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For DMOs, first-person, locally told stories will be critical throughout recovery and beyond. Visit California is using visual stories to build trust and confidence among locals and visitors, foster stronger relationships with partners and stakeholders, and amplify local voices.

Now that regions and states are starting to move into full reopening after a long year of shutdowns and restrictions, and domestic and local tourism continues to fuel recovery and travel trends, destination marketing efforts are finding strength in locally told, first-person stories.

Visit California is a prime example of a DMO looking toward innovative tools to shape unique, authentic narratives and attract visitors.

Using Crowdriff’s Story Network, a syndicated ecosystem of locally told visual stories, Visit California has been able to call upon its wide-ranging regional and industry partners to create content around larger brand initiatives and bring the state’s entire tourism industry together around the easy-to-use platform. It has also created the opportunity for industry members of all sizes to control their message and maintain representation on VisitCalifornia.com.

Visit California has empowered its industry partners with full editorial control to create hyper-local stories and share insider perspectives. The DMO has also engaged in-state social media influencers and repurposed content they publish on other social channels for the Visit California Story Network. The development of the network has created tighter communication processes between Visit California and the individuals creating California content.

“Each DMO in California has the opportunity to work with their local storytellers to expand their network and grow authentic regional content,” said Lynn Carpenter, vice president of marketing for Visit California.

Since the launch of Story Network, Visit California has seen an impressive interaction rate of 74 percent and an average completion rate of nearly 50 percent. The site has grown in-state website traffic to account for 50 percent of all VisitCalifornia.com visits since March of 2020.



Key Learnings From Visit California For Destination Marketers

Visit California has taken away some important learnings from the process of creating its network. Here are five that Carpenter feels are most important for DMOs looking to replicate Visit California’s success.

1. Be Authentic: Visit California’s share of user-generated content (UGC) increased as it established its Story Network. Prior to the pandemic, UGC accounted for roughly 70 percent of the content being published on Visit California’s social media, an amount that increased to 80 to 90 percent during the pandemic. The pandemic also resulted in a 54 percent growth in in-state audience signups to the DMO’s newsletter.

Carpenter attributes this to the fact that partners were creating compelling, impactful content that brought an insider perspective to audiences: “We have seen the correlation between authentic content and user engagement,” she said.


2. Use Assets That Are Visually Impactful: There are currently more than 60 story galleries across VisitCalifornia.com covering various destinations and themes. These galleries give consumers the opportunity to discover areas of the state they may not have known before. For example, in the “Things to Do” section of the Visit California.com Theme Park page, the Web Stories Galleries embedded in the page showcase content developed by San Diego, Anaheim, and Santa Clarita about their respective theme parks.

3. Tell a Story With Each Frame: Visual stories can be most effective when they draw visitors in with a single glance. Each frame should tell a story — expressing a full thought or concept instead of just a pretty picture. “As with any content asset, being direct and impactful is incredibly important,” said Carpenter.

4. Use the Map Functionality to Give Consumers More Details on Each Location: Covering 62 local destinations, VisitCalifornia.com needs to provide visitors an accessible, visual guide to the state’s attractions. The map function allows visitors to zoom in on a given destination to get more information or access the stories posted by local partners. It also provides a way for storytellers to showcase their locations and attractions in relation to others in the region or the state.

5. Use the “Visit Website” and “More Details” Links to Drive Consumers to Booking Sites or to Dig Deeper: Clicks to industry sites (a.k.a. partner handoffs) is a major KPI for Visit California. The DMO views its website as a media platform in service to its industry partners. Through the Story Network Data Studio, the Visit California team is able to measure the success of each individual story. The “Visit Website” and “More Details” links are the key elements to driving visitors to partner sites.

Fueling Recovery With Active Network-building

Stories have great potential to fuel recovery by helping destinations gather real-time insights from travelers, shape traveler demand, and improve coordination across their partner ecosystems.

“We’ve built an active network of industry members in our Story Network that we can call on to support larger messaging initiatives such as the state’s reopening on June 15th or for future campaigns when we need to fully activate the network,” said Carpenter.

Story Network can help create such resources for DMOs everywhere as recovery enters full swing. Want to learn more about how you can tap into the future of destination marketing? Visit crowdriff.com/story-network/.

This content was created collaboratively by CrowdRiff and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Tags: california, CrowdRiff, destination marketing, domestic leisure travel, domestic tourism, instagram, local, SkiftX Showcase: Destinations, tik tok, Visit California, visual marketing, Visual Storytelling