Congrats to Kyle Johnson, Digital Communications Specialist at Visit Indiana. He’s one of seven winners in the inaugural Emerging Tourism Star class, a program in partnership with MMGY Global.
Readers are meeting each of the winners in a profile in recent past and upcoming issues of The Travel Vertical and they’ll all be recognized during the 22nd Annual eTourism Summit on Sept. 20–22, 2021 in Las Vegas.
What’s an Emerging Tourism Star? Savvy individuals (of any age!) in destination marketing and attractions that are new to the eTourism Community of digital travel and tourism professionals or have risen to the challenges of a role.
- Winners will be directly connected with a travel and tourism leader as a mentor
- Winners receive a scholarship to attend eTourism Summit
- Winners will be on a panel conversation moderated by MMGY
- One winner will fill the eTS Emerging Tourism Star Advisory Board Seat (an annual appointment)
Q: How did you first get introduced to your role as Digital Communications Specialist at Visit Indiana?
A: I started my role in 2015. Prior to my arrival, there hadn’t been a person dedicated to digital promotions on a full-time basis, which meant I had my work cut out for me to some extent. It also meant that I started with a blank slate and was able to make it my own.
Q: What’s “The 20 IN 20” and why do you say you kind of “lucked out” with that campaign after Covid took us by surprise?
A: We made big plans for the year 2020, and had mapped out a year-long campaign featuring 20 different themed lists, each of 20 things to do and see in Indiana. The lists were to include all 92 counties in Indiana and initially planned to include everything from dining and small towns to sporting events and festivals. Little did we know what 2020 had in store for us.
We launched on January 1 and had immediate success with numerous earned media hits giving us a big boost to start. We were approaching 1.5 million impressions and over 50,000 engagements by the end of February. That was when the COVID curveball came. Come early March, we got the directive that all communications unrelated to the pandemic were to cease immediately, as you might expect. We scrambled to create content that was COVID relevant and spent the better part of three months unable to proceed with the campaign.
In deciding whether we could even continue “The 20 IN 20,” we realized that a list is the ideal content in a pandemic, as the last thing you want is to go viral and have a lot of people show up to one place. Promoting 20 things at a time led to an impact that was spread out. Instead of everyone showing up to our 5 top attractions, people were checking out 400 attractions across the state. That made social distancing a much more comfortable experience. The campaign was also well suited for a transition to in-state travelers.
We decided to revamp our lists during the time off. Sporting events and festivals were out, obviously. Drive-in theatres, roadside attractions, public art and lots of outdoor recreation were in! We relaunched in June and did over 1.5 million (organic!!) impressions in that first month. We saw several lists go viral and finished the campaign with 13+ million impressions (~12 million of that being organic) and over half a million page views (only ~8000 paid). That was with 0 impressions over a nearly 90-day stretch earlier in the year.
And the content is still driving traffic, as each of the lists is filling an SEO hole that existed prior to the campaign. That is something I’m proud to say we planned for from the start.
Q: Wow. And how did you attract mainstream media to cover the revised version of “The 20 IN 20”?
A: Our communications and marketing director, Amy Howell, does an awesome job connecting with her contacts in our state and surrounding region, and she set up relationships with local TV stations to help launch the lists. The fact that we were able to include every county in the state over the course of the year meant that there was almost always a local tie for each of our DMAs in Indiana. Not to mention that donut shops, ice cream shops, drive-in movies and roadside attractions are a pretty easy sell.
Q: Have you got a secret sauce for such impressive social media growth, especially on Instagram, even mid-pandemic?
A: I wouldn’t say there is a “secret sauce” outside of consistency. We post organically as much, if not more, than most of our peers in the industry, and I think that helps us out a lot in generating regular engagement in the platforms. I try to focus on finding views of Indiana that people wouldn’t expect to see. Travelers don’t think of Indiana as an exotic place, but we have a lot to offer, and it isn’t hard to find imagery that surprises travelers, as well as our residents. Even if it is a place they know or have been before, you can find an angle that shows it in a whole new light. That is what I’m constantly looking for with UGC.
With a lot of our content, we build specifically with social posts in mind, so a list of 20 things to do is made with the thought that it consists of 20 Instagram posts. That means we are purposeful in ensuring we find the best image possible for each item in our web content, whether that is UGC or owned media. I use a strategy I call “bricks and feathers”, which I learned from Lauren Teague at a digital conference. That big time-consuming blog post is a “brick,” but it is made up of “feathers,” which are ready-made social posts you can use to promote the “brick.”
We use that strategy to generate content but also drive web traffic. I find that, specifically on Instagram, having that CTA to drive people to our bio and click through to the website drives a lot of our success. Instagram’s algorithm clearly views that as a form of engagement, as we will see clear correlation between profile visits and link clicks to increased impressions on a given post, even if comments and likes aren’t superb.
Q: What did you think about your first eTourism Summit in 2017?
A: I was still pretty new to the tourism industry at that point, and so my head was spinning a little bit. I was just amazed at all of the great things going on around the country, and I feel like I came back and felt empowered to think bigger about what we could accomplish.
Q: What are you hoping to gain from attending #eTS21?
A: I’m looking forward to soaking up any ideas I can and then using them to spark ideas for our future campaigns. I have grown so much as a communicator and marketer since 2017, and I’m really looking forward to attending with that higher level of confidence.
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