It goes without saying that social media and mobile are no longer an optional, nice-to-have for travel brands.
They are an integral part of the business and essential for delivering a great customer experience. Over the past few months Pamela Whitby has been talking to the travel industry to find out where they are focusing their efforts.
It goes without saying that without a clear, well researched and integrated social media and mobile strategy for travel, you may as well pack up and go home. In the run-up to EyeforTravel's fast approaching Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel 2013 event, which takes place in San Francisco from March 18–19, we've been hearing from some our top speakers. Here we pull together some of their insights, tips and trends for for social and mobile in 2013 and beyond.1. Listening is the word…
"People are speaking and sharing online about the experiences they're having in your destination [or for that matter hotel, airport, aircraft or cruise ship], so you need to be listening in order to be aware and share," says Kate Duffy, the Canada Tourism Agency's manager for social media. After all, anybody reading this has likely been stuck at an airport waiting for a flight that has been delayed because of disruptive passengers on a previous flight, a freak weather event or a grounded plane blocking a runway. Many will have tweeted the experience or posted a Facebook status. What customers say depends very much on how an airline has kept us informed or responded to a frustrating situation. This is even more important in the hotel business. With airlines, we may grudgingly have to fly with an airline that has disappointed us, but hotels rarely get more than one chance. If we want to be where the customers are we need to tune into what they are saying – and there are tools today to help.2. …and responding is with a human touch
Once you've heard what your customer is saying – be that in a Tweet, Facebook post or a review TripAdvisor you need to respond accordingly. San Francisco based Liftopia's social media manager, Katie Kearsey is conscious of being human, authentic, and engaging. "We are on a first name basis with our fans, followers and customers and are constantly trying to generate meaningful conversations and share useful information." Klout's Michael Tucci, who heads up Brand Partnerships,can't stress enough how important it is to be authentic and build genuine trust.
Going further Robert Patterson, Vice President of Social Media & Influencer Marketing at the travel marketing firm, MMGY global says in order to maximise value, brands and agencies need to listen to what is being said, plan a comprehensive response strategy, execute against their strategy and, importantly, focus on more than just TripAdvisor. "Collectively we need to do a better job at closing the consumer feedback loop and incorporating the data we are collecting to make operational changes to better travel experiences and improve consumer satisfaction," he says.3. Employ the right people and train, train, train
It is all very well saying respond accordingly but that is easier said than done as American Airlines has discovered. As an early embracer of social and across just about every platform that matters, American understands only too well the importance of hiring the right people and training them properly. American's Jonathan Pierce, Director, Social Communications, says people from traditional roles in customer service or reservations are not necessarily cut out for the job.
To put the commitment in perspective, American offers a six-week training programme for a role in social media. People are hired first as temporary workers to see if they can cope with a job that requires quick response times and some serious intuition. Training should also vary depending on where the person will be placed. For American, Twitter – which accounts for 80% of American's social traffic - is used for reservations or pre-trip enquiries. Facebook, on the other hand, is mainly used post-trip for customer service type queries.4. Mobile is here and mobile changes everything but understand customer expectations and the impact on operations
We have heard often enough that mobile is not longer an opportunity for the future but one to grasp today. However, Jim Abrahamson, Senior Director Mobile and Digital Product Management, Marriott International is quick to point out that while his company is actively investigating and developing mobile applications to improve the customer experience (such as expediting mobile check in or room service) a risk is that brands ignores how this impacts operations side of the business. Brands need to think carefully about how to manage the process after a traditional transaction is made via mobile. In other words, who will respond to it, how will they respond and how quickly – all of this should be driven by customer expectations. Certainly marrying digital solutions with the non-traditional side of the hotel business is easier said than done.5. Mobile services and tools for during the trip - a huge opportunity
All interviewees agree that there has been and will continue to be a big surge in mobile and tablet usage. Many brands have recognised that the real opportunities for mobile exist during the customer's trip. This is made possible by the fact that we now know where the customer is, how long they will be there for and what their preferences are among other things. And as booking via mobile becomes more commonplace, and mobile booking engines improve, here are opportunities for upselling today that just didn't exist before and the brands that innovate and delight their customers will win the day. 6. Social media is becoming seamless and word-of-mouth cannot be ignored
Anil Aggarwal, chief executive, Milestone Internet Marketing says that as we move into 2013 organic search results, local search, paid search, social, images, videos, Facebook, sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google+ and so on are all becoming seamless. So universal search is becoming more real. Of course tablets and smart phones play a bit part of this. With Google+ and Facebook Graph search features there are clear indicators that social results and personal preferences are going to impact the search results that the consumers see, he says.
In a similar same vein, says Klout's Tucci, word-of-mouth marketing shouldn't be ignored. It has, and always has been, one of the most effective forms of marketing. This is backed up by research, which indicates that 90% of consumers trust their peers versus just 33% who trust advertisements. However, with social media, WOMM is far more effective and the results even more measurable.7. Refine your content strategy: yes content is king but think curated and crowdsourced, relevant and personal
Speaking of social becoming seamless, the biggest challenge facing marketers in 2013 will be how to offer up high quality content – text, images, videos, across these multiple channels in a seamless manner so that the consumers hears the same message no matter what the platform or the channel is. Aggarwal continues that social signals, blogging and author rank became an integral part of the search algorithm through Google's Panda and Penguin updates in 2012. "Social media and blogging will continue to play a critical role in building authority to website content as SEO and search marketing becomes more centred on content-focused disciplines," he says.
In other words, prepare to invest in content. However, the question is where. AirBnb's Vivek Wagle expects there to be a rebalancing of ‘crowdsourced' and ‘expert' information in the coming year. In other words brands need a combined approach. "Today there's a curation bubble! So I think we will see a new premium being placed on beautiful, well-articulated information. And that takes time and commitment," he said in an interview late last year.8. Leverage social channels that are relevant to your brand
To succeed with social media requires you be clear about why you're in the social space to begin with and understanding what role social media best plays in helping achieve your overall marketing communications goals, says CTC's Duffy.
Most brands are leveraging Facebook and Twitter, and to a lesser extent Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. Aggarwal says leveraging social channels but interestingly Google+ in particular will help enhance your Internet marketing strategies and online visibility.
Google' Senior Media Solutions Lead Carolyn Johnson, can't talk about how being on Google+ will improve SEO but she does share how brands are using the platform to engage with customers. "Brands that have success on G+ are doing a variety of things - posting often, engaging with the audience, some brands have a G+ badge on their site, some are using their own marketing (ie. Emails and so on) to promote their G+ presence," says Johnson. (Watch out for closer look at Google with Carolyn Johnson, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel's Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel 2013 on March 18-19).9. Take data seriously and integrate all channels
In a recent exclusive interview with Twitter's Dan Greene, Director of US Online Sales & Operations, here revealed that they are seeing a growing trend of travel brands incorporating their Twitter presence into integrated marketing campaigns. And in doing so they are bringing online and offline together. "We expect this trend to continue and to become more pronounced this year and beyond," Greene says. Mo Sherifdeen of tourism destination organisation Travel Oregon agrees that in 2013, integration will be key. "As the platforms mature, we approach campaigns and marketing efforts with the goal of integrating efforts (and outreach) across channels," he says. That also means integrating databases and ensuring that our customer databases are cross-linked with our social/email efforts. Firms will certainly need to invest in tools that facilitate the analysis of appropriate data and data correlations before they making database marketing decisions.10. Accept failure, learn and move on
It goes without saying that not every post goes according to plan but Liftopia's Kearsey points out: "This isn't necessarily a failure." But just because something works out, doesn't mean you should ignore it. Instead this could be an opportunity to create new advocates through responding appropriately and showing exceptional customer service.
To do this, however, means you need to keep track with whatever means you have at your disposal to understand what your audience loves, hates or are indifferent to. And then you have to adjust your social and mobile strategies to deliver the experience they are after. Which brings us full circle back to point 1 which is where brands need to start – and that is with listening carefully to the customer.
To find out more ways to develop a highly competitive social and mobile strategy join us in San Francisco from March 18-19