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Lakes area tourism and Google; More in common than you may think

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Nowadays, most paper maps have been replaced with pinpointing GPS and navigation on smartphones, and the majority of information for businesses redirects to a website or social media outlet.

So what does that mean for those escaping the tech-heavy city life to the Brainerd lakes area in the upcoming summer tourism months?

According to Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, it simply means tourism is expanding into the digital age, too.

“When we started the social media conversation with our member businesses three years ago, that first year it was difficult to get five people to a breakfast to talk about social media,” said Paxton, who along with the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Brainerd Lakes Chamber’s Social Media Committee organized this year’s Regional Tourism Summit to include online marketing and a social media emphasis. “Then a year ago we hosted our first social media summit and we had over 100 people, all of them hungry for more information (on social media).

“So I think that we’ve really seen a shift in how businesses are recognizing and using social media and they are hungry for more practical hands to give them tips.”

And the number of businesses “hungry for more” only continued to grow, with roughly 130 people in attendance at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber 2012 Regional Tourism and Online Marketing Summit on Tuesday at Grand View Lodge.

An event that turned out both small and large area businesses, Paxton said it’s the variety that brings out the uniqueness of the chamber’s summit this year.

“An added element (this year) is that we have about 20 people here from Explore Minnesota Tourism who arrived yesterday for a familiarization tour of the activities in our region and then because they knew we were hosting this social media conference, they wanted their staff to stay and train,” Paxton said, who heavily credits the chamber’s social media committee — comprised of area locals with a knack for social media integration and who also spoke as presenters during the summit — for their tremendous work during Tuesday’s summit. “I thought it was great that they (Explore Minnesota) wanted to use this opportunity to send their staff through and I think it says something about how unique we (Brainerd Lakes Chamber) are in doing this.”

Opening with breakfast, networking and a brief summit introduction just after 7 a.m., people could choose between three different presentations during three different breakout sessions which ran until 11:30 a.m. Topics covered in the presentations ranged from social media trends and using smartphones as a resource for travelers, to how to execute successful community events and learning more about the Brainerd lakes area trails.

Wrapping up, in ultimate social media style, the chamber’s brought in Kevin Norman, senior marketing/sales professional at Google in greater Minneapolis/St. Paul who, as the keynote speaker, addressed “Living in a Google World.”

“If you have the greatest website in the world, but nobody sees it, you’re not getting the job done,” said Norman during his presentation. “Social media is the tool for businesses today and the biggest and best way to become relevant and increase participation with your company and its customers.

“Get in the game. Because they’re (customers) talking about you whether you’re on it (social media) or not.”

Helping further emphasis the importance of social media for local businesses, Paxton said the chamber’s started up the Go Social breakfast sessions for member businesses.

“We do a series of breakfast sessions that meet at The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes once a month,” Paxton said, who added the next meeting will be 7:15 a.m. on May 3 and is open to all chamber members for $10. “They share questions, takeaways and just talk social media with one of our (social media committee) facilitator’s.

“People are still hungry for more (social media) information here.”

And that’s exactly what Norman said they need to be.

“I think it’s really important to embrace social media here (in the Brainerd lakes area) and in tourism,” Norman said. “A lot of people in the Twin Cities are pretty progressive with the Internet and are very involved with different forums and have a natural tendency to use it more than the average town like this.

“But it can help (Brainerd lakes area) out just as much and be used instrumentally as people and businesses in the cities use if they (local businesses) take the time to learn and understand its benefits. And that’s exactly what the people here today (Tuesday) are doing and it’s very exciting to be a part of.”

JESSI PIERCE may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).