Redesigned website powered by user-generated content
By Chad Ingram
Published March 22, 2018
The county’s redesigned tourism website will include more user-generated content, as well as integrate the stories of tourism stakeholders in the Haliburton Highlands.
Tourism director Amanda Virtanen updated members of the county’s tourism advisory committee on plans for the www.myhaliburtonhighlands.com website, which is undergoing a reconstruction by local marketing company Positive Media, during a March 14 meeting.
The county will use online software CrowdRiff to amass a collection of user-generated imagery for use on the site.
“The way I was planning on doing that was just looking through all our social media channels annually, and finding the best of the content, which, frankly, would take hours to do and have to contact people for rights and all that,” Virtanen told committee members. “Basically, CrowdRiff does that for us.”
As Virtanen explained, the software gathers images that have been marked with area hashtags – #MyHaliburtonHighlands, #Minden, #Haliburton, etc. – and makes them available for perusal.
“We can go through and pick what we want,” Virtanen said, adding that specific parameters can be set.
For example, locally shot photographs featuring snowmobiles could be chosen, with the software then auto-generating those images.
“You can have galleries, where you pick the best of,” Virtanen said.
In just the three days leading up to the meeting, some 61,000 assets relating to the Haliburton Highlands had been shared.
She added there are some professional photographers who regularly tag the area on social media. She said while sharing on visual and social media sites would not require permissions, “print is different.” If the county wanted to use images in its print materials, those photographers could be approached and a fee negotiated.
Virtanen said the software has also been useful in identifying potential powerful promoters of the area. One cottager, she noted, has a social media following of nearly 6,000 people, and regularly tweets and posts about the Haliburton Highlands.
“This is someone we can then connect with and say, we’d love you to be an ambassador for our region,” she said.
Committee member Sally Moore wondered how stakeholders could ensure their social media content was making it into the mix.
Virtanen said by using the #MyHaliburtonHighlands hashtag, but also said that in most cases, their content would already be included. The software also uses smart location technology, meaning that even without hashtag identifiers, it can tell where images are being generated.
“It will pick up through your Instagram that you are in Highlands East, and it will show up on our feed,” Virtanen said.
Committee members seemed pleased by the concept, if not a little taken aback by the power of the technology.
“This is so scary,” said Highlands East Deputy Mayor and County Warden Suzanne Partridge.
“We’ve been looking for the needle in the haystack, now we just got the whole haystack, and we can pick and choose,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt wanted it to be clear to stakeholders that a certain type and quality of imagery, highlighting “the spectacular nature of what makes Haliburton what it is,” is what the county was after.
“”Somebody could be a stakeholder who only posts pictures of daffodils in their garden, and we don’t need that, that’s not what we’re looking for, so there has to be a respectful understanding that it’s not a giant party for everyone, it’s actually a very specific marketing mechanism and we need to be very specific,” Moffatt said.
The licensing fee for use of the software is approximately $500 per month.
Another feature of the redesigned website will be stories from tourism stakeholders, along with the inclusion of Google listings.
Google listings are online business profiles with ratings, directions, hours, photos, etc., which are created and maintained by business owners themselves. An interactive map on the website will allow users to access businesses’ Google listings by clicking on icons.
“In working with Positive Media, they basically put together a recommendation that they feel that the Google listings are the best way to go in terms of a directory of services,” Virtanen told committee members.
The site will contain four pages – pages for adventure, arts and culture, food, and accommodations – and each of those pages will feature three stories per month, for a total of 144 opportunities per year for local tourism businesses to promote themselves throughout the year.
Virtanen said there are at least 240 businesses in the county that fall into these categories.
“So a lot of folks would have the opportunity, if they wanted it, to be featured,” Virtanen said.
Virtanen is looking for stories, not business descriptions, for the site.
“We want to know those unique stories, like we want to know about the time a group from Germany came, and had a blast and what did they do, and we really want to dig down and find those good stories,” she said.
Photographs would accompany those stories.
Moffatt wondered about business owners who may not have the means to produce that kind of content, and if they would be looking to the county to create it.
“I think the tourism department is fine to help them edit some of that content, because we would want it to read a certain way, but we would really want them to supply us with the stories,” Virtanen said.
She added that Positive Media has indicated it could help local businesses craft online content for a reasonable fee.
“And then, what would happen, is below those stories, would be the Google listings map with a legend that shows resorts, hotels, restaurants . . . all of the icons haven’t been finalized yet,” Virtanen said.
The county will offer training on Google listings for business owners.
“There would be training sessions for people who don’t have a listing to get their listing up and running, but there would also be sessions for people to improve their Google listing,” Virtanen said.
It is expected the new site will launch in or before the summer.