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Social Media on the Caribbean Scene in 2011

Far from the days where news traveled in a message in a bottle, progressive and active marketers – everyone from regatta directors to fishing tournament organizers, charter yacht operators, marina owners and marine businesses – have latched onto social media.

Social media like Twitter, Facebook and other channels," says Alastair Abrehart, who runs BVI-based Broadsword Communications and counts Nanny Cay Marina as a client, "are useful tools in spreading the word."

Captain Gary Clifford, organizer of Grenada's Spice Island Billfish Tournament (SIBT) and owner of True Blue Sports Fishing charters, says, "We started using social media as another way to reach our target audience, especially the younger element, and we became aware that a lot of our customers are using it themselves. This year we posted live updates on Facebook during the tournament."

Organizers at St. Maarten's Heineken Regatta use Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with participants and volunteers, says Michele Korteweg, assistant to the director. "We provide information about all pre-events, announce new sponsors; basically, make everyone feel involved and up-to-date. We also use YouTube to distribute footage shot during the regatta."

Tim Miller and Julie Brown, who own and operate the 58' Hatteras charter yacht, McGregor II, have employed social media for a year. "When something fun or unusual happens we post it on our blog. Then we 'tweet' it along with our website address, telling people to check it out. For example, Julie shot a short video of an octopus out cruising on the reef and we posted that."

What does the use of social media entail in terms of time and money?

Broadsword's Abrehart says, "Time is the biggest cost of using social media. Like any other marketing effort you have to work at it. When you start a Facebook page, for example, you're starting a conversation with your fans or customers. They expect it to be a two-way conversation and so you have to commit the time to joining that conversation. Monitoring, starting and contributing to conversations on twitter and Facebook can become 'real-time' and constant. You need someone with the time, brand knowledge, and common sense to be your public face on these networks. Also, be prepared for negative comments and criticism too. Of course, when you start getting more involved with generating content like video, competitions, special offers, time and actual dollar cost will start to rise."

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using social media?

"Advantages include direct contact with interested parties," says SIBT's Clifford. "When you update the page, fans get a newsfeed immediately that they can look further at if they are interested."

"A disadvantage," says the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta's Korteweg, "is that social media is still developing in the Caribbean, therefore not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter yet. The local target group should still be communicated to through the 'old fashioned' way, such as advertisements. In addition, people tend to rely on the information given through the social media, rather than going to the actual websites, which for us is a big disadvantage, as we still use our website as the main source of information. We compensate for this by linking everybody on social media back to our website."

Does the use of Social Media translate to greater 'success'?

The answer is 'yes' for the charter yacht, McGregor. "Since we have been blogging and tweeting, there have been 179 visits to our site rather than 9. We can not only monitor how many visits, but which pages they look at and how long they stay on the page."

Natasha Constant, marketing admini-strator at Budget Marine in St. Maarten, says, "It has allowed customers to freely express their joy or nausea with any post, and it has given our 12 locations a way to effectively communicate what's happening on each island in one place with a few words and a click of
a button."

"I measure social media effectiveness when someone recognizes the company at a boat show or an industry event," says Sarah Bensimon, marketing and sales manager for Island Global Yachting. "Hey, we're friends on Facebook!" is a common phrase that I hear. Because it's a social platform first, people are more open to exchanging ideas."

The key, says Alison Sly-Adams, who manages the Facebook page for Antigua Sailing Week, "is that we are personally communicating with people as opposed to not knowing who is visiting our website individually."

What advice do those who use Social Media have to offer?

"Social media should be used as additional weapons in the marketing arsenal," says Broadsword's Abrehart. "None are a magic bullet but each has their uses."

Antigua's Sly-Adams adds, "Keep small snippets of information coming, regularly update and most importantly check back in to see if anyone has commented and respond. There is nothing worse than someone going to the effort to comment or ask a question on your fan page, and it is ignored."

"Don't only use social media to supply information, also ask people for their opinions," says St. Maarten Heineken Regatta's Korteweg. "For example, we asked our volunteers about the T-shirts we give them, whether they would prefer long sleeves over short sleeves. These kind of things can be very helpful to make (small) improvements to the event."

"Think carefully about what you want to achieve and research the options available," says SIBT's Clifford.

Lastly, says Nicola Massey, the BVI-based marketing manager for Horizon Yacht Charters, who uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, "Don't underestimate the power of social media – it is here to stay."

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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