that content was king. If anything was a challenge in getting other people to buy into the strategy Wiltzer and Robyns hatched, it was helping them to realize that a social media strategy wouldn't require more work. Pockets of expertise within the organization already had the content, but this new strategy would force them to share it and distribute it to people engaging with the organization.

"When we looked at the organization, we saw we had all these experts delivering content already," Wiltzer said. "We have content, and now we need to have a lead communicator to pinpoint and drive that content."

The next step, she said, was to figure out as much as they could about the audience and people's preferences for engaging with Experience Grand Rapids online. Using tracking mechanisms suggested by Pomegranate Studios, Robyns was able to track whether or not the content worked as intended, the timing that best fits content on various media, and on which of the social media the visitors engaged with that content.

"In our content action plan, we look at what info goes out daily and monthly and what (info goes out) as it comes," Wiltzer said. "As Andrea and I monitor the info going out, if we see a spike at 1 in the afternoon, we need to realize that's when people are there and that's when we have to engage with them. Maybe we'll see we're not putting out the content people want and we can decide not to put it out there."

They will debut that content plan this month, but the team is currently tracking a plethora of data made available by Google Analytics to add some accountability and tracking to their process. They evaluate the data on a monthly basis and track month-to-month trends in the visits and visitor habits.

"Hopefully, we can see patterns of success or failure," Robyns said.

To date, the group's website has seen peaks and valleys of traffic, but through the use of search engine optimization, they've been able to see a fair amount of new people coming to the site, which meets their needs of engaging with an audience beyond the region. She said outside search engine-related traffic, Facebook has been the largest single driver of traffic to www.experiencegr.com. The social networking site has even referred more traffic than Travel Michigan, the official state tourism website.

All the data they're collecting will help the organization find quality content that speaks to visitors, versus just putting out a quantity of content and hoping some of it will work, Wiltzer said.

"We want to give them information they want to hear and engage with us on," Wiltzer said. M&C

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