Social Media and Hospitality Marketing at Visit KC


Carolyn Anderson

Featuring: Carolyn Anderson

Recorded on: June 03, 2015


Links for Carolyn Anderson:

LinkedIn Twitter Visit KC

Show Description

Kansas City has received a lot of press over the past few years due to the amazing town we have.  It is the job of Carolyn Anderson, Social Media Manager at Visit KC, to use social media to reach people who are thinking about visiting and who already live here and spread the message that Kansas City is amazing. 

In this recording of the Midwest Marketing Show, we learn more about what makes Carolyn tick, tools that help smaller teams and non-profits with social media, and what happens behind the scenes with this form of Hospitality Marketing. 

The Threes

I asked Carolyn what are three hospitality and social media strategies she believes have been successful and can be used to increase other’s social media impact. 

  • Find your local advocates – These are your natural cheerleaders who will help create content and share your message.
  • Don’t fight what you are known for – People want to see what you are known for so don’t shy away.
  • Don’t forget about Instagram – Being able to share the visually inspiring parts of your location can help make an amazing connection.

Influencers

  • Anyone who is passionate about their city
  • Members of Visit KC
  • The Attractions we have in Kansas City 

Show Transcript

Jeff Julian
Welcome back to the Midwest Marketing Show. I'm Jeff Julian and today we have a special guest. We always have a special guest. I always say that, but we have Carolyn Anderson. She is the social media manager for Visit KC. She lives and works and plays in KC, and she loves to experience the city through good food, good drinks, and good friends. When she's not working on all things KC, she loves to cook, travel, run which I hope we get to talk about a little bit, and then listen to interesting stories. Today we're going to listen to her interesting story. Welcome, Carolyn.
Carolyn Anderson
Thank you, Jeff. Thanks for having me on today.
Jeff Julian
Yeah. Let's get started to figure out how you got your start in marketing.
Carolyn Anderson
Sure. I got my bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia. It was in strategic communications, was my focus. After that, it was most entirely agencies, advertising agencies, in Kansas City, Phoenix, Green Bay, Wisconsin, and then full circle back to Kansas City.
Jeff Julian
Oh, wow.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah. I definitely did the agency thing for quite some time. I was really happy. I really enjoyed the challenges of marketing new clients or new tools or new products that needed marketing. However, when I moved back to Kansas City and reemerged and living downtown, I was like, "Okay, this is a different Kansas City than I left." I really fell in love with the way the city had changed and was growing. I was really excited about it, but I had that history of it being my hometown. As that grew and developed, I noticed that the opportunity to work at Visit KC came up. I hopped over to the brand side. I'm coming up on my end of my second year at Visit KC.
Jeff Julian
Wow.
Carolyn Anderson
I really love it. We got a great team and the "product" being Kansas City is a great product, in my opinion, I really enjoy it.
Jeff Julian
Why don't you tell us a little bit more to the audience about what Visit KC is?
Carolyn Anderson
Sure. It used to be the formal, old school name, if you will, of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. Quite the mouthful.
Jeff Julian
Good rebranding. Yeah.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah, a little easier, easier on the social handles there with Visit KC. Yeah, so our mission statement is to ignite global passion for Kansas City. That's a pretty big mission statement. That's a big task to undertake, but it's one that I believe that the team we have at Visit KC loves to do every day. We have a good team in place to do that.

We want to both promote leisure visitors, leisure people coming in for the attractions, for the food, to check out our parks and things like that, but there's also another side of our mission, and that's to bring in major meetings, conventions, big and small really. The announcement recently with the new conference hotel will be really exciting for the city as well to add to the already in place hotels and conference facilities that we have. We just want people to see Kansas City as a place to work and play and live and enjoy.
Jeff Julian
You guys have done a great job, because every time I turn around, there's another magazine that's saying how awesome Kansas City is.
Carolyn Anderson
We like that. Yes.
Jeff Julian
Yeah. I grew up south of here, and the new Kansas City is not the Kansas City I remember. The Kansas City I remember was more crime-ridden, downtown was a bad area.
Carolyn Anderson
Here you are downtown.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, exactly. We stayed out of it. I remember 6 years ago, when I first bought my camera, I came down to the River Market to take pictures. I was so freaked out that I was down here, I didn't get out of the car. I shot from the window. Now it's like, "Hey, it's 5 in the morning. Let's go for a walk."
Carolyn Anderson
Right. Exactly.
Jeff Julian
The city's done a great job and you guys have done a great job of promoting it. What's a day in the life look like to be in the social media manager for someone like Visit KC?
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah. Like I mentioned before, the product being Kansas City is, in my opinion, exciting to talk about, so yeah, a lot of people, some people even ask me, what does a social media manager do, like what is it? I'm a marketer, but social media is my channel. I create and curate content. The unique thing about working in social media at Visit KC is I am extending and resharing other people's marketing messages. We have members of Visit KC, the attractions. Worlds of Fun is back in full swing. We've got Oceans of Fun open.

I'm extending their message by sharing what they're doing with my audience, same for any other attraction and restaurant around. It's a unique position to be in to reshare or retell what other people's messages are. Also, I try to find different ways to tell those stories from our side of things. There's something called evergreen content, where you can post about, at any time you can talk about barbecue any time of year, but then there's stuff that's like heat of the moment or flash news, stuff like that.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, Royals go to the World Series.
Carolyn Anderson
The Royals go to the World Series. That was huge. Then just the recent announcement that the Big 12 Tournament is returning to Kansas City through 2020, that is a huge moment where you stop what you're doing and you just focus on that message because it's hot and it's timely. As I mentioned, I feel like the product of Kansas City is ... There's always going to be something to talk about, so when I get up in the morning, I'm just deciding, what am I going to talk about today and what am I going to talk about in 2 months? Sometimes those are completely separate subjects.
Jeff Julian
Oh yes, definitely. I can imagine.
Carolyn Anderson
It's not just seasonal. It's what do we want people to hear about now that Kansas City has changed and evolved, as you said.
Jeff Julian
When we talk about Kansas City, are you talking about just the actual Kansas City, Missouri city or are you talking about the entire metro?
Carolyn Anderson
Definitely the entire metro. I feel like that Kansas City, Missouri proper, downtown, the 64105 zip codes throughout the main part of the city are definitely worth visiting on their own. However, it is a metro area. We have major sports teams on both sides of the state line. We have amazing attractions further south Kansas City, Overland Park out in Kansas City, Kansas.

I think it's a package deal. It pretty much is how the locals treat it and it's how visitors treat it as well. I don't think they see the state line. There's definitely differences. There's definitely different cities, different government entities as well, of course, but I think that people look at it as the heartland, and it's just which highway do you take, which pretty soon the streetcar, where is that going to take you, things like that. I think that's how people look at it. We're proud to sell both sides of the state line, if you will.
Jeff Julian
We're definitely teed up to be more like the Twin Cities where you have Minneapolis and you have St. Paul, or Fargo and Moorhead.
Carolyn Anderson
Right.
Jeff Julian
We stay together, and I love that about Kansas City. I think it helps that we have the same name on both sides.
Carolyn Anderson
It helps and hurts. It gets a little confusing, but really, yeah, like you mentioned, it really is kind of more of 1 city. I really appreciate Sporting Kansas City's approach to that. Their office is here in downtown Kansas City. The stadium is in Kansas City, Kansas. They definitely don't say KCK in their marketing. It's just, "This is Kansas City. This is your home, you're both." Fans are coming from both sides of the state line as well.
Jeff Julian
Yeah.
Carolyn Anderson
I like that shared, we're all in this together, little bit of approach.
Jeff Julian
It was nice that Google, when they came up with the Fiber, they hit both sides of the state.
Carolyn Anderson
As I drink from my Google Fiber water bottle over here.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, and we release with our Google Fiber internet connection here.
Carolyn Anderson
Yes, not sponsored.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, not sponsored by Google. Recording this show from something that was a former cowtown and now I think of more of a tech hub because we have all these startups, we have a lot of successful large businesses that are technology-based, and to drive it back to social media, what are some of the tools that you use for monitoring, for curating content, for releasing your social media?
Carolyn Anderson
Sure. It's funny, but I actually use a lot of the native software, the native tools, so Facebook, Twitter, I will use the native tools. They have some unique aspects that you can't always have in a tool. For example, Twitter allows you to tag people and tag handles in photos and you can add 4 photos. You can't always do that with every tool. There are enterprise level tools out there that exist that will allow you to do a lot more, but we have the tools that we have.

We're a nonprofit, so we're not going to have the top of every tool out there. What really works for me especially with Twitter is Hootsuite. I really think it's a great tool. Their pro level is $9.99 a month, I think. It's not going to break even the smallest bottom line, I don't think. Then they have enterprise level, which I know the city of Kansas City, their 311, KCMO 311, they use enterprise level because they are literally taking in thousands of city requests a week, I think. You need that high demand backup on the software.

I like Hootsuite because you can have multiple tabs. You can have geo-specific listening, so you can say, "If people talk about lost and they're within 15 miles of Kansas City, show me their tweet." See if I can help. Be a literal guide for them and get them back into the city. I really think Hootsuite is getting more and more robust and great, a great tool for any travel agency or really even other businesses. I think it's a great tool.
Jeff Julian
I love the campaign this year when people said, "Hootsuite, your UI sucks." Then they finally went out and redid the UI.
Carolyn Anderson
Right.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, and brought it up to almost like an online TweetDeck is what it feels like.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah, I definitely ... The TweetDeck is going to be Twitter's tool, so they're going to continue to develop the services offered on that as well. It's been interesting to see literally how my listening has changed now that the tweets are quoted. That's actually changed a few things because you're reading 2 tweets in one now, and every tweet takes a little bit longer to process and decide to respond to and everything like that. Yeah, back to the native tools. Facebook, there's nothing going to be as good as the original, but there's a lot of software out there that helps with that. Then in terms of managing all that content, we've actually been using DivvyHQ. They're a local company.
Jeff Julian
Oh, cool. Yeah.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah, especially for me in social media, when I am not necessarily sitting in front of my desk all the time, it's good to pull up DivvyHQ and say, "Okay, what did I say I was going to do this week?" Or last week I was traveling and I got delayed by a day. I'm able to pull up remotely, which is extremely valuable for social. You can do a certain amount of social from anywhere in the world, but there's nothing like being in Kansas City when talking about Kansas City. Yeah, it's good to have some tools out there that are accessible from anywhere.
Jeff Julian
You mentioned being a nonprofit. We're a small company too, so I don't have amazing budgets when it come to marketing tools. If you could have a larger budget, what tool do you think you would add?
Carolyn Anderson
I think it would be an enterprise level social media tool. There's many out there, Sprinklr, Spredfast. [There's those ones 00:12:21] to name a couple. It's something shiny for sure. You know that it would change your day and that's really tempting to take on, but it's been something I think about a lot. Again, while I'm pretty impressed with what I have in place in terms of Hootsuite, it really is a great tool. Yeah, something enterprise level where it's like one-stop shop is something that's really great because it is hard when you have 5 or 6 tools.
Jeff Julian
Absolutely.
Carolyn Anderson
You're balancing those separate budgets and different logins and passwords and things like that. Yeah, I'm pretty happy with what we have in place, but I'm excited to see and to know that I don't know what tools will exist in a year or how budgets may change in a year. Things like that, I'm always on the lookout for what people are offering that can make ... basically free up my time. I am a 1 woman show over there. I have a amazing marketing team, a lot of support, but I'm not only thinking of what I want to do on social, I'm writing it and scheduling it myself. Any tool that can create even just half of my ...
Jeff Julian
Exactly.
Carolyn Anderson
... my efforts would be amazing, so yeah.
Jeff Julian
I hope these vendors start to see that everyone using social in their platform needs to have a good UX. Then as you go up, you offer richer features, like more users and more time and more content and stuff like that.
Carolyn Anderson
For sure. I didn't really even know how much existed until I got to the brand side. Then you get the emails, the phone calls, the messages. You're just like, "These seem like the same tools, but they're coming from different people." I think it'll be interesting to see what companies and what tools manage to rise above the frenzy of creating solutions that are duplicative efforts in the same tool, different person.
Jeff Julian
Yeah. Oh yeah. It feels like social media is such a new frontier that we still have the small general stores, the corner shops, and there isn't a Price Chopper.
Carolyn Anderson
They got Google Fiber.
Jeff Julian
Exactly. Exactly. We need the world to continue to come together and we figure out what microblogging is or what these social media platforms really are, and then start to get more robust tools. Really, the big dogs have to start buying up people and so we need Microsoft to continue buying, Facebook to continue buying, but we need somebody who's an outside player who wants to own the tool space and not necessarily a platform. There's always issues with that, but someone's got money out there. They should do it. It's very clear in everything that you do that you are social. You can't open a magazine without seeing your face in it.
Carolyn Anderson
It's been a recent wave.
Jeff Julian
Exactly. Being on Twitter or just going to one of the meetups and you're there. How do you see the efforts that you put into yourself transverse what you put into Kansas City to make social media available, to make Visit KC a available thing? What is hospitality marketing?
Carolyn Anderson
Sure. It's interesting because you kind of ... Visit KC has 2 main audiences in terms of ... at least in social media. We have locals and we have non-locals, people that could visit or people that could bring their meeting to Kansas City. It's very interesting to me that that is almost a 50/50 split in terms of my followers. When I write a message, if every message was, "Please come visit KC. Thanks for visiting this weekend. It was a great Memorial Day weekend," my local audience is not going to feel like I'm connecting with them.

It's an interesting challenge to balance the invitation to come to Kansas City with, "Hey, you live here and you know this, so get out there and do these things." Really what I want to do is make sure that it's just a given that when someone is going to come to Kansas City, whether or not they're visiting a college friend or a business or hometown and they're returning and they haven't been back in a year, I want them to be able to just pull up Visit KC on any social media channel and feel like we are an approachable entity.

It's funny. I get thanked for replying sometimes. It's great. I don't know any city that wouldn't reply to someone that reached out to them, but it's more just a small delight still to have that connection, particularly when maybe you look at the number of followers we have and you just think maybe you won't hear back. It's really fun to just be right there and say, "Hey, yeah, I can help you find brunch. How much time you got? Let's talk about what you like."
Jeff Julian
Absolutely. You've posted a couple of my pictures that I put up on Flickr.
Carolyn Anderson
Oh, yes, yes.
Jeff Julian
It's just like, "Hey, look, somebody with more followers put up something of mine." That, it still feels awesome. When you get a brand that responds to you, like yesterday I put a tweet out to Ann Handley because I got a email from Grammarly that said I was above the fold on my writing and I'm not a writer. I'm a software developer by trade, and so I replied to her saying, "Hey, look, your book works."
Carolyn Anderson
That's great.
Jeff Julian
She replied back and you just get that instant smile and that ...
Carolyn Anderson
Acknowledgement, yeah.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, exactly. It still works and I think it's going to continue to work. I don't think people are going to get used to brands talking to them.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah, because there's a disconnect until there's a connect. You don't know which brand or which entity is going to reply back to you, so it is a really cool thing. You asked about personal love of Kansas City and how that gets wrapped in. I think it's very easy for me, putting myself out there, going to these events like you said. I live downtown. I get to see a lot of these events downtown, and I have friends throughout the whole city that I visit.

There really is always something going on and that's just amazing to me when inevitably one of my Hootsuite columns, a tweet comes through. Actually this was yesterday. Someone on Twitter was complaining that Royals fans are just wildly skewing the All-Star voting. They're like, "I know nothing's going on in Kansas City, but really, what are people doing over there?" As the social media manager for Visit KC, you're just like, "I want to respond to that," but I don't.
Jeff Julian
Don't feed the trolls.
Carolyn Anderson
Don't feed the trolls. They're just going to do what they're going to do. I actually went to that person's profile. Yeah, that's their deal, for sure. It's tempting to reply on a personal level as well, but I don't. It's all about being there for the people that are going to ... They're going to help celebrate you. The thing I like is that our city's full of people that celebrate Kansas City, so they're the people that I remember that are out there when you get the opposite side of that.
Jeff Julian
Yeah, I think the killer app would be integration with our wearables, so when it sees that our heart rate is raising and we're in social media, it puts another double-check on there. Are you sure you want to send this?
Carolyn Anderson
I wish everyone that ever wrote a comment on YouTube had one of those. It would be amazing.
Jeff Julian
If you're going out and you're trying to get people to love Kansas City, or here and love Kansas City who aren't here, what are the measurements that you use for success?
Carolyn Anderson
There's the literal measurements that I put in my reporting every month. Am I increasing followers? Am I increasing impressions? Am I increasing engagement? Those aren't always a given in terms of increasing interest and passion for Kansas City. It is a unique part of the challenge at Visit KC that our mission, I can't necessarily say the tweets I wrote last week led to someone deciding that they're going to go stay at Hotel Sorella or the Ambassador Hotel downtown.

I can't put that ROI directly to that, so definitely social media marketing and something like travel is definitely PR. It's definitely a billboard for your city but it's on social media. You can't always have that hard, "This led to this," but that's what I like. I like the challenge of ... To me, if impressions are increasing and particularly engagement is increasing and reach is increasing, I feel like I must be doing something right.

The message people want is share the message. I feel like if my writing was boring or I was bringing in writing that wasn't inspiring, I just don't think I'd get shared as much. I think that, particularly when talking about a city, people want a human connection. They want that emotional connection because when you are inspired by travel and you're inspired by cities, that's what you need to come through on your writing and your content that you push out there.
Jeff Julian
Yeah. When we went to Fargo, I went up there for a couple of sessions, and we spoke about the user groups there in town. You come to their Travel and Bureau location and there's the wood chipper from the movie.
Carolyn Anderson
Sure.
Jeff Julian
You see that and that's 1 major thing that town has going for it. You think Fargo, you think movie or the TV show. You think wood chip. We don't necessarily have that, right? We have a very diverse town that's had a lot of different forms of history, whether it was when it was originally built and we dug out the pit and gave us the names of all the areas that we have, or if it was somewhere in the '20s where we had a lot of gangsters.
Carolyn Anderson
Paris of the Plains.
Jeff Julian
Exactly, and all the fountains, or if it was the '60s and the Nichols revolution and the plaza, or currently the spread of the city. Now you can go out to 200th Street in South Overland Park and there's houses there. We have this diverse culture, so we don't have something that we can just lean back on, so you have to keep digging and trying to promote it. I definitely am very happy for all the work that you're doing.

Let's move to The Threes section. Since we're talking about hospitality marketing, what are 3 hospitality or social media strategies you believe have been successful that travel writers, that visitors' bureaus, that hotels can use to increase their impact in social?
Carolyn Anderson
Sure. Pardon me. I touched on local advocates a little bit earlier in the podcast. I think that you need to take advantage of those people that are celebrating your city already. They are going to be the natural cheerleaders for your brand or your product, or in our case, our city. If I didn't share the photos, for example, Flickr photos that locals took, I'd be missing out on a lot of content.

I think, as a local, you see and experience your city differently. A thing that a lot of travel agents like to do is say, "This is where the locals go." The appeal to that to a visitor is anybody with Google can look up the top things of any city. It's wanting to take a minute and sit at a bar, sit at a restaurant, go to some of the hidden gem parts of the city that if I have more than 24 hours, where I'm going to go, so I feel like the locals are some of your best advocates sometimes and are going to be the people that share your message with passion.

If you look at the guys that come into town for Big Slick, Paul Rudd, they're celebrating their hometown and for good reason. It's for a great cause. The thing is though they support that great cause because it's tied to such a wonderful city. They're always going to be Kansas City guys, so that's a cool part about using local advocates to extend your message.

The other thing is it's good timing with your mentioning about what cities are known for. I would say don't fight it. They call it the big 3, jazz, fountains, and barbecue. I think people want to see that when they come here. We say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've got all that, but don't forget we have an artisan cocktail scene now." It's like, of course, that's an amazing aspect. I love that and I celebrate it and I enjoy it myself.

However, for someone to come to Kansas City and say, "I'm going to try to experience Kansas City without barbecue," we don't get that a lot. It happens and you definitely can experience the city without barbecue. It's just it's kind of a fun thing to do. The fact that you come home from a business trip from Kansas City and people ask you if you had barbecue, it's okay that the answer is, "Yes, twice."
Jeff Julian
Exactly.
Carolyn Anderson
I would say celebrate what you're known for, but maybe consider, is there a different way to tell this story? It's not just, "Here are the locations of these 500 barbecue spots." It's, "Here are the people that are behind it. Here are the reasons. Sometimes the biggest difference between these 2 places is the type of sauce. Let's talk sauce." It really could be just telling the old story in a new way, and that gives it life.
Jeff Julian
Just go with the low carb capital of the world, right?
Carolyn Anderson
No one would believe me. Then I think it's just interesting. We were talking before we started recording today about Instagram. It is a channel that we're all still trying to figure out. It's free of marketing messages, direct marketing messages, at least for many people. We're starting to see some sponsored posts come through. However, it is a place to celebrate the visually inspiring parts of ...

In our case, our product is the city, so instaKC, I'm incredibly proud of how that's grown. I love to work with people like People of Cowtown is an Instagram handle that got ... They were on the news recently. She's similar to the Humans of New York, talking to people that live and work and experience their life in Kansas City. IG Kansas City, another great example. They put on the Instameets, Instameet KC, where perfect strangers and then people that are becoming friends because of Instagram are coming together to say, "Hey, let's take a picture of something we both like, which is Kansas City."

I really feel like, I've said it before, the instaKC hashtag is sort of like a love letter to the city. I think that's a cool component of travel marketing that you can't really replicate on any other channel quite the same way. It's a small square picture and you get that much real estate to show what you want to show. It's fun to see what people react to on that channel. I think Instagram, for us, it's our third largest channel. It's got only 10,000 followers, compared to the other multi-digit numbers of the other channels, but it's something I'm proud of. I'm proud to see what comes across our Instagram feed.
Jeff Julian
Cool. Thank you for coming out, but before we go, I always like to wrap up to see where our influencers get their influence from. Who do you go to for information, for insight, for entertainment, in the Midwest or worldwide?
Carolyn Anderson
That's a good question, and it's the last one. It's one I have had the least amount of time to think about. Not to give a generic answer, but I guess it is sort of generic. I look for city lovers, so people that take pride in place, I think that can be, or state, like they love the state. They're celebrating their great state that they live in.

I am inspired by those people because I feel like they're always working to make it better. They're using the unique public channel that social media is to share that message. I follow a lot of people that promote cities and travel on Twitter. It's interesting to me how it goes from everything from the formal travel agencies, the Visit KCs of the world, to the local person who's pushing for more bike lanes. I feel like they are just as much a part of the fabric of the city. They are the fabric of the city. I am inspired by those people that are making my job better because they're making the city better. Anything, I just really enjoy, I'm trying to think, CityLab. CityLab on Twitter is a great resource for things like that.
Jeff Julian
Of course, Sporting KC. Everybody loves Sporting.
Carolyn Anderson
Sporting KC. I love Sporting KC. I really love every member of Visit KC and the people that are attractions and things that aren't even members. I love just seeing what they're putting out there. Twitter's obviously the most public, and I follow them on other channels as well. I love the attractions that are marketing Kansas City are part of the reason that the city is so awesome. It's the amusement parks and it's the restaurants. It's the small businesses and the big businesses. Everybody is making Kansas City look really good and I like that, so yeah.
Jeff Julian
Cool. That's a good note to wrap on.
Carolyn Anderson
Yeah, for sure.
Jeff Julian
Thanks for coming out.
Carolyn Anderson
Thank you for the interview. Thank you.