Businesses are constantly evaluating the influence of social media on consumer purchasing decisions. By being proactive with an appealing page, travel companies can keep their fans happy and target ‘friends of fans’ for a bigger reach, writes Ritesh Gupta
Take a Facebook fan page of a travel business which has X number of fans. Clearly targeting these fans to meet your marketing goal is an opportunity but what about bringing`friends of fans’ into the mix to reach potential new customers?
Considering that travel is such a social experience, both as a purchase and an activity, initiatives that influence friends of fans make sense. Consumers consult their friends for travel recommendations and ask their advice on places to visit, and airlines and hotels to use.
Travel brands are trying to bring this social experience online and need to ensure that suggestions and feedback are listened to. This way, whenever these fans refer a brand to their friends, followers or connections, the power of influence works in your favour.
This month, SocialShop, a study released by Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide, indicated that 42% of Americans are using social media to shop – this equates to nearly 95 million social shoppers in the US. For brands, using social media in the wrong way can have negative consequences with 44% of social shoppers claiming they had stopped interacting with brands on Facebook due to lack of relevant or valuable posts.
“What isn’t widely known is how brands should use social media to serve the needs of shoppers,” says Masha Sajdeh, SVP strategy director at Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide. Travel companies need to evaluate social media usage from a shopper’s perspective to understand the influence each respective platform has on a person’s buying behaviour.
“Given the experiential nature of tourism, the information created by other travellers is even more important and influential in the search and decision-making process than when considering other types of purchases,” says Vipul Doshi‚ chief‚ InterGlobe Technologies.
According to a global survey of 1,700 people carried out last year by digital travel content specialist Frommer’s Unlimited, social media has become notably more important in holiday decision making. The study found that 36% of respondents termed online social networks as influential, compared to 22% in 2010. It recommended that businesses should also look to engage with holidaymakers via social networks when they return from their holiday, as over half (51%) of all respondents indicated they would be likely to post a hotel review online, and over one third of all respondents (38%) would post travel photos or share travel experiences on Facebook (33%).
Choosing the right channel
Travel brands are doing a decent job when it comes to customising their presence on Facebook as they communicate to their fans and friends of fans. However, companies need to look at each social media channel separately as a communication medium.
“We’ve seen a bit of overlap between channels but, except for our biggest advocates who have truly embraced all social media, most channels don’t touch the same people,” says Tom Kuhr, SVP Marketing, Luxury Link travel group.
A promotional campaign that lures fans to involve their connections for a reward is among the most common initiatives being taken today.“The rules of engagement for contests and sweeps are somewhat restrictive on Facebook,” says Kuhr. “We’ve been able to build mailing lists as well as Facebook fans through contests but, without involving partners, getting new people to your page requires you to pay for Facebook advertising. We’ve seen success with other brands using Facebook to host interactive games and build traffic, but that isn’t low cost, and the game must be really good to get that sort of interest.”
Running a promotional campaign is fine, but if your strength lies in delivering genuine, positive experiences, then the probability of a brand being recommended by its fans is much higher. And for this, travel businesses don’t have to change in a big way.
“Listen to your audience - they will tell you what they want and when they want it. There is nothing new about the way we communicate. Relevant, timely content that is simple to engage with remains the most popular content,” says Philip Taylor, Head of Digital, VisitBritain.
The tourism agency always aims to make the sharing of content as simple as possible. “As in any conversation, you can build trust, love and advocacy by listening and engaging with those around you in a way that enriches their experience and knowledge,” says Taylor.
It pays to be patient as well. The best way to gain trust is to earn it over time. Brands do this by responding in a timely manner, and delivering what they promise. This sincerity is reflected across your entire social media efforts over a period of time. And then you can expect fans or followers to spread positivity around your brand to their friends.
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There are two useful strategies that can boost sales and build the brand namely promotions and specifically targeted sales’ growth. These approaches should be familiar to all self-respecting parts of a hotel business and if successful can become an annual affair in the marketing calendar.