Does using Social Media sell travel?
It seems that much of the “buzz” in the Travel industry today is focused on the importance and use of what is now termed “Social Media”. Yet there is little help for Travel companies to understand the meaning, implications or impact of this supposed new Sales channel on their business.
So what is “Social Media”?
The term “Social Media” is generally applied to any website, network or system, whose content is mainly contributed by its Users, for the benefit of other Users or Members on the site. It is a new genre of simple communication between people in an online “community”.
Such sites and systems have existed for many years, especially discussion forums, but it is only during the last 5 years or so that new versions of the technology became very simple to use and very popular.
Today, the most famous are Facebook and Twitter – providing the opportunity for everyone to communicate in a simple way with their friends, family, colleagues or special interest groups – by ‘posting’ their news, opinions, comments and pictures for everyone to see. And contributions can be made on a PC or from Mobile phones, making it always available.
These “Social Networks” are now the most visited sites on the internet and account for a huge proportion of the traffic online. For this reason, it would seem that these sites must present a great opportunity to promote your company and products to their audience … or does it?
What are the opportunities presented by Social Media?
Talk to anyone in the Travel industry responsible for Marketing and they will tell you that it is critical to have a Facebook page and Twitter account for your company. But how much of this is because of the current “buzz” and how much is based on hard and fast facts?
Starting with Facebook; creating an Account, then a dedicated Page for your company is fairly straightforward. This means that you have an opportunity to ‘post’ messages on your page – maybe snippets of news, or special offers. However, you will need to invite people to “Like” or view your page and add it to their favourites, else no-one will see it!! This often relies on calling on friends of your staff to spread the word on Facebook for you.
Once you have around 20+ people who have added you to their favourites, you can even have your own URL (www.facebook.com/yourcompany), which you can use on your stationery, website and other promotional material. But you need to keep the page ‘fresh’ with new and useful messages.
Now, onto Twitter. Again creating an Account is simple enough and you get your own Twitter Address (@yourcompany). Twitter allows you to “microblog” – ie. Post short messages on Twitter – which other users may find when searching using keywords (eg. Travel, Holidays etc.). If someone likes your “Tweets”, they may decide to “follow” you. This means that they will receive all your posts to their Twitter account.
More and more, people are using Twitter as a more immediate and simpler method to hold conversations, as opposed to email. It can be difficult to know what you should post to effectively bring people to view your product. Usually companies resort to posting quick news items, with a link to a Blog or website page for more information.
Of course, there are other Social Networks – Bebo, MySpace, Ning etc – as well as other sites such as Flickr for sharing photos, and YouTube for sharing video. All of these have their uses for both public and commercial purposes and are worth investigation. Often nowadays, companies are posting information and training videos on YouTube and maybe Product shots on Flickr, making them readily available to consumers and ‘signposting’ traffic to discover more on your website.
Does Social Media Marketing really help sell Travel?
The jury is still out on this one and there is much disagreement within the Travel industry. Naturally, those in the Marketing camp would say it is vital to be involved, whilst those of a more logical nature (IT people!) will argue that, whilst it has its use, it will not result in direct Sales.
Try and put yourself in the place of the consumer. When you or I use Facebook, it is generally to share news or information with our friends and family, or to have a moan at the world. Whilst I am posting my pictures of the great weekend I’ve had and telling everyone about it, do I really want to see Holiday Offers interspersed in MY page?
Facebook is a communication tool. I go there to communicate with mates. If I wanted to buy products, I go to Ebay, or would Google for Travel sites. True, I might be interested in the odd snippet of interesting information on a particular Destination, or in a link to a Video of a Resort, but that would be about the limit of it. It is so important to use Facebook in the right way, so as not to alienate people and get them to ‘unlike’ you!
The same goes for Twitter. I am using it to keep in touch with my mates, whilst on the move and keep in touch with interesting (to me) ‘threads’ of discussion. To see Tweets on Twitter for “holidays” or “travel” I would have to Search for it, otherwise I just won’t see them. Ask yourself, would you really then be interested enough to “follow” your company Tweets if they were nothing but blatant promotions? I might, however, follow Tweets on someone visiting a Destination that I am thinking of going to, as they Tweet with their experiences and recommendations.
Social Media is definitely valuable as a tool to generate awareness and visibility in the Travel marketplace. It is also important to use it to keep yourself in the news within the Travel industry. In terms of business growth, however, keep your expectations in check!
I personally don’t think that Social Media today presents much opportunity for direct Sales.
It also requires careful thought about what to post/tweet and lots of time and effort to make good use of the media. It should be seen as part of the overall marketing mix.
Taking into account the likely effort involved, ask yourself where your time and money is best spent in promoting your business, then if you still have budget to spare … invest some in Social Media Marketing, using an Agency that knows what they’re doing.
Alan Kersley – Managing Director