Episode 87: The Power of Social Presence for Your Destination, with Anna Pakman
Digital and social presence are a necessary part of an effective marketing plan, and they can be a great deal of fun as well. Working with partners in a region and harnessing the power of influencers who love your destination are avenues to explore and exploit as you promote your region.
In this episode of Destination on the Left, Nicole talks with Anna Pakman, VP of Digital Marketing for Empire State Development. She serves as Head of Digital for New York State’s chief economic development agency.
In this role, she oversees digital marketing initiatives for I LOVE NEW YORK tourism, and business development programs. Before joining New York State, Anna spent several years in the television industry leading award-winning social and digital media campaigns for Current TV, Al Jazeera America, and the Oxygen Network. Anna holds an MBA in Marketing and Media Management from Columbia Business School, and a BS in Finance and International Business from NYU’s Stern School of Business.
More on Anna’s Background
Thank you so much for joining me today, Anna.
Thanks, Nicole. I’m excited to be on the show.
I’m excited to learn from you today. I know our listeners are going to learn a lot, but before we dive into the questions, can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in your own words? I find it adds so much more context to our conversation.
Sure, I would love to. Like you said I LOVE NEW YORK is part of my portfolio, actually a very big part, and I oversee all of our digital platforms, and that includes iloveny.com, our award-winning I LOVE NY mobile app, social media accounts, digital partnerships, and influencer campaigns, email, and paid search and social. I have to say that I’m lucky to be part of an incredible team. In addition to those dedicated to digital, we have a talented broader marketing and tourism team, and of course, none of it would be possible without the support of Governor Cuomo, who is an incredible supporter of the tourism industry in New York State.
As for how I got started, I went to NYU for undergrad and then got my MBA from Columbia. But I didn’t get started in the tourism space until I came to I LOVE NEW YORK four years ago. Before that, I spent a lot of time working in digital and social media, mostly with TV networks. I travel a lot in my personal life, and I believe that gives me a broader perspective into what various destinations are doing.
Regarding how I got started in digital and social, I was one of the first full-time social media managers that NBC hired for their cable networks. I have gotten to see social brands evolve since pretty much the beginning.
That’s a very interesting background. I’ve got to agree with you that the support of Governor Cuomo in New York state has made a tremendous impact on the tourism industry, having worked in the New York state tourism industry year for over 20 years myself, so I think that that’s terrific. I find it interesting how our path brings us to this travel and tourism space, and how for you it was through social media, and digital space that eventually led you to this position with I LOVE NEW YORK. Am I hearing you right?
For sure. My love of travel combined with my love for the state played a big role. I grew up here. I grew up in Brooklyn and stayed in the city for school. I’m a pretty hardcore New Yorker.
I would say so too. And what I also love about you, Anna – because I’ve been working with you for a while – is not only your love of New York City, which is also where my mother lives but also your love for the entire state, and everything else there is to do beyond the iconic New York City.
We’re so lucky in that regard. I believe everything starts with the product, and New York State doesn’t have just one thing going for it. There is such a diverse variety of things to do, and world-class experiences you can have here. I was just at Storm King, which is this incredible outdoor sculpture park in the Hudson Valley. I was there yesterday, I was at Niagara Falls earlier this year, and there are so many more things that I want to see in the state. It’s impossible to run out of things to do here.
“I believe everything starts with the product, and New York State doesn't have just one thing going for it. There is such a diverse variety of things to do, and world-class experiences you can have here.” -@Annatated #podcast Click To Tweet
How to Stand Out From the Crowd: Instagram Stories
I agree. That is a perfect segue to dive into these questions. My first question is really about the tourism and hospitality industry, and how competitive it is, not just in terms of choice of places to go, but also competition for our time. When people are looking to vacation or have some time to go out and explore, there are so many places for them to choose from. I’m wondering what you have done to help New York State stand out from the crowd?
The way we stand out is by making the incredible assets that the state has truly shine. We’re in a very competitive space all around, but nowhere is this truer than on social media. We are competing with other destinations, we’re competing with time, but we’re also competing with everything in someone’s feed. We’re trying to get your attention over photos of your cousin’s new baby, or a conversation about an event all of your friends are excited about, or your favorite celebrity news. I find that it’s all about engaging our audience, so when they do think about vacations, New York State is top of mind.
Our team is very much on top of what’s going on with the platforms, and ways in which we can leverage how the audience is using them. It’s both exciting and challenging to work in digital because things change every day. We follow the developments of the platforms closely. I’ll give you an example of that. Instagram came out with Instagram Stories back in 2015, it was kind of their answer to Snapchat’s Story product, which was becoming popular, and we launched our first Instagram Story for I LOVE NEW YORK about a week after the product was released. I think we were one of the first destinations using the feature. What was great was that Instagram recognized us for doing this, they actually retweeted the very first story we ever did from their official account. There can be advantages to be an early adopter in addition to just the learnings that you get from it.
That’s great. I remember when you started doing Instagram Stories. Are you able to share a specific example with our listeners on how you use that?
Most of our Instagram Stories are presented from the perspective of what a day in the life of a visitor might look like in a particular destination. We do that in partnership with local tourism promotion agents who act as our eyes and ears on the ground, help us identify an itinerary, and send us photos that we then use for the story. This has worked out well for us and our partners. We’ve had over a million views on our Stories last year, and that’s all from our organic promotion.
“Our Instagram Stories are presented from the perspective of what a day in the life of a visitor. We've had over a million views on our Stories last year, and that's all from our organic promotion.” -@Annatated #podcast Click To Tweet
Creative Problem Solving: Influencer Marketing
That’s awesome. Those are some great metrics as well. Switching gears just a little bit Anna, I do like to learn from our guests, the creativity that happens when facing adversity or a challenge. What is the single biggest challenge that your organization has faced?
The fact that New York State has so many incredible destinations is both a huge advantage and a huge challenge for us because we want to do them all justice. But at the same time, we recognize that we have very little time to capture a consumer’s attention. In addition to that, we have a relatively small team to cover such a big and diverse state. I would say those are the most challenging things that we face.
I can see how those things can be very challenging. Here is your chance to brag a little; what’s one creative solution that you have come up with to combat that challenge that you just shared with us?
Definitely some of the partnerships we’ve done. In addition to the work that we’ve done with local TPAs across the state, we’ve worked with some great content creators who have traveled all across New York and shared their journeys with millions of followers. We’ve been recognized for this by the Shorty Awards who recently gave us a Gold Distinction for our Instagram presence. Instagram has been a bigger focus for us this year. It’s our most engaged and fastest growing platform regarding the following we have there, and it also works nicely with our overall marketing goal, which is to capture the family audience.
Last summer we worked with some families who have a large Instagram following to capture their travel experiences covering every region of the state. In the summer we’re excited to be partnering with another family who’s going to be visiting soon. What we found in doing this work is that the recommendations that the influencers provide not only act as authentic third-party endorsements to their followers but they also really resonate with our family audience in general when we promote them using digital advertising. That’s a really big thing in the social space – authenticity. And I think it’s becoming even more important with all the drama over fake news.
“That's a really big thing in the social space – authenticity. And I think it's becoming even more important with all the drama over fake news.” -@Annatated #podcast Click To Tweet
I can see that, especially with all the drama over fake news. I hadn’t really thought about that before now Anna, but I can see how important these authentic experiences are on social media, even more so now than ever I would agree.
Looking into the future, is there a project that you’re excited about in the coming months?
Yes. The National Comedy Center is going to be opening in Jamestown. That’s in Chautauqua-Allegany in southwest New York State on August 1st. I had the good fortune of visiting the region last summer. I got a hardhat tour of the construction project for the comedy center and got a peek at the plans. And what you’ll be able to do, and to see there is incredible. There are more than 50 interactive exhibits, and when you first buy your ticket, you’re given an RFID enabled wristband that makes the exhibits respond to your own personal comedic sensibilities. You take a little quiz, and it tells you what kind of sense of humor it is, and then all of the exhibits adjust based on the kind of things that you like. As a comedy fan and a techie, I could not be more excited. There is a big team effort around that launch, and I look forward to helping get the word out.
I’m also excited about a new feature we added to the I LOVE NY app. We released the app back in 2015, got a lot of accolades from organizations like the Shorty, and the Webby Award, as well as everyday users. And we’re always looking at ways we can provide even more meaningful engagement, and help users discover more about the places they’re traveling to in order to enhance the experience in the market because we know that happy travelers become our best ambassadors.
This past winter we released an audio walking tour in Lake Placid just in time for the Empire State Games. You could walk along Main Street, and learn about the history of the town and region, along with all the things you’re seeing from Mirror Lake Inn to the Olympic Ice Skating Oval. We’re also very proud of the accessibility of the tours. All of them were vetted for wheelchair access, and there is a feature that allows anyone who is deaf or has trouble hearing or simply prefers to read to get a text version of the audio, and all of the stats, and so we have a few coming out soon in other parts of the state.
Successful Coopetition Collaboration
That’s really, really cool. I love how you’re developing that app, and adding new features to it. Being interactive when you’re in the market I think is a great example of, first of all, creativity, but second of all taking that engagement a step further with the visitor.
I want to switch gears now. We also like to explore collaboration on the show. I know you’ve already spoken about it a little bit. I’m a huge believer in what I like to call coopetition, which is basically where competitors come together to create big wins, and I’m wondering if you can describe a time when a collaboration between competitors has worked for you?
Sure, so first of all our rule at I LOVE NEW YORK is to promote the whole state. Like you mentioned before, we’re not just New York City, we are a state, and we play a role in encouraging collaboration between our partners on the local level, who in some cases see themselves as competing for visitors with neighboring counties. We try to build greater cooperation by having statewide digital calls, which we do every couple of months. And inviting our TPAs to share their success stories, because we truly want everyone to win, so we’re constantly figuring out ways to do that.
I’ll give you two examples of ways we’ve encouraged more collaboration between I LOVE NEW YORK, our local partners, and then within local areas. One example is a two-year campaign that we recently did to promote the Catskills region featuring the best things to do and see there through the lens of influential publishers and influencer social media accounts. I think what worked was how collaborative the campaign was between I LOVE NEW YORK, the region, each of the four counties, and also our countdown partners. We had very positive feedback from each of the counties, who told us businesses in the area were seeing an uptick of visitor activity, which is exactly the kind of thing that we want to hear.
Another great example of this is the I LOVE NEW YORK Bracket that we do around March Madness. It started on a complete whim in 2015. We did a series of Twitter polls and found that people loved engaging with them, so in 2016 we decided to build a bracket on our website, so we could truly own the experience. We encourage people coming to vote to explore more of the immersive content experience on iloveny.com. The TPA community has been super engaged and helped us to really up the stakes this year by giving away a great prize. We featured 16 family-friendly destinations, and one lucky winner was able to choose to take a trip to one of them. She’s going to be visiting Oheka Castle out on Long Island. We’ve seen a lot of engagement thanks to collaboration from the TPs, and attractions, and that stems from them helping activate their biggest fans who then, in turn, become advocates, and share the bracket with their family and friends.
We know word of mouth is paramount to the vacation decision, so this is one way in which we can get a lot of people to say, “Hey, I love this place, go check it out.” And for those who are just becoming aware of these destinations, we help them dream a little bit by highlighting these incredible once in a lifetime experiences that you can only get in New York State. For example, one of the other things in the bracket was Singer Castle in the Thousand Islands, which has a two bedroom suite that anyone can book. You can have a whole castle to yourself. Talk about a fairytale experience.
And of course, I have to give a shout out to Animal Adventure Park in Central New York, which is the destination that got the most votes and was the ultimate winner of this year’s bracket.
How to Create Successful Partnerships
That’s awesome. I love that Animal Adventure Park was the ultimate winner in the bracket, and I also think it’s cool that you’re able to highlight places like the Singer Castle, that maybe this audience wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
Anna, I’m wondering if you can share with us a little bit about where you have looked for and found great partnerships that have created a win-win?
Sure. We work with our media agency Campbell Ewald to evaluate all the partnership opportunities that come our way. It’s an art and a science. We look at lots of numbers, such as audience composition, and how that aligns with our target. Things like average engagement levels, but then we also look at the creative a partner has produced in the past to see that it aligns with the I LOVE NEW YORK message.
I’m sure that that’s very important that they’re in alignment with your brand. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about a partnership maybe that didn’t go well, and how you handled that?
Well, when you work with influencers, you have to be ready to let go a bit. We’re not always working with professional photographers or videographers. Sometimes they’re everyday families who are talented at communicating with people on social media in their own way. There are times when they seem like they’d be a good fit, but the reality of the end product may not live up to expectations.
I can see how that could be a challenge when you’re working with influencers in that way, but I also love how you said you have to let go a bit, right? And let them talk to their audience the way that their audience is used to seeing them communicate. I think that’s great advice.
And so I’m wondering about managing expectations. I know it’s critical in a partnership. How do you set the groundwork for a successful partnership?
I think one of the primary things you have to do is you have to be clear about who is responsible for each piece, especially when there are a lot of different partners involved. Typically, when we do a partnership, once we’ve made it through the selection process, we make sure all parties are clear on the goal, and working towards the same objective.
“I think in a partnership one of the primary things you have to do is you have to be clear about who is responsible for each piece, especially when there are a lot of different partners involved.” -@Annatated #podcast #WhyCollaborate Click To Tweet
That is important to make sure that everyone is clear on what the goals are, and what the objective is of the program. And how would you describe what you look for in a great partner for a marketing program?
I would say the single most important factor is the engagement a partner has with their audience. As wonderful as social media is, there have been instances of people buying large followings, and leveraging that to become “influencers,” and securing brand partnerships when they’re not actually very influential at all. It’s important to look deeper and to see how people engage with potential partner’s content, and not just look at the follower counts.
“With influencers, it's important to look deeper and to see how people engage with potential partner's content, and not just look at the follower counts.” -@Annatated #podcast #WhyCollaborate Click To Tweet
I’m also a fan of great ideas no matter where they come from. I’m open to being pitched by an entrepreneur with a new app, just as much as I am by Google. The key is you have to show how a partnership would benefit I LOVE NEW YORK, and drive direct economic impact for us, and create jobs for New York State. Because we’re a part of state government, we have an incredible sense of responsibility to get the best value for the people of the state. There is a lot of due diligence involved on our end. Showing me how it makes economic sense can help get my attention up front. Also understanding that I LOVE NEW YORK is focused on the whole state, and not just New York City helps a lot.
And the last thing I would say that I look for is a passion for New York State. The partners we work with, whether it’s an influencer, or an agency, all of them have been super excited about promoting New York because they truly love New York and travel.
That’s awesome. I think that that’s a really great way to wrap up. You know, how much we love New York. Anna, I knew this would be a really informative conversation. I LOVE NEW YORK is doing so many creative things, especially in the social and digital space. I appreciate you sharing just a glimpse of what you’ve been up to with our listeners today.
Thank you so much for joining me, and we’ll look forward to connecting with you again.
Thank you, Nicole.
- In addition to the tour in Lake Placid, I LOVE NEW YORK recently released free audio walking tours in Buffalo, Seneca Falls, and Cooperstown: https://www.iloveny.com/mobile/