We have seen in the past that Cape Town Tourism likes to blow its own trumpet, so when we received the media release on 31 July to brag about how it ‘uses Crowd-sourcing to clock over 13 million impressions on Twitter‘, it attracted interest. It appears that it exaggerated the impact of the four international travel bloggers who were invited by Cape Town Tourism as iAmbassadors to spend a week in the city, and to share blogging tips at the Getaway Travel Blog Conference.
On Sunday a week ago (29 July) Cape Town Tourism announced a one hour brainstorm (‘crowdsourcing‘) via Twitter from 7 – 8 pm, using the hashtag #LoveCapeTown, requesting suggestions for what the four international bloggers should see and do while in Cape Town. Six questions were asked, relating to typical Cape Town food to eat, places to visit, adventure activities to participate in, places to learn more about the city’s history, people watching spots, and favourite hidden gems. The Cape Town media release claimed that in a 24 hour period #LoveCapeTown generated ‘1500 Tweets, 13521392 impressions and reached an audience of 623041 followers’. On its blog three days later, Cape Town Tourism grew its claim to ‘4000 #LoveCapeTown tweets were sent. As many as 800000 unique Twitter users were reached by the hashtag and 30-million tweet impressions were achieved’ in the one week period.
Not having heard of a Twitter ‘impression‘ measurement before, I Googled the term. It describes the cumulative total of followers of persons who use a hashtag (or specified Twitter address) multiplied by the number of Tweets per Twitter address that used the hashtag. The measurement does not deduct the duplication of the same followers on more than one Tweeter’s list. It also does not measure the actual readership of the Tweet(s), only measuring the potential readership. Newman PR company, one of the oldest in America, wrote on its blog about the dilemma of presenting statistics to its clients, and came to the conclusion that ‘Twitter Impressions can impress, but actually mean little‘, and decided against presenting this information to its clients. ScoopDog’s Blog suggested that ‘Twitter reach calculations should be in the 10 – 12% of a follower list’, according to a Harvard study. The writer calls for reliable benchmark information on measuring performance on Facebook and Twitter, and says that more meaningful measurements should be sales and lead generation. Stanzr Blog says that only ‘Twitter can verify what users actually are online and observing Tweets‘, and that no hashtag measurement company can verify how many users were actually impressed with a hashtag or a Tweet. LoCulReign wrote :“While there are many standardized metrics such as follower, mentions, or even impressions, these metrics are not the end-all answer to the broader question (what is the value of social media), they are simply a slice of the pie. There are many intangible benefits of social media, such as building strong brand awareness or reputation that cannot be measured by total brand mentions or the bit.ly clickthrough rate in a week.”
Not being privy to how Cape Town Tourism generated its statistics (no source is quoted in the media release), we used the Hashtracking.com service to measure the power of #LoveCapeTown in the 24 hours prior to midday on Saturday 4 August. In this period 483 Tweets generated a total of 461399 followers and 2,4 million impressions. This measurement tool shows the source of the top 10 impressions, and 84% of this top 10 list generated just over 2 million of the impressions, being the four international travel bloggers, Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town Tourism Communication Manager Skye Grove, Cape Town Tourism, blogger conference organiser Getaway, the @CapeTown aggregator for all mentions of Cape Town, and SA Tourism’s @gotoSouthAfrica. Skye Grove is the Cape Town Tourism Tweeter, so she Tweets the same Tweets on both accounts, usually re-Tweeted by her boss Mrs Helmbold too. It is safe to say, from the Tweets in the timeline, that the bulk of the impressions were Cape Town-based, giving locals a tremendous feel-good about their home city. American and Australasian Twitter followers of the international bloggers may have been asleep at the time of the Tweet-up, and weekend days are poor Twitter days anyway. Of the 11 #LoveCapeTown Tweets printed out alongside the measurement on HashTracking.com, six were spam accounts, showing that potentially #LoveCapeTown Tweets could not have had more than 600000 impressions (instead of the claimed 11 million) last Sunday! To bring the measurement of ‘impression’ closer to home, we ran @WhaleCottage on Hashtracking.com at the same date and time, and found that one Tweet (“Tourism is the bread and butter of economy, says Western Cape Minister of Tourism @AlanWinde”), which was re-Tweeted three times, had achieved 449700 impressions alone.
Mrs Helmbold enthused about the success of the Twitter campaign, saying that it ‘truly let Capetonians ‘sell’ their own city and it added instant authenticity to our campaign’. She added that so many suggestions were received that it proved that tourists need more than one week to visit Cape Town. The numerous suggestions made to the international bloggers via the Twitterthon were not recorded anywhere for future visitors to Cape Town, other than some having been recorded in the media release, showing how short-lived Twitter information is.
During the Getaway Travel Bloggers Conference on Saturday, one of the speakers (@TravelDudes) quantified the value of the 24 hour Twitter coverage at €56564, which was proudly re-Tweeted by Cape Town Tourism. Again, there is no known standard to quantify the value of a Tweet or an impression. Weird is that the hashtag for the Bloggers Conference changed to #gtbc, losing #LoveCapeTown in all Tweets from Saturday onwards, despite Cape Town Tourism having been a sponsor of the Conference.
In the week that the international bloggers spent in Cape Town, disappointingly little was written about Cape Town by the bloggers:
* Keith Jenkins of velvet escape wrote two blogposts last week, one called ‘Iconic Cape Town view’, just containing a photograph of Table Mountain, with a link to a blogpost ‘Ten things to do in Cape Town’ which he wrote in 2009! The other was written on his arrival, requesting participation in the #LoveCapeTown Twitterthon. He Tweeted mainly about Cape Town in the week that he was here, and it was noticeable that he used other hashtags liberally in his non-Cape Town Tweets. He was good at responding to Tweets including his handle, and re-Tweeting. This was his fourth visit to Cape Town, and he called the city his ‘second home‘. He has 16069 Twitter followers.
* Wild Junket’s Nellie Huang wrote ‘We’re off to Cape Town, South Africa’ two weeks ago, inviting suggestions of things to see and do in Cape Town, and writing that she would be ‘cycling through Kayalitsch‘ (sic), hiking up Table Mountain, and going on a wine tour to Steenberg. During the week she wrote two blogposts, one being about Table Mountain, which was a collection of photographs taken from the mountain, including onto Camps Bay, and the other blogpost was a collection of photographs of the villa in which the four bloggers were accommodated in Camps Bay. She has previously visited the city, says she loves Cape Town, and said that ‘I wish that I could live here’. She has 21591 Twitter followers, and was an active Tweeter about Cape Town in the past week, creating dialogue.
* Traveldudes‘ Melvin Böcher is an occasional blogger, it would appear, not having posted more than four blogposts per month, but more commonly only one per month on average. He has not blogged since his arrival in Cape Town. On his website he carries guest posts about various aspects of Cape Town, none written by him. He has 86814 Twitter followers. He is an über-Tweeter, obviously pre-scheduling his Tweets, so that his few Cape Town Tweets were largely lost in his daily average of 50 Tweets about a multitude of international destinations. Noticeable was that he too is a heavy user of hashtags in every Tweet, using non-Cape Town ones for Tweets about other destinations, which must confuse his followers, in receiving so many Tweets about diverse destinations every few minutes every day.
* Matt Long of Landlopers wrote about his forthcoming trip three weeks ago, and also requested input to things to do in Cape Town. He has not written about Cape Town in the past week. He said he did not know much about the city before his arrival (odd for a travel writer), therefore coming in ‘blind’. He writes for Lonely Planet too. He has 16071 Twitter followers. Similarly to Melvin Böcher, he generates about 50 Tweets per day, about a diversity of destinations and they too are heavily (non-Cape Town) hashtagged, once again causing confusion amongst his followers. Few of his Tweets were about Cape Town in the past week. He repeats links to his blogposts and to a competition a number of times per day, one notices in his Tweets. Odd is that he has protected his Tweets, and one must request permission to follow him!
In the past week, the four travel writers were taken to Gansbaai for shark cage diving and seeing whales as well, hiked up and down Table Mountain (Matt Böcher undiplomatically said the ‘gondola was not working’ when he should have been told that it was closed for its annual maintenance), went to Robben Island, cycled through a township, visited Cape Point, Boulder’s Beach, Hout Bay, The Fringe creative precinct which included a stop at Charly’s Bakery, learnt to cook curry in Bo-Kaap, tasted wine at Groot Constantia (they do not appear to have got to Steenberg), visited some unnamed ‘cocktail spots‘, went on a Jazz Safari, visited The Castle, had dinner at Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, had a drink at the Planet Bar, had a braai at the villa in which they stayed, ate at (unknown) Ethopian restaurant ‘Bebie Rosie’, and had a pizza at Jason’s. What was noticeable was that the program for the travel writers’ visit to Cape Town was pre-planned, as was evident from Nellie Huang’s pre-visit blogpost, and therefore the Twitterthon on 30 July, billed as being a list of suggestions for the writers to experience whilst in Cape Town, was a con! Predictably they saw the usual tourist highlights of Cape Town, and their eagerly anticipated highlight of paragliding off Lion’s Head was cancelled due to the bad weather yesterday. Yesterday afternoon three of the travel writers left for Johannesburg, on their way to Botswana today.
At a cocktail event held on Thursday, invited guests were shown the new one minute video made for Cape Town Tourism by National Geographic called ‘The Sounds of the City’, showing a young girl enjoying different parts of the city, including Bo Kaap, Greenmarket Square, the ocean, penguins, the V&A Waterfront, the view from Signal Hill (but not showing the iconic Cape Town Stadium) and the view over Table Bay from the top of Table Mountain. The sound effects, meant to be the theme of the video, are a vibey rap song ‘Cape Town’, into which are woven the sounds of seagulls, the ocean, lots of minibus taxi hooting, drumming, and a marimba band. As a Capetonian I missed the Cape Town sounds of Friday afternoon mosque prayers, the sound of the South Easter, the foghorn at Mouille Point, and the ship’s horns entering/leaving Cape Town harbour. The YouTube video only has 320 views to date.
It appears that Cape Town Tourism wildly exaggerated the impact of its Twitterthon, and the stature of the international travel ‘bloggers’, who appear to be digital travel editors rather than bloggers, rarely blogging! Mrs Helmbold clearly had not done her homework about her panel of visitors’ blogging habits, or lack of. Interesting is that no blog readership figures were provided for the international visitors, and that their standing was measured only in terms of Twitter following, yet Cape Town Tourism wrote on its blog the following exaggerated and unsubstantiated claim that the writers ‘reach millions of readers each month through their own online channels’! No readership statistics are quoted on any of the four writers’ websites, nor did Cape Town Tourism divulge this in the run up to the Conference, only quoting Twitter follower statistics. One does not know how much Cape Town Tourism paid to bring the international travel writers to Cape Town, and how it will ultimately measure the value of the impressions they made for the Cape Town tourism industry, in translating into creating awareness, leading to enquiries, and generating bookings!
POSTSCRIPT 11/8: The danger of sponsoring travel writers became evident today, when Melvin Böcher of Traveldudes Tweeted a link to blogger Michael Hodson’s blogpost ‘New 7 Wonders of the World: the scam behind the sham’, knocking the New7Wonders of Nature competition, and billing it as a money-making scam. In Hodson’s blogpost he slates most of the Top 7 list, including our Table Mountain, saying it isn’t even a ‘Top 7 mountain…let alone a top 7 natural wonder’, and he has a beautiful photograph of the mountain in his blogpost. It raises the question of the loyalty one would expect from guest who was brought to Cape Town, and his services paid for. The blogpost was written by Hodson on 14 November last year, and even more odd that Böcher should Tweet the link nine months after it was written, and less than two weeks after he himself had hiked up Table Mountain!
POSTSCRIPT 15/8: Last night we received an e-mail from Anton Groenewald, Executive Director of Tourism, Events, and Marketing at the City of Cape Town, the funders of Cape Town Tourism. Initially I offered him anonymity, in recognition of the support I had received from him, but he wrote an e-mail this morning, saying that he is happy for it to be made public. This is what he wrote last night: ‘Thanks very much for an insightful analysis and critique of the bloggers visit. I share much of your scepticism in regards to this issue’.
POSTSCRIPT 15/8: Cape Town Tourism issued another media release to justify the #LoveCapeTown Twitter campaign today, and one can assume that it is meant as a response to this blogpost (they have not posted a comment to it on this blog). In the media release they have changed their tune, admitting that there is no standard way to measure the success of Social Media marketing: ” Whilst the #LoveCapeTown hashtag ultimately clocked up over 36 million Twitter impressions, it is still difficult to measure the impact of these statistics. Says Du Toit-Helmbold; “We know that this campaign was a success from many points of view. It was instant – and yet there are still many more blogs and tweets that will follow as a result to ensure maximised exposure and reach for Cape Town. It also crossed over onto many other platforms (blogs, Twitter, facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) as today’s social media influencer is multi-channelled. The campaign was followed with interest by traditional media, but the biggest success of this campaign was the citizen engagement it led to. For us, it proves that often we should just initiate and guide the conversation, setting up platforms where it can unfold. Cape Town knows how to sell itself!”
In terms of actual return on investment, Cape Town Tourism agrees that there is no one reliable tool to measure the value of social media, but there is no denying the importance of digital media marketing. Says Du Toit-Helmbold; “We see this campaign as one in which we piqued interest and that was our intention. Now we have to convert that interest into a community that can help us drive more awareness and ultimately conversion and more visitors to Cape Town. People do not just arrive in a destination; they do research beforehand and social media – as an extension of word of mouth – is influencing more and more travel decisions. We are acutely aware that word of mouth through social media is the most powerful tool for any destination marketer today and if we can continue to mobilise more local voices to help promote Cape Town through their own on-line networks of friends and followers, we have a winning recipe. Our work in digital media marketing is attracting global attention and we will be presenting case studies at the forthcoming World Travel Market in London.”
POSTSCRIPT 27/8: @Traveldudes has close to 90000 followers today, yet the Klout score of Social Media influence is only 67 out of 100 (ours is 65, by comparison). This begs the question of the value of a high number of Followers. At the Blog Conference Klout was not mentioned as a measurement of Blogging or Tweeting success.
POSTSCRIPT 29/8: A Tweet by Melvin Böcher about his #TOTT (Travel Talk on Twitter) hashtag success took me to his seldom-written Traveldudes blog, and a blogpost about the success of the hashtag. It makes for fascinating reading, in that he bragged on 19 July already (i.e. 10 days before coming to Cape Town) about the hashtag having created 30 million impressions, exactly the same figure Cape Town Tourism used in its media release a few days later about their misleading one hour #LoveCapeTown Tweet-Up, which included Böcher! The question style of asking five questions is the same Böcher uses, which means that he organised the Tweet-Up and how it was run, and calculated the ‘impressions’. It explains why he has taken exception to this blogpost, and his childish reaction to it. Ironic however is by his own admission that ‘impressions’ mean nothing! “Every single week #TTOT reaches up to more than 2 Million users on Twitter and creates with the #TTOT hashtag around 30 Million impressions! Just to get you back on the floor… If someone tries to tell you what this number is worth… It’s worth NOTHING! :). Travelers join events like #TTOT, as they are looking to socialize with each other, not to get a special deal for this or that. It’s about the fun sharing experiences and everybody can be part of it. And the best is… For Free!“
POSTSCRIPT 30/8: In News24 yesterday, an interview which they had conducted with Melvin Böcher of Traveldudes was published. He clearly is very taken with the quantification of the value of Tweets and blogging, something we have not seen quantified by anyone to date! He answered about the quantification in reply to a question about the biggest challenge he has had to overcome since starting his website: “The biggest challenge is, that people still don’t have a clue about the real value blogging, social media, or the internet in general provides. Who would have guessed that a single tweet of mine would be valued at more than EUR 160 – right!? Or that I can provide a ROI of over EUR 20 000 when promoting a destination in 5 days via writing about it on Traveldudes.org. But this problem is a general one, which all magazines, newspapers and bloggers have”. One wonders what he charged Cape Town Tourism for his services.
POSTSCRIPT 21/9: In a Mail & Guardian article written by Mrs Helmbold herself today, she refers to the four international ‘travel bloggers’ as ‘Travel Twits’, an absolute insult!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage