Hendricks County, Indiana has long been a popular destination for outdoor recreation and family activities, but hotel stays inevitably plummet over the winter months.
The county just west of Indianapolis is home to one of the world’s premier drag racing competitions, near a major international airport, and three large interstate highways, as well as a range of autumn, summer and spring attractions like apple picking, horseback riding and hiking.
“When it comes to the winter, travel in all of Indiana is way down in that time frame, other than for visiting friends and relatives,” says Sarah Ferguson, the director of marketing for Visit Hendricks County. “With our hotel night stays we see a pretty big drop basically from December to February.”
In an effort to increase travel to the area over the holiday season—not to mention foot traffic to locally-owned boutiques—the destination marketing organization first hosted a “cookie trail.”
“You could go into these locations and get personalized cookie recipes, and it did okay, but we realized we were driving people to stores but not actually driving them to spend money,” explains Ferguson. “The next year we did an actual gift guide where we scoured the county, found specific items, and worked with a local Indianapolis TV station.”
Ferguson said that featuring specific items on the local news affiliate had a significant impact on both foot traffic and sales. The project was a success, but after two years the television station lost its affiliation, changed its viewership and, according to Ferguson’s research, was not as effective in reaching their target audience.
“The number one goal is to get these gifts out in front of people, and the second goal is to show off a new [small business] location,” she says. “We sat around and were like ‘okay, we know video does really well, how can we do something similar? Why don't we look at Facebook Live?’”
In 2017 Visit Hendricks County hosted its first Facebook Live videos, with individual gift guides for men, women, children or gifts under $10. Ferguson explains that her team chose which locations and items to feature by tracking their social media popularity on CrowdRiff.
“We see what's popular when it comes across on UGC because people are sharing all these photos,” she says. “Now we have a better understanding of what people are looking for.”
The first six Facebook Live shopping guides were shot on-location at stores across the county through the 2017 holiday season, and it was even more of a hit than the television productions from years previous, said Ferguson.
“All of a sudden the locations were telling us they were selling out of their products,” she says. “We had to go on the website at one point and start putting 'sold out' on some of the items, which had never happened in the past, even with the Indianapolis news station.”
Three Visit Hendricks County staffers, including one known to audiences for her energy, enthusiasm and over-the-top holiday costumes hosted each instalment, each of which honed in on a specific gift guide category. They began by introducing who the gift guide was intended for, introducing the small business and then showing off eight individual items.
This year, the team also put a strong emphasis on showcasing some of the DIY studios in the county, encouraging prospective visitors to turn their holiday shopping burden into a fun, creative, hands-on getaway experience.
This year the destination marketing organization also shot a series of 30-second videos at each of the locations it visited to add more evergreen, social-media-post-friendly content.
“If we're going to market DIY studios, we needed to do more than just Christmas,” says Ferguson. “So we did the Facebook Live video but then we'll have this video that's going bring awareness that we're a place to go for DIY studios all year."
Ferguson adds that the Facebook Live videos were intentionally shot on an iPhone (and standalone audio recorder) with a limited production budget to make them feel more native to the platform. She says that she and her team would typically arrive a couple hours before each shoot to do a walkthrough with the owner, test the Wi-Fi signal, and read through some point form notes, though the videos were otherwise unscripted. Each video was also supported by a modest $100 targeted ad boost.
“In our first year of doing it, in 2017, all of the click through for our Facebook live videos, because we did advertising behind it, the action rate was 105%, which is incredible,” she said, explaining that 416 unique visitors clicked through the video descriptions while 437 took actions on their page.
“I was not expecting that kind of positive reaction, but I think ‘shop local’ is just so huge now, and because the people who were tuning in were people already following our page you kind of already have that interest from them; you’re a trusted source.”
The six live videos that were shot in 2017 were viewed nearly 55,000 times, while the four shot the following year were viewed more than 62,500 times, all with an ad budget of less than $100 per video.
Ferguson explains that moving from live television to Facebook Live demonstrated the importance of producing platform-native content, but also the importance of going wherever the audience can most readily find them.
“You have to look at all the new things coming on board, and seeing what works for your audience, because that changes,” she said, adding that much of the DMO’s social traffic has migrated from Facebook to Instagram in recent years. “For what we're doing right now, because it's so time sensitive, Facebook Live makes sense. I'm not sure what it's going to be next year, but I can guarantee we'll be testing as we get there, and doing a lot of research on the back-end.”