Josh Collins is the Digital Communications Manager at Visit Franklin. After working in the music and entertainment industry, he is now responsible for creating awesome experiences for visitors who come to Franklin, Tennessee. As one of the earliest adopters of CrowdRiff, he embraced the technology and used it to create human connections and delightful experiences for visitors and locals in Franklin. In this interview, he shares how he got into destination marketing and communications, gives advice on making the most of visual influence and reveals his favorite secret beach!
You’ve got such a rich background in the music and entertainment industry. When did you get into destination marketing and how did it happen?
Well that depends on how we’re defining being a destination marketer… Ha! No but seriously not long, nearly 3 years now.
How’d I get into it? That’s a good question! I never saw myself getting into the travel or tourism industry per se, but after 15 years of traveling all over the world and touring professionally in the music business, I had reached a point where, in order to regain some sanity and healthy rhythms in my life, I needed to make a change.
After a while of building a personal brand and working in social media, I was recruited to join to the team at Visit Franklin. It was a no brainer decision for me. I was offered to a dream scenario in many ways, come help lead a team to creatively market the community I live in and love so much. Who could say no to that?
We love the brand and marketing of Visit Franklin and it is one of the destination websites that we show off to clients and prospects the most. What does your role comprise of at Visit Franklin?
It can be tough to describe the work I do with Visit Franklin to some, because we’re a small team wearing many hats. But basically I lead the Digital Strategy and Digital Communications efforts across all platforms including social, email and web and video. It’s a lot but I am extremely passionate about connecting with our audience(s) both online and off and leading our community to learn to do the same thing.
Can you share an example of a creative or unique social media campaign you ran?
One fun thing I was able to do was lead the whole community in a digital strategy resulting in #FranklinTn winning a March Madness style competition through Garden and Gun Magazine. The competition was called “The Best Southern Town” and we made it all the way to the finals, eventually defeating our neighbors to the south Savannah, GA. It was awesome.
We held a fun little pep-rally style event at our beloved Franklin Theatre and got great local and national news coverage out of the whole thing. It was funny running into new friends and them telling me how much they loved voting every hour online and how excited they were through the whole competition. I love that #FranklinTn can claim that title!
What’s the most challenging about the work you’re doing right now?
People resources, time resources, financial resources.
The healthiest leaders in the world teach focusing on process, not results, but yet I’ve not met a team who actually lives that very well, including my own.
We struggle to maintain a healthy sustainable rhythm in our work and as well as a culture that gives space to creative process. We also struggle (like everyone else) to educate our community on why what we do is so important. Even more than that, we struggle to educate them on the better ways of doing it! As a relatively small destination with a relatively small budget, we are forced to be agile in everything we do.
In many ways that’s a primary reason why we’ve been so incredibly successful over the years. Because of that we’re continually editing what we can do in order to prioritize what we need to do.
Many other DMOs have told us that Visit Franklin has inspired them. We want to know what inspires you!
Well, I’m always inspired by what I see coming out of Canada and Australia. I mean between what BC does, Nova Scotia, and others, I’m always moved and inspired to think outside the box. I think Portland and Oregon are doing fantastic work and there’s not doubt that my friends down in Savannah, GA are killing it!
But I will say that in my opinion, in spite of the success #FranklinTn and those I’ve mentioned above are having, the industry as a whole has a VERY LONG way to go. As somewhat of an outsider, I see a ton of room for growth and innovation, especially in the digital sphere.
The travel space has been a slow adopter to new ideas and I passionately teach those things wherever I can!
Travel is such a visual industry and our goal is to empower DMOs to leverage that and become the visual authorities of their destinations. What advice would you give to destinations trying to make the most of visual influence and social media?
I think where most DMO’s and all marketers for that matter are struggling is over the idea of controlling their message and/or brand. If we open ourselves up to the idea that control is another word for power, then we’ll be able to see that it’s not the acquisition of power that enables success, but rather the distribution of it.
Whether any of us like it or not, our audiences are already talking about us constantly. They’re already posting pictures, sharing their opinions on social media and telling their neighbors and friends over meals about their latest experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones. I believe the job of any marketer is empowering those voices.
So, in other words, listen more than you speak. Novel idea right?
Visual Influence is an extension of that. Listen to what your audience is saying, they’ll guide you to what’s working and what’s not. Try to control everything, and you’ll create barriers to the connection your audience is wanting most.
What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
That’s a tough one… It seems daring to say this, but I think one thing most people don’t know about is me that I’m completely FOR them. I mean regardless of what you may think, how you were raised, what your voting record is, I am completely FOR you.
More than anything I want to see those in my community flourish wherever they’ve been planted in whatever endeavors they’ve been given to steward.
I love building relationships and cultivating community and most of that work starts with helping people develop a sense of their own heart first and foremost.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
This one is a little tough because I’ve been all over the world, several times in fact. But to be honest, my most favorite spot in the world is a little beach outside of Sydney, Australia called Coogee Beach. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time there and I just love it. (Maybe they’ll read this and bring me back to consult with them! Ha!)
In my opinion, it’s got it all, atmosphere, scenery, rhythm, food, coffee, and of course blue skies and water!
How about your favorite spot in Franklin?
Of course #FranklinTn is where my roots are firmly planted. I’ve been offered great positions elsewhere and it’s just too difficult to leave home. The community and people here are bar none some of the best in the world.
It just doesn’t get much better than listening to live music at Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork and watching the sunset at the Natchez Trace Bridge or coffee and conversations at Frothy Monkey in Downtown Franklin!