People that live and work in Saint Paul know that their side of Minnesota’s Twin Cities is just as packed with fun and excitement as Minneapolis. To many who don’t, however, the city is too often considered a place meant primarily for families and the elderly, or for attending events and quickly returning home.
“There’s definitely a misconception that Saint Paul is very sleepy,” explained Visit Saint Paul’s Social Media Coordinator, Caroline Ponessa. “There’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot, which is ‘date Minneapolis, marry Saint Paul,’ the idea being that when you’re young you want to be in Minneapolis and Saint Paul is where you settle down – but we see that changing.”
Ponessa explains that Saint Paul has the opportunity to prove that impression wrong through a range of world-class events that attract visitors of all shapes and sizes. About five years ago Red Bull brought its Crashed Ice extreme skating competition to the city, which is also home to the state’s only NHL Team, the Minnesota Wild. The city also hosts the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, as well as the country’s largest state fair and its largest free Irish Fair.
Changing the impression of Saint Paul in visitors’ eyes through the locals
“The challenge right now is we’re also very much an event town, it’s trying to figure out how to get people to come back after those events are over,” Ponessa said.
In an effort to establish an emotional connection to the city Ponessa says the organization has recently looked to its local population to help showcase the best of what it has to offer.
“A tourism board can tell you all they want about how great a city is, but that’s what their job is, that’s what they get paid for,” she said. “It’s different when you’re hearing it from people who are choosing every day to be in that environment.”
Visit Saint Paul’s “Insider’s Guide” puts real recommendations from locals front and center
To help share those voices Visit Saint Paul began introducing an annual “Insider’s Guide” in 2015, which is the name of their visitor guide.
The 80+ page guide is filled with advice provided by actual residents who are passionate about their city, as well as user-generated imagery featured alongside professional shots of Saint Paul.
Using perception research to focus on key themes
“This last year we did some perception research to find out from people who had visited Saint Paul about the big draws here, and we found that it was a lot of family activities, sports, shopping, history and architecture,” said Ponessa. “To choose our insiders for this year we really based it off of that research, and found folks based on the story we were looking to tell, which we were clued into by the different surveys we did.”
So, insiders are featured next to the subjects they complement best – the page covering Saint Paul’s architecture features Ted Lentz, a retired local architect, for example. Each insider feature is shown with a photo of the local expert(s), with a description of who they are as well as four recommendations to make the most of the city.
Finding locals by tapping into civic pride
The search for the appropriate insider to showcase their favorite local gems began by exploring existing relationships, popular social media influencers in the city, and some good old-fashioned Google-ing, explains Ponessa.
“We’re trying to find people that best represent those categories, while making sure that as a whole the group is representing a good range in terms of age, gender, cultural backgrounds, family status and interests,” she said. “We usually start with a short list of maybe 20 people and we go down to a shorter list until we’ve got folks that we think would be a perfect fit.”
Ponessa adds that when she reaches out to the finalists “nine times out of ten,” they are interested in participating, which she believes is thanks to strong civic pride and perhaps somewhat aided by a longstanding rivalry with neighboring Minneapolis. Their 2018 Insider’s Guide features local historians, artists, entrepreneurs and even the mayor!
The Insider’s Guide’s focus on local experts is reflected through UGC on their social channels and website too
“The focus for us in the past few years has been building up the #MySaintPaul hashtag that we’ve been using on Instagram,” she said.
“That content gets filtered to our website through the CrowdRiff platform, which is so awesome because when you go to our homepage, above the professional photos, there’s photos that people have taken in the community and whose captions reflect how much they love the city and let them tell our story for us.”
The Visit Saint Paul website also has complementary “insider” content, featuring interviews of the experts featured in the guide, alongside a gallery of social media images.
“Since introducing the ‘My Saint Paul’ concept in the 2015 guide, there have been over 70,000 uses of the #MySaintPaul hashtag,” adds Ponessa.
A visitor guide that anyone can relate to
Last year Visit Saint Paul distributed over 120,000 guides, 19,000 of which were requested directly from their website. The guides are distributed across the city to tourism partners, as well as at events like the Minnesota State Fair. The team has also occasionally arranged to have them packaged with local publications like Minnesota Monthly.
Ponessa is also optimistic about the research-based themes included in the guide this year, suggesting that visitors might not relate with all of the insiders, but everyone can relate to at least one.
“One of the things that we really want to show is the diversity of the city,” she said. “We want to show as many different stories to show that Saint Paul is for so many different types of people.”