Balancing participation in social media with RoI goals as a travel marketer

IN-DEPTH: Travel companies acknowledge that social media is playing an increasingly important role in the way consumers access travel information and share their experiences. Accordingly, they have stepped up their social media-related initiatives. For their part, consumers don’t want to have their social media space invaded by brands.

By Ritesh Gupta 

Social networking accounted for nearly one in every five minutes spent online globally in October 2011, ranking as the most engaging online activity worldwide, according to a study. 
According to comScore’s recently released report, It’s a Social World: Top 10 Need-to-Knows About Social Networking and Where It’s Headed, social networking sites now reach 82 percent of the world’s Internet population age 15 and older that accessed the Internet from a home or work computer, representing 1.2 billion users around the globe. 
In October, Facebook reached more than half (55 percent) of the world’s global audience and accounted for one in every seven minutes spent online around the world and three in every four social networking minutes. In the US, 64 percent of smartphone users accessed social networking sites at least once in October 2011, with two in five smartphone owners connecting via social networking nearly every day. In the EU5, 45 percent of smartphone owners accessed social networks on their mobile device during the month, with nearly one in four doing so on a near daily basis. 
Balancing act
“A lot of brands started to invest in social media, sometimes heavily, but recent studies showed that an overwhelming majority of consumers don’t want to have their social media space invaded by brands. Balancing this with RoI goals will definitely be a key challenge for 2012,” Bernd Neff, VP - Brand, Marketing & Communications, Design Hotels told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta. 
A recent global study indicated that brands must harness digital more carefully if they are to use it to their advantage and deepen relationships with customers and prospects. It added that businesses are wasting time and money trying to reach people online without realising many resent big brands invading their social networks.
There is a certain tendency to follow suit and just embark on a strategy because everyone is talking about it without really thinking it through, says Barbara Pezzi, Director of Analytics & Search Optimisation, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International.
“However, this applies to everything, not just social media. The same could be said about display, email or even pay per click. A badly planned and executed search campaign could be an even worse waste of time and money, with thousands of dollars being spent bringing unsuitable traffic to a website. No business is the same and it is important to carefully analyse target audiences and actual customer base and demographics, before investing in any marketing campaign, and then to continue analysing and optimising during and post execution. What will work for one company might not necessarily work for another, even if they are in the same business,” added Pezzi, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel USA 2012, to be held in San Francisco (March 5-6) next year.
Citing an example, Pezzi said, take two hotels with the same star rating and in the same location: one has a boutique design minimalist interior, appeals to a certain crowd and mostly relies on leisure business, while the other has a very traditional feel, has a number of corporate accounts and again will attract a different clientele. These two properties will need different online strategies, as their targeted client base will not in principle have the same online behaviour. 
As far as RoI is concerned, the issue mainly lies in not having the resources trained to correctly use and set up analytics tools, technical barriers such as external check out pages which cannot be accurately tagged and lack of internal support in investing in the right people and tools.
The challenge that Facebook poses for marketers focuses on how to deliver value in the long term: for social media strategies to have longevity, they need to engage the users with stimulating, relevant content, and/or provide them with the tools necessary to meet their needs over time.  
There also needs to be a seamless flow between channels and a cohesive user experience that adds value, not just a duplication of information in each channel.
Also, as far as improving upon the whole execution is concerned, travel companies understood that some posts and tweets performed much better or worse than expected, which was a great insight in understanding what language and content resonates the most. 
“Some initiatives, even if planned in great detail, did not produce the financial results one might have expected, while others did incredibly well. Sharing results on a frequent basis and providing training in interpreting the data definitely helped in motivating the relevant teams to remember to tag all the posts and landing pages,” said Pezzi.  
“Finally, keeping record of activities and looking at the overall picture is definitely essential. In many cases, a specific social media activity might have produced “x” amount of traffic from that social media channel, but at times there were overall lifts from other channels, like search, which could be correlated back to that social media campaign. It is important to do a full analysis rather than just focus on the obvious reports/data,” shared Pezzi.
In an interview with EyeforTravel last year, Gurmej Bahia, director of Customer Marketing at Expedia, recommended do’ and don’ts when it comes to working on a Facebook App: 
1.     Treat your Facebook App as a unique channel, focus on the user experience                 and look at what will add value to your users.
2.     Leverage the technology and the specific strengths of the platform don’t fall into the trap of replicating something that already exists on the website
3.     Look beyond your sector for inspiration and take the learning’s where appropriate (Fast fashion brands have a well established social presence and are often leading the way).
4.     Iterate and test new functionality. Facebook is constantly evolving so you should adopt an agile approach to enable quick testing and development.
5.     Dedicate a permanent resource to the project to safeguard the user experience and develop future functionality.
6.     Think about promotional marketing activity to drive uptake of the app. Seeding with bloggers, including it in your ATL marketing activity and developing acquisition initiatives are imperative to spread the word and gain users.  
1.     Don’t create a vanity App, think about your objectives before jumping into App development.
2.     Don’t launch your app and leave it for a year before reviewing the functionality. Functionality can change quickly within FB so be prepared to evolve your app over time.

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