Social Media Smackdown: Columbus, Ohio vs. Columbia, S.C.

Something a little different for this third round of Social Media Smackdown: I’m comparing how two cities are using social media from a travel and tourism perspective. Both have their namesake from Genoa’s most famous navigator and both are home to college football teams I love to hate. Let’s see how Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, South Carolina are cultivating relationships with fans through social media. Buckeyes or Gamecocks? Let’s find out:

expcollogo columbialogo

Round 1: Twitter

Each city has a Twitter account; Columbus can be found @ExpCols and Columbia is @columbiasc and both claim to be the “official” guides to their respective cities. Twitter-Friends, which I’ve used in past Smackdowns to calculate metrics like Conversation Quotient and Link Quotient, was not functioning properly and kept giving me big zeroes in these categories for both accounts. So, I had to go through manually and eye up each Tweetstream to make a judgment.

Columbus, Ohio: Following 1,853; Followers 2,775; Tweets 3,217
Columbus is VERY active on Twitter, posting updates several times a day. Most of their tweets include a link to its CVB blog and there are very few @replies. They often add the #ExpCols hashtag to tweets, but it doesn’t appear that many others do. Essentially, Columbus’ Twitter account can be boiled down to an RSS of its blog (with more interesting teasers to accompany the links to the blog posts).

Columbia, S.C: Following 3,665; Followers 3,832; Tweets 1,140
This Tweetstream is much more interactive – a better mix of @replies and RTs along with links. It looks like the Columbia CVB has used Twitter to promote giveaways and take a thought leadership position in the travel/convention industry: many tweets are links about meeting planning in general. They also recommend other local South Carolina twitter accounts for people to follow and offer tips on things like local grocery deals and weather reports. They also use the #famouslyhot hashtag to identify some of their tweets.

Point: Columbia is using Twitter not only to push out its own content, but also to share interesting tweets and links from others. Columbus, however, uses Twitter more as a broadcast channel. Point to the southerners.

Round 2: Facebook

At first glance, this was a walkaway victory for Columbia, S.C. When I searched Facebook pages for Columbus, Ohio, the page I found first had 16,259 fans. However, the city didn’t appear to be taking advantage of the page very much. The only wall posts were by fans – Columbus didn’t seem to be interacting with them at all. Posts included “shout outs” like “Just visited The Short North. Pretty Cool! White Castle rock on!” Other wall posts by fans are advertisements for events or fundraisers in and around the city. On the photos page, there are a few profile pics and about 20 photos that have been uploaded by fans. There was only one discussion topic posted with no replies. It seemed like a big miss. But when I went to the “Experience Columbus” Web site and clicked the Facebook link from that site, it took me to an entirely different page. This one only had 525 fans, but was much more interactive. The page has Flickr and YouTube streams integrated into it, a feed from its blog, and several posts and links to the wall detailing all the goings-on in the city. But, when I searched “Columbus, Ohio” on Facebook, it didn’t even come up in the results. Searching on just the word “Columbus” revealed the site, but it was listed seventh or eighth in the results.

cbabridgeThe Facebook page for Columbia, S.C., has just over 8,000 fans, but is much more interactive. The site appears to be maintained by the Columbia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, whose staff posts events and news items about what’s going on in the city and invites fans to share their events. What I particularly like is a post on the wall (with a photo) identifying and introducing the Columbia CVB staff. It humanizes the page and lets you know that there are real, live people behind this brand! The photos page includes nine albums, like “Celebrities in Columbia” and candids from various conferences held in the city. On the boxes tab, Columbia has an import of its Flickr stream for more photos and feeds to three different blogs about Columbia. It also includes a .pdf of its meeting planners guide and more than 400 links posted to the page that relate to events, residents or news items about the city. A YouTube box on the home page links to a few videos about Columbia.

Point: Both cities have a good Facebook presence. I like how Columbus is a little less marketing focused. But because it’s so hard to find on Facebook, I think I have to go with Columbia on this one.

Round 3: Web site

Each city’s Web site is run by its Convention and Visitors Bureau. While Columbia’s starts out with a landing page that makes you choose among the Convention Center, CVB and Regional Sports Council sub-sites, Columbus’ home page is more traditional and in my opinion, easier to get pulled into.

colsskylineOn the “Experience Columbus” Web site, you are immediately presented with a scrolling visual of photos from various events around town, a sidebar of social links to six different online locations like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, a hotel booking widget, a blog feed and an events calendar. Despite all this information being on the home page, it’s not too intimidating. There are links and tabs for meeting planners, the media, and then a series of links to dining, lodging and activities in the city. There’s also the option for local Columbus residents to become “members” of the site. The link to the site’s blog takes you to a nice platform that appears to have been posting since last October. The content is written by various members of the CVB staff and discusses local events and suggestions for things to do in the city. They even appear to have featured some guest authors now and then and have done a good job of embedding pictures and videos into the blog. Few of the posts have comments, but overall the blog does appear to be a good source of information for residents and visitors alike. The “IN” portion of the Web site for Columbus residents is interesting; it is basically a call to action for city residents to help share the good news about their city by inviting family and friends and identifying opportunities to host meetings and conferences in the city. Site members get access to special discounts at local merchants.

I disliked how immediately on Columbia’s “Famously Hot” home page I was faced with a choice.  How am I supposed to know which of the three options to choose? Each link took you to an entirely different site. I ended up picking the CVB portion of the site. Each link took you to an entirely different site. It didn’t work (in either Firefox or IE). I kept getting 404 messages. I’m not sure if it was just my computer, but still after several clicks and refreshes (and even trying to access it on one of our four other computers at the house), I couldn’t get it to load. It appears that there are a few blogs on the site (their FB page had links to a few), but anything trying to resolve to the columbiaCVB.com site just wouldn’t fly. FAIL.

Point: Probably unfair since I couldn’t actually load Columbia’s site, but Columbus, Ohio, wins for its simple but effective presentation, obvious links to social outposts, ease of navigation, well-written blog and innovative focus on residents with its “IN” community.

Round 4: Other Social Sites (Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, etc.)

Both cities do a pretty good job here. Both have a Flickr presence, but while Columbia’s is heavily populated with more staged “markeing” shots and logo images, Columbus has its Flickr presence set up as a group pool where other Flickr members can add their own photos and tag them. There are 300+ photos in the pool and they give you a true sense of what the city is like.

On YouTube, Columbia has had a branded channel since 2007 and has 25 videos posted, with over 4,000 views. Columbus’ 13 videos have been viewed more than 2,000 times, but that’s in just two and a half months since they created their YouTube site. Again, the Columbia videos feel a little more produced and staged and focus heavily on meetings and conventions, whereas Columbus features clips on what it’s really like to live in that city (neighborhood profiles, e.g.)

Both cities had MySpace pages (Columbia actually had two). Both pages had about 1,000 friends, and both had integrated their other social outposts onto their MySpace pages. There was really nothing to truly distinguish them. What I found very interesting is the Columbus is using Delicious to bookmark articles and sites about its city and Northern Ohio. They’ve tagged and bookmarked articles from Bon Appetite, Style, and the Columbus Dispatch.

Point: The point goes to Columbus here. Although it was essentially a draw with MySpace and YouTube, Columbus’ more authentic presentation of its city on Flickr and its innovative use of Delicious to draw attention to news about the city gives it the edge.

ALA @ USCThe Final Verdict: It’s a 2-2 tie…but I think the overall win has to go to the capital of the Buckeye state. I really like how, despite the fact that the CVB is backing their online presence, Columbus, Ohio, is really trying to not be too heavy handed with the marketing aspect of it and trying to engage people and give a real portrayal of what the city is like. Columbia, S.C. does a good job having a presence and using some of the social media tools, but it just feels a little more forced somehow – more like the content and messages are being pushed out versus engaging with fans to create content and conversations together.

Plus, Columbia is home to Steve Spurrier, so they should automatically lose anyway. Go Dawgs.

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Image via Flickr users RatsOnParade and BridgeImages