I attended the Ulster County Development Corporation & Ulster County Tourism‘s Ulster Tourism Conference held at the Kingston Holiday Inn on May 4th. As part of the local community and also because we serve clients who need to promote their own local tourism destinations, I signed up months ago to hear more ideas about what people are doing in our area.
The conference was well attended, clearly showing that many local people cared enough about this subject to spend the time and money to learn about how to drive tourism in our area. It makes sense, after all, many of them are small business owners who count on out of town business to make their living and keep their employees paid.
The conference started with a common theme I have heard lately: working together as a community. The first speakers spoke of the Ulster Tourism Industry not fighting over the same slice of pie anymore, but collectively joining forces to better not only individual establishments, but our whole community; our economy, our employment base, our tax roles. Increased tourism benefits all who live here. So, as a firm believer in community and reaching out, sharing information, etc. I thought it was off to a great start.
Somewhere between the great start and the finial, my optimism waned. I kept thinking of all the other people there that were hoping for solutions to their concerns and I hope they all got something from the conference. In truth, I ended up leaving feeling pretty frustrated and kind of disappointed. I’m going to try my best not to turn this blog post into a huge rant, but I might just a teeny tiny little bit.
As the Director of Social Media at DragonSearch, immediately, my eye was drawn to one speaker, Brain Riech, who was scheduled to speak about “Viral Marketing to Drive Sales” as a social media consultant.
Now, this has absolutely nothing personal against Brain who left his family including a brand new baby in New York City to come up on a Trailways bus to speak today, but what was the thought process that lead the organizers to bring in a social media consultant from New York City when we have local sources for the same information right here? I mean, here are all these local folks who want local solutions and there are local professionals who are ready willing and able to connect with them, and the conference organizers don’t even consider promoting the local professionals?
I’m sorry, but right there is a sign that something is wrong with the whole concept: PROMOTE ULSTER, but we can’t highlight any local companies that can help in that promotion? Heck, I can even understand that maybe they were concerned about highlighting just one business and showing some version of favoritism, but then seek presentations, put out a call for papers or put together a panel of all the local professionals who know how to use social media and have us all work together. And I am not saying this because I feel slighted or insulted or my ego hurts, I am saying this because I would think that the local folks who face local challenges might feel more comfortable calling up a local business to help them or to ask a quick question. I have a feeling that they are not going to be calling up Brian and here’s why:
Brain is a very smart guy and extremely well read. He did have a great understanding of how social media is changing advertising and marketing and I generally agreed with everything he said. The one major problem I have with his presentation ( besides the fact that he was not from my office), was that he spent a great amount of time discussing how businesses need to know their target audience and engage them or as from his power point: “Know?Your? Audience: Demographic -Psychographic?-Technographic- Behavioral” And again, I do completely agree, however, in my opinion, what Brain failed to do was exercise that basic tenet himself.
See, Ulster County is NOT New York City, or Boston or even Seattle. And while it was a perfectly presentable presentation for a geek conference someplace, or a PR conference in NY or an OMMA event, that’s not who was sitting in that room.
I know who was sitting in that room because I talk to, see, hear and live with these folks every day. I know who “gets” social media in this area because we all Tweet to each other! I can tell you exactly what challenges the small business in this area is facing when it comes to utilizing the various marketing tools. I also know how to make a strong community group function using those very same social media tools. I go to the Ulster Chamber events and talk to people who know they should be using social media, and really want to be using social media, but have no idea what to do first or how to start and are afraid of messing up.. and so they don’t do anything. Or they want to, but they don’t have the time or the knowledge and don’t know who can help them because they are really busy trying to keep afloat running their business and can’t afford to hire anyone. So sitting there and simply being told that everything they are doing is all wrong isn’t what they really need to hear. They know that; that’s why they paid $35.00 to sit in the Holiday Inn instead of working!
And again, I completely do agree that the whole new marketing plan for the Ulster Tourism board is wrong. I was horrified to see $770,000 all going to traditional print and advertising media like The New Yorker, 1010 Wins Radio spots and 30 second commercials. I am annoyed that the brand new UlsterCountryAlive.com website does not have one single social sharing link and the online calendar of events brings up popup windows and according to business owners’ doesn’t even work! To be fair, I am also a bit put off that Ulster County gave over $45,000 to a Westchester County company to create the Ulster County website when we have the “good enough for the American Museum of Natural History’s brand new website” (cough:coug:33Oxclove:cough) company right here on Kingston’s Wall Street in Ulster County! And don’t even get me started on search engine optimization and where is the site map for the search engine spiders! So I do get what is WRONG, but can we begin to tell Ulster Country what is RIGHT and how to do it? That’s what this audience needs!
Today’s conference missed a great opportunity to present some real simple solutions to the tourism community. There was a whole room filled with people whose very livelihoods depend on helping and they were not given ways to actually work together and make a difference. So, while DragonSearch was not asked to speak, I’ll be a good neighbor and help my community in the same way DragonSearch did on Wednesday when we presented on Social Media at UlsterSCORE, but that will have to be my next blog post!
So if you attended the Ulster Tourism Conference, and want to know some immediate tasks and tricks in social media to help promote your business, come on back!
Also, Ric Dragon will be speaking at the Hudson Valley Business Edge Spring 2010 on June 17th, so there were be real solutions there as well.