Case Study: Everybody has been watching and waiting to see whether Google Plus can take on the big boys of Facebook and Twitter. For LateRooms.com it seems this could be the case. Pamela Whitby reports
When Google launched yet another social network in September last year there was a collective sigh from the business community. Many had already recognised the necessity of engaging on Facebook and Twitter and the latest newcomer, the online pinboard, Pinterest, had peaked interest too. Now there was Google Plus. Being Google nobody could really ignore it.
At the time LateRooms.com had a presence on Facebook and Twitter but after taking a closer look at Google Plus, it decided to take the plunge to become an early adopter. If numbers are the measure, the move has paid off. Last weekend the number followers of LateRooms.com on Google’s social platform breached 500,000. To put this in perspective, the late reservations site has just 30,000 followers on Facebook and 10,000 on Twitter.
As an early adopter, Google has given LateRooms.com a bit of a leg up by helping to drive traffic to its page. It has appeared four or five times in Google Plus ‘What’s hot list’, the equivalent to ‘trending’ globally on Twitter. What is hot on the page is usually an eye-catching photograph, explains Rich Kemp, LateRooms’ social media manager. “The power of the photograph cannot be underestimated and Google Plus is a really great, visually pleasing way to display photographs. You get more space for photographs in the stream than you do in the Facebook newsfeed,” he says, adding that “this is also a really tech-savvy audience which is great to engage with.”
Before investing time and effort in a new platform there were a number of things that the company considered. “We want to use platforms that really allow us to show off our brand’s personality and enable us to connect with fans,” says Kemp.
While powerful photographs may play an important role in attracting the most ‘comments’ or ‘shares’, the company posts other content too such as blogs that discuss the brand or perhaps an interesting travel story. Another technique it has used is to put a face to the names of LateRooms.com employees. “On Facebook we posted photographs of ourselves so people could see who we were and we have done the same thing on Google Plus,” says Kemp.
While most comments are on travel photographs, some people also use Google Plus to ask questions. Unlike any other marketing channel, social media offers a unique opportunity to talk directly with the customer. “We need to make sure we are engaging with them but we also need to be careful not to always talk about ourselves. It is about finding the right balance,” he says. However, when questions come up there is now always somebody to respond. “Our fan base is global and not everybody speaks English. In the UK headquarters we have capacity to respond in many different languages and we try to do so whenever necessary,” says Kemp.
The company has not always had a fully fledged social media strategy in place. In fact Kemp joined the team in March last year before social media was fully on the radar. “At the time we had a skeleton framework on Facebook and Twitter but social media responsibility was shared among the marketing team.”
Nothing is perfect
Employing a dedicated social media person was a big step and if Google Plus is the measure, this has been a success although there are still some challenges.
So to the inevitable return on investment question: can you measure the success of Google Plus in driving business growth. What Kemp is clear about is that social networks cannot be used solely to push sales. “It is more about engaging users with interesting content or images about travel in the hope that when they next book the LateRooms.com brand will be top of mind,” he says.
The above point brings us nicely to the gaps in Google Plus. Right now there are two major flaws:
One there is currently no downloadable reporting suite or monitoring tool – like Facebook insights – so it is not possible to make sense of the data
Two there is no application programming interface, or API, which automatically orders followers into specific circles by location, for example.
“When you have half a million users and you can’t locate them automatically it makes it difficult to target relevant content,” says Kemp.
Still LateRooms.com has no regrets and is fairly confident that improvements will be made soon. “Given the way Google is integrating the platform into search and is starting to advertise in the UK, it is only going to get bigger,” he says.
So his advice is to stick with it. But if you haven’t yet made the leap then ask the questions you should apply to any social media investment:
Are you being talked about on the platform?
Is it a good fit with your brand and social media strategy?
Do you have the capacity to manage it?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then yes you probably should be engaging with Google Plus. But don’t set up a page and then do nothing with it. “There is nothing worse than a profile that has been established and then lies dormant,” says Kemp.
As for LateRooms.com, what is the next social stop? “We are watching Pinterest and Instagram too, that is where we are heading next.”