NEW: How social media influencer sells Palm Beach County tourism

On a warm afternoon earlier this month, Scott Eddy — known as @MrScottEddy by his 1.1 million Twitter followers — grabbed his snorkel gear and headed into the water under the Blue Heron Bridge armed with a GoPro camera.

His job: Making tourists want to travel to the places he visits by flooding his social media feeds with photos and videos. Eddy is known as a “digital influencer,” and his social media posts are designed to help steer the travel decisions of millions around the world.

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On this day, Eddy made a special trip to Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach to help Palm Beach County tourism officials showcase an underwater snorkel trail that has become popular among both locals and tourists looking to see unique marine life.

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Within a few hours, Eddy had posted a series of photos and videos on his social media channels, including Twitter and Instagram, where he boasts another 227,000 followers. The posts were shared hundreds of times, drawing comments from followers all over the world. One video alone generated more than 23,000 digital impressions — a measurement tourism leaders and public relations professionals use to determine the success of an advertising campaign.

The difference between Eddy’s posts and a more traditional marketing campaign: his relationship with his followers.

“Anybody can get a celebrity to talk about a product,” said Eddy, who is regarded as one of the top luxury travel influencers on Twitter.

“I have intimate relationships” (with follower), Eddy said. “The first thing I do in the morning is respond to all of the comments I receive.”

At a time when state advertising dollars stand to be slashed,Discover The Palm Beaches has been increasingly turning to influencers like Eddy to help promote the area as a vacations and meetings destination for travelers around the world. The non-profit agency that serves as the county’s tourism marketing organization is also targeting influencers who specialize in a number of niche topics, including fashion, food, and family travel.

“We understand that the way people consume information is evolving at a very fast pace,” said Ashley Svarney, Discover’s director of public relations & communications. “One of those mediums is through social media, where individuals follow these ‘digital influencers’ who share many facets of their life – including travel.”

Svarney said the agency first started reaching out to influencers in 2015. Last year, Discover began setting aside money in its marketing budget to help boost the program.

Here’s how it works: The tourism group invites (and sometimes pays) bloggers, instagrammers, and other social media influencers to spend time in Palm Beach County. Discover’s members, which include area resorts, restaurants, and attractions, typically provide the influencers with complementary hotel stays, meals, and tickets to attractions. In exchange, the influencers take to social media — posting a steady stream of pictures, videos, and other information about Palm Beach County’s tourism hot spots.

“We are looking to invest with the right type of influencers,” Svarney said. “For us, the most important thing is a digital influencer who has premium engagement.”

The rise of digital influencing is part of a shift away from more traditional forms of tourism advertising, as more travelers turn to social media for help with travel decisions.

The shift comes as state lawmakers slash funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm. With less money to market as a tourism hot spot, destination marketing organizations across Florida are looking for new and innovative ways to stay at the top of travelers’ minds.

A study released last year by Linqia, a content marketing firm, found that 86 percent of marketers had used influencers to promote their brands.

Although 94 percent of marketers found the tactic was effective, it can be difficult for marketers to determine the exact return on their investment, the study found.

Eddy has 1.1 million Twitter followers, but he said his posts have the potential to reach tens of millions of users as the pictures and videos get shared by followers and reposted on other accounts.

When he isn’t traveling around the world, Eddy, who is from Broward County, occasionally visits Palm Beach tourism hot spots in an effort to keep his social media feed fresh. Discover doesn’t pay him for the visits.

According to Discover, a 2016 visit by Eddy resulted in more than 500,000 digital impressions.

Since 2015, the agency said its work with influencers has earned the county between 1.5 million and 3 million impressions on various social media channels.

“As we continue to carefully maneuver through this relatively new communication landscape, we have been able to successfully generate strong social media coverage to a variety of audiences, because of our wonderful tourism partners who are able to provide experiences in exchange for the social media coverage,” Svarney said.

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