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B&B Marketer of the Year AwardElisse Goldstein-Clark and her husband Dan took on a huge challenge in 2003 when they opened the Elkhorn Inn in a historic building in McDowell County, West Virginia. Since then, they’ve used just about every free or low-cost type of online marketing imaginable to attract guests from around the country and around the world.

“It’s just the two of us,” Elisse says. “We are, essentially, the Inn that the Internet makes possible — and social media is the key to that.”

Bringing National Attention to a Rural Area

Tucked away at the southern edge of West Virginia, McDowell County had been a literal disaster area when floods devastated it in 2002. It seems fitting that Elisse and Dan had both worked for FEMA, but it was their long experience living abroad that they most wanted to bring to their new venture. “Our goal was to create a place that we would like to stay,” Elisse says, “modeled after European villas we had stayed in.” They also intended “to kick-start the post-flood tourism economy of McDowell County by offering upscale accommodation and fine dining, and promoting the world-class tourism offerings of our area.”

They realized that they needed national media coverage to draw people to their remote corner of the world. Getting that attention has been a focus of Elisse’s tireless online efforts. “It is extremely time-consuming,” she confirms, “but the payoff in national recognition, media coverage, and increased, repeat, upscale business has been excellent.”

IK_internetinn_elkhorntrain.jpgConstant and Consistent Use of Social Media

The innkeepers’ biggest marketing investment recently is an attractive new website that is compatible with mobile devices and offers online booking. With very little budget beyond that to spend on marketing, Elisse uses elbow grease to keep up with the inn’s many online outposts.

Day in and day out, Elisse posts photos, videos, and other content about the county and its activities through the inn’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and Foursquare. Elisse also contributes to Pinterest pages for McDowell County, runs a Yahoo! Group for historical railroading buffs, and participates in a LinkedIn group for innkeepers. She has also increased the number of blog posts on the inn’s blog, and she responds when appropriate to the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) leads she receives each day via e-mail.

An Innkeeper’s Hospitality, Extended to the Internet

Being helpful works. Whenever she promotes the inn online, Elisse is careful to do it appropriately — nothing spammy or pushy — and always while contributing something of value, such as photos, event information, or recipes. She also goes out of her way to be of service to interested journalists, filmmakers, photographers, bloggers, and the like.

Her constant engagement — along with the inn’s hospitality — has landed the B&B in general-purpose venues such as CNNTravel, and in niche publications that appeal to the travelers who will most enjoy McDowell County, including Wing World and RoadRunner magazines (motorcyclists), West Virginia Game & Fish (anglers), and ATV Illustrated (all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts). One group of ATV lovers flies in several times a year to sleep and dine at the inn and ride their ATVs, which the innkeepers now maintain for them.

Social media outreach has also brought the inn a lot more guests in the other niches they serve — especially foodies. Besides enjoying Dan’s gourmet cooking in the inn’s dining room, these guests book visits specifically to enjoy food-centered events such as a “Dinner in the Dining Car” weekend or a trip devoted to picking wild blackberries. Elisse and Dan create these events and then promote them to more than 1,400 “very active, engaged fans” on Facebook and more than 2,600 followers on Twitter.

It’s a lot of hard work to use the Internet as your conduit to the outside world, but Elisse thinks it’s worth it. “If you ever wonder what I’m doing at 3 a.m.,” she jokes, “picture a small woman on a big computer.”

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