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Why Marketing on Social Media is Like Feudalism and What That Means for Resorts

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“This week is website week. We’ll be covering everything from case studies to owning your channels and what you can do to be ready come redesign time. Enjoy.”

Devin Reams is a marketer with a unique perspective. By day, he managers web design firm Crowd Favorite. By night, he runs ski blog Colorado Snow. After some conversation about “owning” channels, Devin offered this guest post and I was happy to accept. It’s a timely message in our social media heavy marketing worlds. Give it a read…you won’t regret it.

For most marketers Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram are the perfect online tools. They offer you free and easy publishing to the world without a lot of effort. Especially since technology will always be challenging and evolving.

Because most resort brands and marketing teams don’t have a lot of extra in-house resources (or cash) to build online properties (blogs, photo galleries, web applications) and potential fans and customers don’t want “one more network”, these social networks have support for continued use from both sides of the equation. But, while there are plenty of ‘pros’ to leveraging these networks, there are certainly plenty of ‘cons’ that folks may not realize.

I’ll explain why relying on these properties is not a great idea and and owning your own is a better one. I suggest marketers “exploit”, not rely on, social media like Facebook and Twitter.

First, we all have to accept the premise: the job of the marketer is to increase sales, awareness, goodwill, and improve the overall product and business.

1. Own Your Domain
I hate to take this to an extreme, but: when your primary home on the web is a page on someone else’s social network, your taking part in fuedalism (see: share cropping). In exchange for using the network and its features you may become indebted to the network to help promote it, could ultimately pay for the right to certain liberties, and will have nearly no say in the governance of what happens to you, your fans, your content, and so on.

The internet was created around the ability to port domains (just like your phone number) so you can pick up and go anywhere in the future. If you have a blog on Tumblr today, who says you won’t want to migrate to WordPress in the future (or vice versa)? Don’t become another, instead become or Why?

It will help build on top of your own top-level domain’s search engine value.

Which will build your own search engine inventory — more pages mean more potential search results, means more potential traffic, customers, and loyalty.

This allows you to move your domain to another service or provider in the future and retain that value instead of losing it if you move to another network or one shuts down.

2. Know Your Intellectual Property Rights
I’m not a lawyer and you likely aren’t either. So, has your legal counsel reviewed the terms of service and intellectual property rights you’ve agreed to when you joined an social network on behalf of a brand or published any content online? You may be surprised by what you’re allowing.

On some networks, when you posting something, you give that company a license to display it (at the very least, that’s how they can show that content to other users). But, what else can be done? Can your content, profile, fans, and so on be marketed against by a competitor? Pretend Resort 1 pays Social Network A to target and say “fans of this photo on Resort 2, you’ll like Resort 1 even more!”

That’s a worst-case scenario, sure, but that’s how to think about this, especially as these networks need to make money in novel ways. Contracts and rules are not in place for ‘best case’ scenarios. If someone else has an unrestricted license to your full, high resolution, beautiful photos, you may be doing it wrong. Check with someone qualified to determine this!

Alternatively, I recommend you share excerpts (not full posts), thumbnails (not original images), and links to your content on social networks so the full versions are posted on your own website. Sure, the full posts and full images may get greater traction or promotion if using the network ‘natively’, but in exchange, people can now click through to your property gaining you:

  • More possibilities for people linking to you with resulting search engine traffic (and inventory) on your own property. If I search for “snow report at Resort A” I want your site to come up, not Facebook.
  • A greater web presence for anyone and everyone to visit because not everyone wants to (me), knows how to (grandparents), or can (pre-teens and search engine bots) use social networks. If someone (or something) only needs to be able to open a web page, that’s a much wider net to cast and a bigger potential audience.
  • Better access and ability to use your own analytics, track your own metrics, and measure success against real business metrics (eg: visitors from photo gallery X to buying a pass, or signing up for our email newsletter)
  • A historical archive that is likely more searchable and able to highlight (re-use) evergreen content instead of treating everything as transient and discardable every season. People can ‘go back’ and find more posts or photos about X restaurant or see what the St. Patrick’s Day parade looked like last year, the year before, and so on.

Another consideration: if you guest-post or cross-publish content elsewhere (to an online publication, for example) do you know who owns the copyright or license to your content? In some cases, when you agree to be a contributor, the publications will ask for the exclusive ability to display your content disallowing you from republishing it on your own site. Whoops.

3. Know Others’ Intellectual Property Rights
From the other side of the equation: think about the intellectual property rights your fans, followers, and customers are granted when using social networks and what they and those services may (or may not!) be granting you.

Don’t simply jump on social networks and copy photos without understanding the terms of use and what, if any, license you’re granted. For instance, Instagram does not (last I checked) allow re-publishing photos by third-parties anywhere outside of Instagram (except when using their supported API, which is controlled with regulations, or their embeddable iframes), including your own site as part of a ‘weekly roundup’.

Let’s say you copy a photo from Instagram and share it on Facebook or Twitter, you’re now granting a license to Twitter (to display that photo) for something you don’t actually have the right to, and you’re representing to Twitter the fact that you do! If something comes up you could be in trouble with three groups (submitter, Instagram, Facebook / Twitter).

Beyond that, when you ask for photo submissions from individuals, make sure you receive permission from them to use it (however you want) and they have the ability to grant that license. If not, what if want you to take it down? What if they want royalties? What if that person submitted someone else’s work?

Moving Forward
This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide nor legal advice. It’s something to start thinking about. I want you to know that there can be copyright and license implications online but, more importantly, there are excellent reasons to engage with individuals on your home turf.

Continue to promote your product and engage your fans on social networks but, more importantly, think about sending users back to your existing online properties in order to gain the benefits: reduced risk, engaged audience closer to your product, improved web presence and loyalty to your brand (not the social network), ability to engage with them in unrestricted ways, better cross-promotion, etc.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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