Most managers of tourism businesses in Door County know that having a social-media presence is important, but many are struggling to decide which platforms to use, what to post, how to manage their accounts and where to find another 10 or 20 hours during their already-jammed workweek to get it all done.
“The variety of different forms of media and marketing are as diverse as the different types of businesses,” said Greg Swain, owner of Sturgeon Bay-based Lodgical Solutions at Zucchetti North America, a software company that provides property-management systems for the lodging industry.
Swain said he works with both small and large businesses, and what’s best for each depends on the business.
“Everyone is trying to figure it out,” he said. “There is no right way.”
Google is a great way to reach people who are traveling to Door County and want to know where to go, where to stay, where to eat, what’s available to do. Facebook is where they post their pictures of sailboats, fish boils or eating ice cream at Wilson’s – but often after the trip.
Kelsey Fox, director of communications for Door County Economic Development Corporation, said the county’s businesses really adapted to social media after COVID-19 hit, but the transition was challenging.
“Some did a great job of shifting gears overnight and found success in e-commerce,” she said, “but I think the vast majority still struggle with how to play in that space and understand what their customer base looks like and how to reach them.”
Door County’s business world is mostly made up of small businesses: 86% have 20 employees or fewer, and 68% have four or fewer. And a lot of those business owners don’t like social media, said Brooke Ulrich, owner of Brilliant Marketing Communication, an agency in Sturgeon Bay that focuses on social media for business.
“They have good reasons,” she said. “It’s annoying; it takes a lot of time to maintain it in an effective way; and they might get bad reviews or negative comments. They are just annoyed.”
But, there’s really no substitute.
“I did a bunch of research to find out if there were businesses that had released social media,” she said. “What I found is there were a few who stepped off all social-media platforms, but they all eventually came back.”
Most companies start with Facebook because it’s free, it’s easy, and if you aren’t technical, you can always ask your kids or grandkids – if, that is, they don’t dismiss it entirely as “social media for old folks.”
“Facebook is great for posting events,” Ulrich said. “Video is incredibly important for both Facebook and Instagram – their algorithms push out video more than a still image, and images get pushed out more than just a text post. Then, unless you have a really engaged audience, you will want to boost posts, and there is a charge for that. But Door County is a small geographical area, so you can get in front of a lot of people for maybe $10 or $20.”
Facebook also offers groups, advertising, polls, Facebook Live and Facebook Marketplace.
“Facebook (Meta) Business Manager is a great tool for businesses that have multiple pages, or that manage multiple pages, or need someone else to manage their page,” Ulrich said.
Facebook allows business managers to do some pretty narrow targeting, such as by age range, gender, hobbies and other pages that people have liked. But its simplicity comes at a cost: New posts push older posts down, and Facebook doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility in organizing information.
That’s why every business should have a web page, “even if it’s something simple that you build yourself,” Ulrich said. “People want to know who they are doing business with, where to find you and what you offer. This is where you can unabashedly sell your service or product.
“With a website, you can collect email addresses, accept donations or payment, register [people] for events with greater flexibility than Facebook offers, and have an easier-to-use event calendar,” she continued. “You can also have a blog or a vlog and interactive maps. Really the only limitation with a website is how much you are willing to spend on it.”
Another key point is that you own the website. Facebook can change its rules or drop sections, and there’s nothing a user can do about it.
“When you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you put a lot of thought and care into the physical structure of it,” Ulrich said. “Your online presence should have the same or more attention paid to it. Thousands more people are going to experience your business online than will ever walk through the doors in most cases, and in some cases, your online presence is your business.”
Although a website is great for promoting your business, a presence on social media also attracts people to the website or physical location. And, you can reach people who haven’t yet found your website, even if those people aren’t yet ready to spend money with you.
“You have to work on building an emotional connection,” she said. “You can’t just sell stuff with every post. You have to work harder to get them down the funnel. Eighty percent of your content needs to entertain, inspire, inform or delight. Then you can work sales messages in once in a while.”
Any brand that relies on visual appeal – art galleries, restaurants, sports, boating and the like – should consider using Instagram.
Ulrich’s agency works for a variety of clients such as Bay Shore Outfitters, DOOR CANcer, Door County Coffee, Sunshine House, the medical center and Northeast Wisconsin Aero. Before moving to Door County, she worked for Harley-Davidson, managing large advertising campaigns.
“But corporate life was not for me,” she said. “I opened a yoga studio in Milwaukee, and then decided I wanted to raise my daughter in a place like where I grew up.”
Ulrich got a job in ad sales, moved up to the peninsula and opened her agency after 10 months because businesses kept asking whether she could handle marketing for them.
“I also teach yoga, which helped me find my people here in the community,” she said.