From iconic landmarks and world-class art museums to a dynamic food scene, San Francisco looks every bit the part of a modern tourist city — and one that’s firmly connected to its historic roots. The home of Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz attracted close to 26 million tourists in 2018, yet with international tourists representing only a third of all overnight visitors, the city has long wanted to expand this market segment.

Outbound Chinese visitors represent an increasingly important part of San Francisco’s tourist model, constituting 23 percent of international tourist spending in 2018 (a number that’s expected to grow four percent in the coming year). San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA), which strives to promote the city and its surroundings as a top global destination, is not resting on its laurels or relying on its enviable range of attractions to maintain the city’s upward trend. Rather, the organization, which is partly responsible for eight consecutive years of tourism growth in the city, asked how it could better open itself up to Chinese visitors. And in Hylink Digital Solutions, China’s largest independent advertising firm, the city found an agency capable of answering its questions.

The Beijing-based agency used San Francisco’s rich Chinese-American heritage as a starting point and sought to connect outbound travelers with Chinese communities already present in the city via WeChat and Weibo. In recent years, SFTA and Hylink have worked together to craft and execute a range of award-winning campaigns.

Here are two particularly noteworthy examples:

SFTA Love Campaign (#MyLoveMySF) (Winner of the 2018 Shorty Award for “Best in Weibo”)

Inspired by the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love,” Hylink brought those halcyon months from 1967 into focus with the #MyLoveMySF campaign.

To boost engagement and overall followers for the SFTA’s Weibo account, the campaign presented a basic question to Weibo users: “Where in San Francisco did YOU fall in love?” Users were encouraged to answer the question however they saw fit. Some shared the specific neighborhood that first enamored them to San Francisco, while others posted about the place in the city where they fell in love with their spouse or partner.

SFTA’s Weibo users were invited to share these personal love stories via written texts, photos, and videos on the campaign page, which made them eligible to win a free trip to San Francisco. Hylink promoted the hashtag #MyLoveMySF to collect quotes and photos from Weibo, and users were encouraged to create one-to-two minute videos showing off different “loves” they had discovered around the city. The best videos were then featured on the campaign page.

After launching #MyLoveMySF on Weibo, SFTA Weibo’s following grew by 273 percent and the success of the campaign led to a 2018 Shorty Award in the category of “Best in Weibo.”

Draw Something SF (Winner of the 2019 Shorty Award for “Best in WeChat”)

While innovation is frequently sought after in the world of advertising, sometimes drawing from preexisting norms is equally powerful when it comes to capturing audiences. Accordingly, SFTA and Hylink’s Draw Something SF campaign used the full range of San Francisco’s famous landmarks to engage with Chinese tourists in a new way.

The Draw Something SF campaign kicked off as an interactive and engagement-boosting endeavor where the SFTA’s WeChat account encouraged followers to view reimagined versions of famous San Francisco landmarks and guess which landmarks they were. It was a simple game, but it came with a twist — the landmarks were sketched, reimagined, and then put through a “kaleidoscope” which distorted the image.

Each time a WeChat user correctly guessed the landmark, the next round would increase in difficulty until all distorted and scrambled landmarks were guessed correctly. Those capable of answering all questions correctly received prizes such as airline tickets to San Francisco, hotel accommodations, and SFTA branded merchandise.

In the space of a few months, “Draw Something SF” was able to generate a 34% increase in bookings from Chinese tourists, 31.6 million impressions on their website, and 88,200 more clicks. On social media, the city’s engagements increased by more than 10 times their average rates from the before the campaign. The success of the Draw Something SF campaign earned Hylink’s creative work a 2019 Shorty Award in the “Best in WeChat” category.

Edited by Richard Whiddington and Ryan Steadman

About Hylink

By crafting social media content and interactions tailored specifically to the needs of travel-minded Chinese consumers (rather than a one-size-fits-all approach), Hylink’s deep understanding of how to connect with the Chinese population has brought the SFTA impressive results in a relatively short time.