Taken a trip lately? You’ve likely used sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to research places to eat, sleep and visit. You’re not alone. Yelp received 138 million unique visitors in the second quarter of 2014. TripAdvisor sites currently receives 280 million visits each month. The sites are highly trafficked by millions in the US and around the world looking for information and/or willingly writing up reviews and sharing photos.
Yelp and TripAdvisor (along with similar crowd-driven travel sites) are treasure troves of content that can help those of you working on place-based advocacy and outreach. The sites come up high in search results, provide user-generated content that can accurately describe what people are looking for and doing when visiting a place, and are themselves communities with highly engaged participants.
Here are three ways to take advantage of crowdsourced travel sites.
Use Yelp and TripAdvisor’s search result superpowers to reach new and interested audiences
Crowdsourced travel sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are content rich, linked to from across the web and optimized to perform well in search. Google a national or state park and you’re likely to see a TripAdvisor or Yelp entry near the top of the results. The Point Lobos (a state natural reserve in California) search results here are an example.
This demonstrates the power of the search strategy used by these sites. In many cases, though, it also provides an opportunity to reach very interested audiences: people planning to visit an area. Often, nobody is advertising around online searches for parks and other natural places.
Use this as an opportunity to test search ads (hopefully using a Google Grant so the cost is zero). People are looking for things to do, sites to see, best adventures in the area and maybe even current events. Build a set of search ads around those interests and offer content that meets these needs. You could even ask people to fill out a form and provide an email address to receive information. Simply put, though, it’s a quick way to drive people to your content (instead of having them go straight to Yelp).
Real people and real talk about real places
Online review sites may not do much for your faith in grammar and spelling abilities but they do offer an unvarnished glimpse at what people are doing when they visit a place.
It’s useful to know, for instance, that people visiting Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park are excited by moose sightings. The language and photos shared in online reviews can guide your search ads (see above), social media outreach, blog posts and other materials.
Places like national forests and wilderness areas are less likely to have much (if any) content on these sites. These are big, less clearly branded areas with many physical entry points. Look for online reviews of well-known camping or hiking sites in the area, common tourist sites or activities on the area’s border, and entries for guide services and other recreation providers. Online review sites are good places to identify the local businesses that rely on parks, forests and other natural places.
These people care
Reviewers that take the time to share their experiences and photos are passionate about the places they visit and likely avid online/social network users. At present, Rocky Mountain National Park’s Yelp listing has 157 reviews and 339 contributed photos. That’s not a huge amount given the park gets over 3 million visitors per year. But these are committed people sharing personal content and photos.
Like and share good reviews. Take a dive into these online communities, create accounts and friend people. Ask questions. Build relationships. This may be higher-level social media work (and potentially time consuming) but you may create opportunities to reach new audiences.
Have you used TripAdvisor, Yelp or other online review sites in your organizing and outreach? Any tips or ideas to share?