For the past three years, Visit Philly administered surveys to find out about the effectiveness of its social media efforts.

Like many tourism boards, Visit Philly has a history of surveying visitors offline and online. However, out of the top five U.S. destinations on SkiftIQ, Visit Philly was the only one that consistently polled its social media community — on Facebook and Twitter — and did so over three years.

If such surveys can be considered a best practice, it is one that is not necessarily practiced by top performers. Marketing efforts may need to catch up in segmenting customers’ reactions to various types of advertising as more content is optimized for print, online, and social media.

Facebook and Twitter offers analytics about impressions, interactions — likes, shares, comments, clicks — and demographics, but they don’t measure the extent to which fans are aware of the locations’ food, events and attractions options.

Adding social media to the mix was the next phase in understanding Visit Philly’s digital presence and its community’s behavior. “As social media has become more and more important to us, we just realized that there were gaps in our knowledge,” said Caroline Bean, director of social media at Visit Philly.

The tourism board’s goal was to determine how much its content strategy on Facebook and Twitter influenced people’s attitudes towards considering or better yet, visiting Philadelphia, and neighboring counties such as Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery.

To ensure an unbiased pool of responses, employees were not allowed to participate nor were they permitted to share the survey post amongst family and friends. Bean stressed that it was important to gauge the opinions of people who followed Visit Philly and were previously exposed to its Facebook posts and tweets.

Although it wasn’t ideal, Visit Philly had to engage in some marketing to get people to commit to completing a questionnaire. From December 8 to 18, the tourism board asked its social media fans to participate in a five-minute survey for a chance to win a one-night stay at a Kimpton Hotel.

Top Tourism Boards and Social Media Polling Habits

Tourism Board by SkiftIQ RankingPolled fans in-platformLast Poll YearFrequency
1. Visit PhillyYes2014annual
2. Visit FloridaNon.a.n.a.
3. Discover Los AngelesNon.a.n.a.
4. Pure MichiganYes2012once
5. Explore GeorgiaYes2013annual

Source: Skift, March 19, 2015

Visit Philly’s 2014 survey captured 2,000 responses. When asked whether that number was large enough sample, Lauren Hansen-Fischen, manager of research and policy at Visit Philly, said: “It is not a concern. This was a big enough sample for us to further drill down. Having a sample size of 300 is a good rule of thumb.”

When looking at the respondents’ backgrounds, the majority were female and locals ages 35 to 43 years old. However, Visit Philly found that out-of-towners had a strong connection to the city and indicated they wanted to stay in the know.

“A big part of what we do is talking to locals and that [finding] is really important to us because they are hyping the city,” said Bean.

The key findings were divided into how the locals and out-of-towners reacted to questions that gauged how active and sensitive they are to Visit Philly’s social media content and overall brand presence; what type of offline actions they have taken; the topics they’re most drawn to, and how much their visitation intent has changed.

Overall, 75 percent of users said Visit Philly’s websites improved their impression of Philadelphia, 74 percent said the sites increased their interest in visiting, and 94 percent went to a restaurant, attraction or event they read about on its blog, uwishunu.com. On both sides of the spectrum, over 90 percent of social media respondents said that the content they’re most interested in was about dining, attractions, and event deals.

Photo Credit: Visit Philly's Facebook post about its third social media survey. Visit Philly / Facebook