A group of University of South Carolina Beaufort students is mining social media to help Bluffton answer pertinent questions as the town crafts a tourism marketing plan.
Thanks to social media, people store an extraordinary array of information about themselves, creating a gold mine for advertisers seeking more information about consumer habits.
It's no secret that big companies like Facebook and Google track users' online habits and interests -- mountains of personalized data that map users' preferences, lifestyles and activities -- that are used in marketing.
Now University of South Carolina Beaufort students are getting in on the game.
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Students in professor John Salazar's senior marketing class are mining information aggregated from 20 million Facebook users and their respective fan pages to help develop a tourism marketing plan for Bluffton.
The class has partnered with company MicroStrategy to access its Wisdom Professional commercial database, which compiles information from Facebook and other sources that helps marketers know where to buy and place ads, develop promotions and tailor messages that resonate with a target group.
Every time a user "likes" an artist, actor, product or band, Wisdom groups the preferences into a database searchable by age, gender, marital status, location, education and income level. The same thing happen any time they check into a favorite restaurant, cafe, concert or movie theater, enabling students to see what's trending.
About 100,000 profiles are added every week, according to Warren Gelter, vice president of corporate communications for MicroStrategy.
Think of how much more useful you'd find a travel or tourism marketing website or app if it made consistently good recommendations based on your likes and dislikes, Salazar said.
For example, typical travelers to Bluffton have an affinity for celebrity chef Robert Irvine, enjoy watching Food Network, HGTV and the "Today" show, read food & wine magazines, and make frequent trips to Savannah and Charleston.
That could mean Bluffton could be effectively marketed using TV and print ads featuring the area's culinary offerings, including Irvine's restaurant nosh! at the Tanger Outlet in Bluffton. Or it could be pitched as a convenient location for a day-trip to historic sites and attractions around the Lowcountry.
"Bluffton is a classic southern town next to a beautiful river that embraces the Bluffton way of life -- sit on a dock with a glass of ice tea, watch the sun go down over the river and maybe cast a line," said student Thomas Pratt.
"It's people knowing each other. It's having that local connection where your neighbor is your friend, and it doesn't matter what walk of life they're from. I think people miss that and it's something our target audience of age 55 to 65 with an income above $80,000 are looking for."
As its final project, the class will present marketing plans to representatives of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in May.
Last year's class outlined a marketing plan for Hilton Head Island tourism.