Making the most of SoLoMo

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Social, local and mobile have become an integral part of the travel business today and rightly so. Social media, used authentically, can help consumers become closer to a brand, the proliferation of internet-enable mobile devices means you can reach them at all stages of the journey and location-based services means they can be targeted with relevant offers.

Many firms are grasping the opportunities but the landscape is evolving and changing rapidly so staying on top of trends is essential. EyeforTravel put some questions to Monique Jaspers-Wijn, VP Business Development EMEA at Sabre Hospitality Solutions, to hear her views on the risks, emerging opportunities and challenges in this fast-paced, consumer-led environment.

EFT: How is the SoLoMo landscape evolving and how best should travel brands be taking advantage?

MJW: First I should say that travel is the perfect segment to be heavily engaged with social and mobile. Social media allows consumers to feel closer to the brand and can really help strong brands to grow. When it comes to mobile, a mobile or device responsive website is a must-have today. This means optimising a website for the mobile user. First, that means positioning certain elements like address, phone number, navigation, content and so on in a way that is most effective for mobile use. Secondly, it means taking advantage of the mobile experience to incorporate touch controls such as swipe, pinch and so on. With regards to location marketing, this can be used more interactively through QR codes, for example, or other developing technologies that are allowing consumers to interact with various marketing touch points in a much more natural fashion.  

EFT: The reading and writing of reviews is a growing trend. How should hoteliers manage this?

MJW: Instead of reviews being posted days, weeks or months after a stay, the arrival of smartphones and social media means guests’ feedback is only a touch screen away.  Information moves quickly on social media sites and consumers expect an immediate response.  Having a strong reputation management platform and a response policy in place with your team is essential to rectify customer complaints to turn negative views and experiences into more positive ones and open the opportunity to interact with guests on a more personal level through recommendations and advice.  Also monitoring for keywords related to your destination on sites like Twitter can provide the opportunity to obtain new guests that may have not considered your property previously.

EFT: In the emerging SoLoMo landscape how can brands make the most of convergence to offer targeted deals?

MJW: With the assistance of apps like Google Places and Foursquare, consumers are using their smartphones to help explore the world around them; approximately 74% of them according to a 2012 Pew Internet research study. This gives businesses the opportunity to more readily reach and influence the user at the point of decision.  Today around 18% of smartphone users are checking into businesses using their phone compared to 12% in 2011. In order to leverage this growing trend it is important to not only be present but to also have a consistent and comprehensive presence on geo-social and location based services. Adding check-in offers or deals on services like Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp can be a great way to get guests to do some marketing for your business.  Each check-in will be distributed to that user’s network of friends, which in turn is additional brand impressions and personal recommendation for your property or venue. Marketers should be aware though that mobile offers must be more targeted and are time-sensitive as mobile users are often planning for more immediate travel plans than those on other devices.

EFT: How should brands manage unofficial listings?

MJW: It is true that majority of businesses will already have a presence on these sites from users checking themselves in and creating listings. These unofficial and unmanaged listings can multiply and dilute both reach and branding by spreading check-ins across multiple listings that may have incorrect and incomplete information about your property.  However, most of these sites allow business owners to claim listings where factual information like brand name and contact information can be corrected, in addition to optimising by adding images, links to website and Twitter, or adding special offers.  Claiming will also provide access to analytics on the listing as well.  We therefore strongly recommend hotels merging duplicate listings into the main claimed listing.

EFT: There are risks with SoLoMo. How are these best managed?

MJW: Make sure there are some checks and balances worked into your social media posting strategy and that the voice and types of events your brand chooses to associate with are established in advance. Posts are much more interesting to consumers when they are in ‘real-time’ and from the heart of the brand. Therefore, for an hotelier, it’s important to have a concierge-like approach to social media. Also hoteliers should not get caught up in the moment. While social media is a two-way communication with consumers, there are not generally fact checkers and censors on the consumer’s side. No matter how ridiculous the accusation, do not provide a knee-jerk reply, as nothing is worse than an angry brand (unless that is on brand for you).  Major players in the travel industry, such as Tripadvisor, have departments to investigate fraudulent reviews. If you are concerned about the authenticity or charges put forth in a review on Tripadvisor, an experienced team of E-Marketing Managers can offer good counsel on how to best mitigate the situation.

In addition one major risk with mobile involves trying to find a unique solution for every device. As new devices are released it is nearly impossible to develop a new website for each device. Instead, our development philosophy is to develop a single website that responds to the device it is viewed on. This concept is called device responsive and allows hoteliers a more effective content management solution while building a flexible website for future devices.

EFT: Should you target your customer during a trip and if so what techniques should you use?

MJW: Definitely, but with the guest’s permission. Owning the communication with the customer leading up to and during their stay is a very powerful engagement strategy. Studies suggest that 90% of smartphone users send at least one text message a day. This is more than the 25% of smartphone users that access Facebook and Twitter daily on their mobile device. Leverage immediacy of communication and your guest’s constant connection to their mobile device by allowing them to opt-in to SMS messaging while visiting your Website and during the booking process.  A perfect opportunity to present this option is through reservation confirmation process by providing the functionality of receiving their confirmation via text message. You can then upsell the ability to opt-in to receive special offers and communication up to and during their stay on property. Besides using SMS text messaging for push marketing, on location QR or near-field communication can be used as a pull marketing tactic.

EFT: Any top tips, top emerging trends for the coming year?

•     Find out what channels your guests or prospective guests are using and then spend your marketing dollars putting your message out on those channels.  

•     Recognise the value that both employees and customers bring to your brand as supporters; and invest both time and money in the infrastructure and human capital needed to make it easy for two-way dialogue. 

•     Be prepared to respond to your customers in the way that they are comfortable communicating.

Device responsive applications (hotel or chain website, booking engine) are critical to eliminating duplication of efforts and to promoting a consistent brand across any device (PC, mobile phones, tablets, etc.) while delivering the best experience for the users.

Monique Jaspers-Wijn, Sabre Hospitality Solution VP Business Development for EMEA will be speaking at this week’s EyeforTravel Online Marketing, Mobile & Social Media conference in Amsterdam

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