by Michael J. Shapiro | February 01, 2010

A couple of online searches reveals that a huge number of destination marketing organizations have carved out a presence on Twitter and Facebook. But most of the information conveyed on these sites is aimed at leisure travelers or residents. Bureaus in New Orleans and Pittsburgh, for example -- both savvy users of the tools -- have yet to tap the group travel market via these sites.

A glance at many CVB social media sites tells the same story. But that story is changing in many cases. Representatives from both the Pittsburgh and New Orleans bureaus, among others, say targeting specific groups and planners through social media is a goal for the coming year.

Testing the waters
For Tom Rowe, director of web marketing for Visit Baltimore, the effort to reach planners is a natural extension of his approach to marketing the city. "Right now, for us, Twitter is primarily for leisure travel," he admits. "But certainly, I've sought out people within the meetings industry to follow, and hopefully get them to follow me." A social media strategy is about establishing personal connections, Rowe explains, and planners in that sense are no different from the bureau's other followers. "As they follow us, they're seeing what's happening in Baltimore, and hopefully it appears and stays on their radar when they're thinking about where to hold their meetings."

Rowe's efforts are gradually becoming more proactive. He keeps tabs on conventions that are in town and monitors their Twitter conversations, observing how groups use the tool and jumping in when appropriate to answer questions or provide tips. For conventions with a public component like a parade, he helps market the event by tweeting about it. During the Professional Convention Management Association's annual event in January, which was held in Dallas, Rowe followed that Twitter conversation and inserted Baltimore into the discussion.

"We had a whole team there," recounts Rowe. "I posted, ‘Find someone from Visit Baltimore, take a picture and send it to me, and you'll win a prize.' " Not long thereafter, Rowe received a photo of a Visit Baltimore staff member with a planner attendee. (The prize: The Paul Lynde Halloween Special DVD, which Rowe just happened to have sitting on his desk.)

Rowe's communication with planners is helping the bureau develop marketing packages it can sell to groups. "Twitter is where we see the greatest impact as far as being able to communicate directly with planners," he says.