County tourism leaders use selfies by real visitors in new ad campaign

Posting a selfie of one of Palm Beach County’s tourism hotspots on Instagram could land you in a new advertising campaign touting the area as a vacation destination to tourists all over the world.

Discover The Palm Beaches, the nonprofit group that serves as the county’s official tourism marketing organization, is using social media posts from area residents and recent vacationers in a new advertising campaign designed lure travelers here with real people, not staged models.

The campaign, dubbed “Friends Trust Friends,” is running in markets across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Miami and Orlando.

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One advertisement features 11 different photos taken by both locals and visitors using the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches. There is a photo of a woman feeding a giraffe at Lion Country Safari, an image of a man hugging a manatee statute at FPL’s Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach, and another shows a snorkeler swimming alongside a sea turtle.

“Friends trust Friends. Not ads,” is written underneath the photos in big, bold letters.

“We could go on and on about all there is to see and do in The Palm Beaches,” the ad continues. “Fact is, though, most people won’t believe our ads. So instead, we asked real people to share real experiences via their social media photos and videos.”

MORE: How social media influencer sells Palm Beach County tourism

The ad tells readers they can see more real-life photos by visiting Discover’s website, or searching the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches.

“We have so much here to offer,” said Rich Basen, Discover’s senior vice president of marketing and leisure sales. “We felt, ‘What better way to position that than through the eyes of people who were here visiting?’ We are able to capture real people and real experiences right here in the Palm Beaches.”

Travelers interested in visiting Palm Beach County spend close to two hours a day on social media, according to a study commissioned by Discover. Roughly one-third of those travelers pick a vacation destination based on what they have seen on social media, the study found.

Basen said the marketing organization is using a computer software program to help sort through social media posts uploaded from Palm Beach County or marked with the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches.

Before putting those photos in paid advertisements, Discover officials ask for permission from the person who posted it. The majority of residents and visitors are happy to share their images, Basen said.

“We find there is a pretty good acceptance level,” Basen said.

The campaign officially kicked off in January. During the winter months, Discover was running ad campaigns on billboards in Times Square in New York City. They have also used the images in train stations in Chicago.

MORE: Record-breaking 112.8 million tourists visited Florida in 2016

“There are lot of people who find it very cool that they could be in Times Square in January and February for an ad featuring The Palm Beaches,” Basen said.

Discover started calling on local residents for help with new social campaign in January, urging them to post photos and videos with the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches.

Since then, the hastag has been used more than 6,000 times, and more than 380,000 people have visited a special website created for the marketing campaign, Discover officials said

Basen said the more posts Discover has to choose from, the more successful the campaign will be.

“We can continue to keep it fresh with new images,” he said. “The more content we have, the better.”

The push comes as the state slashes money to market Florida as a tourism spot.

The Florida Legislature last month approved an $83 billion budget that sets aside just $25 million for the state’s tourism marketing agency, VisitFlorida — a $50 million cut from the agency’s 2016 spending plan. With less money to market the state as a tourism hot spot, destination marketing organizations like Discover are looking for new and innovative ways to stay at the top of travelers’ minds.

In addition to the new campaign, Discover has also been turning to digital influencers with large online followings in an effort to drive tourists here. The nonprofit agency hopes social media posts by those influencers will help convince tourists to come here.

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