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Facebook: Everybody loves Pawleys, but will they like it

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In a town formed with the goal to “keep Pawleys as it was,” the post may soon replace the postcard. At least officially.

The town is prepared to dip its toe in the waters of social media and join the billion users of Facebook.

“It’s a whole new world,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

He started looking at the possibilities of Facebook a couple of months ago. He was skeptical. “I’m developing a little bit different point of view,” Otis said this week.

The town updated its website this year, adding contact information for the two inns and the real estate companies that rent beach houses. Otis wants the town’s site to play a bigger role in attracting vacationers.

“The strong driver of traffic tends to be Facebook,” Otis said.

That’s the lesson the Georgetown County’s Tourism Management Commission has learned. It began promoting its Facebook page this fall when Lauren Cobb took over as the tourism marketing director. She boosted the number of “likes” from around 1,000 to over 5,000. The goal is to drive traffic to the county’s tourism website, which also has links to real estate rental companies.

The town had nearly 6,000 visits to its website in the first month after the upgrade. The county tourism site had over 14,000. The county’s $564,000 marketing budget is focused on driving web traffic. The town’s $57,000 marketing budget is not.

“We could drive a lot more traffic to our rental agents,” Otis said.

The state and local accommodation taxes paid by vacation rentals account for half of the town’s $1.27 million annual revenue. Pawleys Island has no municipal property tax.

Otis said the goal isn’t to raise money for the town, which expects to close the year with a surplus of more than $400,000. “There are a lot of property owners who look forward to their rental checks to pay insurance and taxes,” he said.

In a pitch to Town Council this week, Otis sounded a little like a teenager trying to explain to his parents why he needs a Facebook account.

“I’m still kind of torn,” Council Member Mary McAllister said.

Council Member Glennie Tarbox asked why the town needs to monitor the Facebook account. The town has a proposal from a Myrtle Beach firm to set up the Facebook page for $600 and manage it for $500 a month.

“You have to be active on it,” said Linda Abate, the mayor’s part-time assistant who has helped with the town’s online issues. “If you don’t make it interesting and interactive, people won’t come.”

Unlike the town website, which provides information about the island’s history, the town ordinances and events, with Facebook “you’re getting into something that does more than sit there.”

Town Council doesn’t have to look far to find a model for social media. The police department maintains an active Twitter account. “It’s the number one followed department with less than 15 officers in the country,” Chief Mike Fanning said.

He provides regular tweets: “Christmas caroling at the Nature Park,” “Pockets of fog rolling across the south end,” “Minor coastal flooding.”

The department has over 1,700 followers.

“We need to be more consistent” in promoting the town’s website, Otis said. “I know we are behind the curve.”

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