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How the travel industry can maximise the power of social media

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In this white paper agency:2 explore how travel brands can maximise the power of social media. …

In this white paper agency:2 explore how travel brands can maximise the power of social media.

Travel businesses cannot afford to dismiss social media as a fad. It presents an opportunity to gain an edge over competitors, rise above industry-wide challenges and engage effectively with business partners and consumers.

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  • Social media is the best way to organize your trip. There are many promotion but social media will help you make the best decision by reading more about the place that you want to visit, looking at pictures, connecting with the local people and much more.
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  • 1. the social media agencyHow the travelindustry canmaximise thepower of socialmedia020 7775 5608 | www.agency2.co.uk
  • 2. the social media agencyIntroductionTravel businesses cannot afford to dismiss social media as a fad. It presents an opportunity to gain an edge overcompetitors, rise above industry-wide challenges and engage effectively with business partners and consumers.Airlines, tourist boards, hotels and destinations are embracing social media to gain insights into their position in theindustry landscape, raise brand awareness, build online communities, improve customer service and conduct marketresearch.These are clear business benefits. It can also be shown that social media creates monetisation opportunities – and candeliver a measurable ROI. For example, integrating reviews into a booking path may have a direct impact on sales.For many travel organisations, social media is relatively uncharted territory. They are aware that it can be a powerfulmarketing tool, but uncertain about how to leverage it fully. The primary concern is to find a way of guaranteeing theintended results.The best route is to set out clear social media objectives and invest enough time and expertise to make them achievable.It’s important to define key performance indicators, so that an effective social media strategy be developed, measuredand optimised.Identifying the right social media channels to use is also imperative. It may be a priority to incorporate social featuresinto a company website. Frequently updated reviews, ratings and blogs, for example, facilitate customer engagementand improve search engine rankings.Beyond their main websites, a plethora of social media channels offer distinct capabilities for travel companies toconnect with B2B and B2C customers at different stages of their decision-making and buying process, and beyond, toenhance their customer experience.Online communities: a growing opportunity for the travel industryThere has been a surge in the number of travellers using online communities, rather than corporate websites, to helpthem plan and modify trips. Using the web, smartphones and mobile services, travellers are increasingly self-reliant.For the travel industry, this has resulted in a shift: company websites are less important, while content (especially user-generated content) is king.Travel businesses have much to gain from recognising this and identifying ways to interact with target audiences throughrelevant social media channels. These include travel-focused segments of photo-sharing sites like Flickr, video-sharingsites like YouTube and social networks like Twitter and Facebook. copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 2
  • 3. the social media agencyOther channels are custom-made to facilitate travellers and the businesses that need to reach them. These include geolocation sites such as Facebook Places, Gowalla and Foursquare, the lifestyle and travel social network WAYN, travelcommunities like Trip Advisor, travel forums such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and a host of blogs that cover all aspectsof travel and hospitality.In practice: how the travel industry is using social mediaThere are many examples of how online communities are being leveraged by different segments of the travel industry:n Airlines and cruise operators are utilising social media to promote new aircraft and ships, raising product awareness among key audiences An example: Royal Caribbean asked agency:2 to create a social media campaign to support the launch of a new ship, the Celebrity Eclipse. Social media objectives included the generation of pricing and itinerary enquiries, leading to a sales uplift. agency:2 developed a strategy to create compelling blog content about the ship and its destinations, in order to create a “buzz” and increase click-through to the Celebrity Eclipse site. It seeded and promoted the blog through forums, social networks and social search. Social media posts generated on average a 6% click-through rate to the blog. The blog engaged 300,000 relevant consumers with the Celebrity Cruises brand, promoted its service and gave travellers compelling reasons to book. Leads to conversion pages increased by 100% month on month.n Insurance and credit card brands that want to raise awareness of their travel products among in relevant B2C and B2B travel communities are using social media to position themselves as experts in the travel arena An example: agency:2 helped MasterCard in its quest to be the credit card of choice for travellers by driving holiday makers and business travellers to its branded travel portal. Brand ambassadors promoted the site across travel forums by posting valuable comments and answering questions. Referrals from brand ambassador posts spent 22 times more time on the site than the average user. Three out of ten of these resulted in conversion.n Tourist boards and hotels are initiating dialogue and getting involved with conversations about their destinations in online communities like WAYN (www.wayn.com), Thorn Tree (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree), Real Travel (www.realtravel.com) and Virtual Tourist (www.virtualtourist.com)n Hotels are using Facebook and Twitter, not only to build online communities, but also to process bookings and fulfill customer service needs. For example one of Hyatt Hotels’ Twitter accounts (www.twitter.com/HyattConcierge) serves as a virtual concierge, fielding a wide range of queries and responding to them within an hour copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 3
  • 4. the social media agencyn Airlines and hotels are capitalising on the real-time features of tools like Twitter to reduce the numbers of unsold seats or rooms at the last minute. Delta airlines’ passengers can buy tickets on Deltas Facebook page (www. facebook.com/Delta)n Tourist boards and attractions are creating photo-sharing groups or video-sharing channels to post pictures or videos and start a dialogue with a wide online audience. Visit Britain has a Flickr page populated by user-generated photography submitted by over 1,000 “photo ambassadors” n Resort destinations are creating their own blogs and forging relationships with influential niche bloggers and their audiences. Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort broadened its reach by connecting with “mommy bloggers” and creating its own Snow Mamas blog (www.parkcitymountain.com/winter/snowmamas), featuring moms’ tips for family ski tripsn Hotels incorporating reviews into the booking path on their websites are experiencing a sales uplift as a result of positive customer feedback. Conversion is further enhanced when the booking system is clearly highlighted within community pages where users are directly engaging Blogger outreach: the targeted influence of travel blogsBy targeting relevant bloggers and building relationships with them and their readers, travel businesses are able to:n Collect effective, unbiased reviews of their products and servicesn Introduce new blog-reading audiences to their brandsn Converse with target audiences in a friendly, sociable wayn Attract the interest of a wide range of potential customersn Generate referrals to their websites, with opportunity for conversionAs people comment on and share blog reviews through other social media channels, blogger outreach creates trusted,user-generated material that has the potential to go viral. None of this happens overnight, however, and building aneffective blogger outreach programme takes commitment. These are some key considerations:n Build a list: it’s important to identify key bloggers with a strong influence over the audiences that need to be reachedn Small can be mighty: Relevant, niche blogs can offer a clear route to enthusiastic readers and potential “brand advocates”n Gauge receptiveness: Investigate how bloggers have responded to previous pitches to establish whether they are likely to welcome an approachn Get to know bloggers: It’s essential to read the “about” section, look through archives to understand bloggers and readers before engagingn Be personal: Communicate effectively with bloggers, demonstrating an awareness of their background and passions copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 4
  • 5. the social media agencySocial media ROI: delivering returns for travel businessesBombarded with advertising, wary of the trustworthiness of PR messages, sceptical of corporate “blurb”, many peoplehave become immune to the methods traditionally employed by travel organisations to generate leads and monetisationopportunities.Enter social media: a way for brands to communicate directly with consumers and business customers in a friendly,sociable way. And a golden opportunity to build trust, enhance reputation and reinforce expertise.There are many ways in which travel companies can leverage social media in a valuable way in real time, delivering atangible ROI. It can be used to:n Provide better customer servicen Manage crises more effectivelyn Heighten brand awarenessn Enhance brand reputationn Develop brand loyaltyn Improve search engine rankingsn Increase website referralsn Maximise conversionsn Encourage repeat businessThese clear advantages are possible because social media enables brands to:n Develop understanding of their industry landscape: their positioning compared to competitors and their customers’ perception of themn Tailor campaigns to directly target relevant audiencesn Listen to and engage with customers – turning negatives into positivesn Empower legions of customer “brand advocates”n Create and build business partnershipsn Monitor, measure and optimise ongoing campaignsFor some marketers, social media is now their primary marketing tactic. For others, investing in social media adds valueto other approaches like traditional marketing, PR and advertising – helping to maximise the ROI of a wider marketingprogramme.B2B: getting social with a business audienceThe travel industry is using social media not only to engage with an audience of travel consumers, but also to enhancebusiness relationships and forge new partnerships. copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 5
  • 6. the social media agencySome of the social media channels that travel businesses use to engage with industry peers are the same as those usedto communicate with B2C customers: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Xing (in Germany), Viadeo (in France) andcompany blogs all have great B2B potential.But the approach is different than in a B2C context: the tone of language and the content generated is tailored to a“professional” audience. For example, here are some considerations for using Twitter in a B2B environment:n Original content: to maintain and grow followers, it’s important to share valued contributions, such as blog updates, newsletter content, company news and tipsn Retweet: retweeting useful B2B information offered by peers helps build a bond with the poster, strengthening business relationshipsn Real-time updates: “From the field” tweets at industry events or trade shows demonstrate a company’s presence at the heart of the industryn Hashtags: identifying hashtags that target B2B customers use makes it easier to engage in relevant discussions and follow specific target groupsCrisis averted: social media’s role in crisis communicationsThe infamous “ash cloud” crisis underlined a core role for social media in travel companies’ crisis communicationsstrategies.To recap, an ash cloud from the erupted Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland prompted the closure of airspace in allScandinavian countries, Belgium, Germany, France and other parts of Europe for about a week. Thousands of flightswere grounded and millions of people were stranded across the globe. This stasis had a serious financial impact for thetourism industry, with more than one billion euro lost.The crisis tested social media’s ability to help travel companies cope with unusual, large scale problems. Those that usedit effectively found it invaluable as a means of disseminating information fast.Using traditional media, the quickest timeframe in which companies could respond to a crisis would usually be within afew hours. Social media reduces this to a matter of minutes. There is greater immediacy and opportunity for damagelimitation.As the ash cloud problem took hold, Facebook pages provided a medium through which airlines and travel agents couldpost updates and converse directly with “fans”. And Twitter kept the masses informed, easing the burden on deadlockedcall centres.Social media channels like these allowed travel companies to publish news updates and helpful links. In addition,customers posted queries and received direct responses. This dialogue and information-sharing helped improvecustomer experiences and build relationships. copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 6
  • 7. the social media agencyIt’s also worth noting that social media generated conversations among stranded travellers, filled communication-gapsleft by companies that were failing to provide adequate updates.Winners, losers – and lessons learnt from the ash cloud crisisIt’s clear that the ash cloud emergency presented a steep learning curve for many travel companies, especially airlines.There were notable winners and losers.Lufthansa used its Facebook page to post updates and converse directly with fans. British Airways employed Twitterto broadcast updates, respond to customer queries and include links to pages where passengers could apply foralternative flights.Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, used a variety of social media channels, includingYouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, to post real-time updates. They were able to inform the European air trafficmanagement community, and the general public, about openings and closures of airspace.Air France, by contrast, proved that effective social media use is not about tick-boxes. Though it has a Twitter feed, ittweeted infrequently, largely using the medium to point customers towards its website and call centre, rather thandealing directly with queries.So what can be learned from travel organisations’ successes and failures in leveraging social media to help them througha very difficult time?How to use social media effectively in a crisisn Be prepared: don’t wait until a crisis to set up a social media presence: make sure social media channels are already playing an active role in communicationsn Use the right key people: outsourcing help from experts with strong, multilingual skills makes a big difference to social media communications when a crisis is globaln Connect with customers: communicate through the social media they are using: press releases on a website, help centres, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, forums etc…n Keep it simple: manage the flow of information broadcasted on social media platforms and ensure clarity, consistency and sensitivity across all channelsn Convey personality: a ‘human’ voice and an honest, authentic tone, makes a difference. A sense of empathy improves customer experiencen Don’t sell anything: during a crisis, it’s important to divert away from sales messages and focus solely on customer service and problem-solving copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 7
  • 8. the social media agencyn Listen and respond to customers: monitor emerging trends and sentiment and optimise communications accordingly. Deal effectively with direct queriesn Update information frequently: whether in a rolling news section of a website, on a blog, through a Twitter feed, or on a Facebook pagen Navigate customers: use social media channels to point to information on a company website (but make sure it is ready and able to receive an influx of visitors)n Ensure all engagement is valuable, relevant and timely: Social media engagement and participation should be proactive and must always have a customer orientated focus.Whether during a crisis or not, these are excellent rules for social media activity – to enhance its benefits and ROI.Great gains for travel businesses from listening and monitoringSocial media monitoring involves listening to and monitoring what is said online about a brand. A variety of social mediamonitoring tools can be used to build a picture of a brand’s position in its industry landscape – and gain information thatcan be helpful when building a social media marketing strategy. Among other insights, it’s possible to:n Measure the volume of conversations about a brandn Identify the social media channels with the most active discussions about a brandn Understand the sentiment towards the brand: positive, negative or neutraln Gain customer insights that help shape marketing and PR initiativesn Gather competitor intelligence – necessary to benchmark a brandn Discover “key influencers” in the marketplace – to recruit as advocatesn Identify risks early and in real time– and facilitate swift crisis managementn Uncover profitable B2B and B2C opportunitiesGetting the maximum benefit from social media monitoring requires a level of skill. An in-depth monitoring strategy islikely to involve using tools with customisation options and analytical and reporting capabilities – such as Radian6 or SM2.Around the world: developing a sensitive and authentic local voiceMost travel companies have a global audience. It does not share a single nationality, culture, language, or time zone. It’simportant that brands are mindful of a variety of factors to maximise the appeal of their social media campaign:1 Cultural sensitivities It’s vital to respect the culture of the audience, offering targeted information that’s relevant and considerate. For example, when addressing the Middle Eastern market, it is not appropriate to use images showing women dressed in revealing clothes copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 8
  • 9. the social media agency2 Authentic people Social media programmes should employ the assistance of local market people in target territories. Their natural mastery of the language can’t easily be replicated and they are able to maintain active social media profiles in the right time zone3 Local networks Using a balance of global and local social networking sites helps maximise local audience levels. Facebook and Twitter are not the predominant social networks in many countries, where local networks hold a bigger market share. For example in China Twitter and Facebook are currently banned.4 Natural language To achieve a deeper level of engagement, social media programmes are generally carried out using local language. Brands must either employ local representatives, or ensure that translation is done well. It must interpret the meaning, intent and nuances of the language, rather than translating verbatim5 Organisational structures Global hotel groups are often structured with a central headquarters, with other properties operated by individual franchises. This raises questions about what individual properties are allowed to do for their social media marketing. It is the role of the central office to communicate and distribute best practice guidelines and advice around online trends and tools. Importantly, individual properties should think about how a platform might be used to support their own local business as well as the central office’s efforts, so that there is a unity of message around the world.Geo location: a must-have tool for the travel industryFrom social apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places, to location-specific trends in Twitter, geo location offers excitingpotential for users, businesses, marketers and advertisers.Geo location mobile apps let users “check in” from their smartphones, share their location with friends and find outwhere and when events are happening.The travel industry can profit from understanding and utilising geo location. Among other opportunities, it offersthe chance to broadcast information to an audience that’s targeted by location and communicate with them on areal-time basis.This means they can meet focused marketing objectives, such as letting nearby users know about sales or promotionsthat they can enjoy in the immediate area.Foursquare, for example, describes itself as a mobile application that makes cities easier to use and more interesting toexplore. It is both a “social city guide” and a game that challenges users to experience new things. Its main features are: copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 9
  • 10. the social media agencyn It’s “social”: Foursquare apps allow the publishing of information (such as position, reviews, badges) into social networks like Facebook and Twittern Geo location: Users identify their geographical position by “checking in” n Badges: Users are able to win badges, which can be exposed to their networks, or to people visiting the same placen It’s targeted and contextual: Users are receptive to specific marketing messagesTravel and hospitality businesses have been among the first to make use of Foursquare’s potential to attract newcustomers, develop customer loyalty, enhance travellers’ experiences and nurture business partnerships.Hotels, airlines, car rental companies, travel agencies and tourist offices are among the businesses using the Foursquarebadges system to create special offers for users checking in for the first time, or loyalty programs for repeat customers.Other initiatives include targeted cross-promotions. For example, travel agencies can reward customers that check-in ata museum with a discount offer at a neighbouring restaurant.ConclusionSocial media is not a new fad. It is increasingly being recognised by travel industry players for the valuable role it playsin driving traffic back to company websites – traffic that they could not hope to attract through traditional marketingand advertising.But there are many other rewards that make an investment in social media worthwhile for travel organisations.Connecting with people in the right social environment – and ensuring that engagement is relevant, timely and valuable– is the key to building influential online communities, increasing recognition, enhancing reputation and maximisingmonetisation opportunities.To exploit social media’s potential, travel companies must define social media objectives and give them an appropriatetime-frame to be met. And there must be investment in the right tools, budget and expertise to deliver specific results.Measuring social media ROI can be made easier with proper planning. Programmes must be managed by a team thatunderstands how to set goals and metrics, develop strategy, measure success and never stop optimising. With thebenefit of this knowledge, a social media programme can be reviewed and revised continually. This evolutionary processunlocks its potential to influence the buying process positively – and make a real difference to profitability.The travel industry has been under incredible pressure: terror threats, fuel price hikes and recession have hit it hard. Thecatastrophic impact of events like the Icelandic ash cloud took many travel businesses, in particular airlines, to breakingpoint.Social media gives them a powerful tool with which to reinvent themselves and create lucrative opportunities: deliveringresults faster than through traditional media channels. copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 10
  • 11. the social media agencyagency:2agency:2 were the UK’s first social media agency – what makes our social media marketing offering unique is our provenability to combine the power of social media together with search to maximise ROI.We manage tailored social media solutions for our clients and are proud of the results we deliver for them.Since agency:2 was launched we have established ourselves as a truly global social media agency, creating social mediamarketing programmes for clients on a national, European and International level.This proven experience and expertise, together with our passion for every individual project, has seen us help a diverserange of clients to develop successful social media campaigns. That’s why our clients trust us to engage with theirconsumers around the world.Contact agency:2Allyagency:2Sea Containers HouseLondonSE1 9PDT: 020 7775 5608ally@agency2.co.uk copyright © agency:2 2010 www.agency2.co.uk 11

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