SoLoMo success: “Fish where the fish are” but keep the conversation flowing

SoLoMo is no longer a new buzzword for travel brands. Although some airports, like Gatwick, are further down the line with their strategy than others, there is no room for complacency because like everything in the world of online travel, Solomo is evolving and changing rapidly. Pamela Whitby reports

In the airport environment consumers have limited time to get what they need before boarding. This could anything from buying suntan lotion and a new swimsuit to having a pre-flight meal or buying a magazine. While this certainly poses a challenge it is also an opportunity and in many respects airports, like London Gatwick, have led the way with social, local and mobile offerings. “An airport is a natural place for Solomo to thrive,” explains Mandie Armstrong, Gatwick Airport’s online communications manager. “Our passengers are a captive audience for a quick burst of time; they need real-time information that corresponds to the physicalenvironment around them and they need it at their fingertips and at speed.”

That doesn’t mean this is always easy to achieve. But Gatwick’s commitment to Solomo which involves departments across the organisation – from communications to marketing and customer services – has helped to engage audiences and drive the conversation with planned and relevant content.

With the assistance of apps like Google Places and Foursquare, consumers are using their smartphones to help explore the world around them, Monique Jaspers-Wijn, Sabre Hospitality Solution VP Business Development for EMEA. And increasing numbers are doing so; approximately 74% according to a 2012 Pew Internet research study. So one important move by Gatwick was to develop a dedicated mobile website; this makes it easier for passengers to access information via their smart phone. While the requirements of every travel brand will vary, Jaspers-Wijn has two bits of advice for optimising for mobile:

•     Position elements (address, phone number, navigation, content, etc) in a way that is most effective for mobile use.

•     Take advantage of the mobile experience to incorporate touch controls (swipe, pinch and so on)

One risk with mobile is that brands try to find a unique solution for every device. “This is nearly impossible,” says Jaspers-Wijn who recommends the development of a single website that responds to the device it is viewed on. The concept is called ‘device responsive’ and allows travel brands a more effective content management solution while building a flexible website for future devices. “Device responsive applications are critical to eliminating duplication of efforts and to promoting a consistent brand across any device (PCs, mobile phones, tablets, etc) while delivering the best experience for the users,” she says.

Aside from a mobile website and the usual suspects of Twitter and Facebook (both used for real-time customer service at Gatwick) the airport also makes use of a range of other social channels. These include:  

• Qype – for local reviews of Gatwick’s shops and restaurants, making it easy for passengers to get information and peer reviews for all amenities at the airport.

• Foursquare – for offers, check-ins, tips and lists - advertising online facilities and making them appealing to those passing through the airport by incentivising offers relevant to both time and place. Gatwick works closely with retail partners to plan offers in advance.

• Instagram – Gatwick was one of the first airports worldwide to set up an Instagram channel. Here it encourages passengers to share their own content in real-time using the tag #gatwick.

• Soundcloud - Passengers can learn about the latest updates on site in news broadcasts and also interact with mobile story time for kids.

These channels may be right for Gatwick, but Jaspers-Wijn recommends that travel brands “fish where the fish are”. In other words find out what channels your guests or prospective guests are using and then spend your marketing dollars putting your message out on those channels.  

Value in the visual  

Gatwick’s early adoption of Instagram reveals an understanding of the importance of the visual which is important for the travel industry more broadly. Jaspers-Wijn, argues that social, mobile and search will continue to be more integrated and evolve together but stresses that “search is also becoming more visual.” There are after all 5 billion photos posted on Instagram and 250 million uploaded to Facebook on a daily basis. “If you look at the hot new social media sites, such as Instagram, Pinterest and Foodspotting that have emerged over the last year they have all centred on visual content,” she says. 

The result is that “we are starting to see a shift over to visual search through images converging with geo-location on sites like Foodspotting, images as a means of search through Google Goggles, and Visual bookmarking on Pinterest.” 

Moving in these visual times, Gatwick says it has an exciting upcoming project where it will be using Jux, (the latest place to share words and images) “to collate rich visual content, both from us and members of our social community too”.

Having said that, when it comes to investing in new technologies and networks Gatwick is clear that any journey with social media will be considered and justified. “We make sure everything we do links carefully back to our key objectives and passenger commitments,” she says.

Think like a consumer

Solomo blurs the boundaries between offline and online, As a result Gatwick displays physical posters in the airport informing people of where they can interact, find information and get involved.  But Armstrong says that many customers are now also engaging ahead of arriving at the airport.

According to Jaspers-Wijn it is really important for brands to start “thinking like a consumer”. She suggest firms think about the type of information “that would be tangent to the brand and that would make sense for consumers to associate with.” It is also wise to use social media to casually inform and engage consumers while offsite.  In other words, be relevant!

Armstrong agrees: “We strongly believe in giving our customers want they want when they want it - offers and information relevant to them.”

For utmost flexibility and context, this means targeting passengers as they pass through the airport rather than beforehand. Social networks fit hand-in-hand with mobile and are a natural place for marketing to sit. “This also works as a reward mechanism - people checking in for the vanity of sharing their travels with their own community have the option to be rewarded with an offer from Gatwick,” she says. The ability to easily access this information on their network of choice means it becomes all the more personal. Of course there are “lots of touch points for our customers, so we constantly aim to cross promote all channels to ensure passengers know about all of our offerings”.

Top tips from Gatwick:

1.      Start with a community that you are dedicated to - Have a solid social content plan in place but always remember that it’s a conversation not a one- way channel to push information. Give timely responses to questions and queries. Respond to all feedback positive and negative - somebody has taken the time to provide it.

2.      Make it as easy as possible for customer to get involved - cross promote your social offering online and offline too. Signpost actions for customers to take.

3.     Give customers something they want or that makes their life easier - offer information that is useful and offers that are appealing that can be instantly redeemed

4.     Merge online and offline experience - be consistent. Use Solomo to enhance the services you have offline in order to create a well round and holistic offering.

To hear more insights from Mandie Armstrong, online communications manager, Gatwick and Monique Jaspers-Wijn, Sabre Hospitality Solution VP Business Development for EMEA join us for EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing, Mobile & Social Media conference in Amsterdam next week

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