Two years into one of the great marketing experiments of our time, destination marketers are asking whether social networking lived up to the hype. According to a recent issue of the Wanderlust Report, no. But social media does have a role to play in travel and tourism marketing, depending on who’s using it and and why. Here are some of the observations, lessons and insights the Wanderlust team has gained on social media’s strengths and weaknesses for travel marketers.
Social media is social – not commercial
Social media allows people to easily stay in touch with their friends and family, to make connections with others who share similar interests, and to support social causes and grassroots movements. It helps bring people together and involve them in events much bigger than themselves (witness social media’s role in the recent regime change in Egypt, and the aftershocks that rocked the Middle East). It is a social force unrivaled in human history. But the key word here is ‘social;’ a medium of human connections and interpersonal relationships. It is not primarily a commercial or marketing channel. In most instances, selling is interruptive, even off-putting, so marketers must exercise restraint in driving the sales process.
Doing good is what social media does best
Many of the most popular and successful social media marketing campaigns of the last year were movements: campaigns designed to do good, and engage people’s desire to help others. They were meant to drive traffic but not necessarily sales. The Queensland, Australia campaign was about getting a job, not tourism. The Pepsi Refresh campaign encouraged people to vote for the most worthy recipients of significant grant money.
Charitable efforts, fund-raising and supporting community causes have gained a lot of attention this year, and caused a big bump in followers, but these are more successful as public relations efforts than for lead generation or selling. (An informal survey of the Wanderlust team showed that while 90% of us had voted in the Pepsi Refresh campaign, less than 30% purchased Pepsi products because of the campaign.)
Strong brands have an edge in social media
Destinations, resorts and attractions that have a clear brand position, a well-defined customer experience, and something worthwhile to say, tend to outperform others in the social media realm. Brands that can connect with their customers, but keep the conversation on a social or entertainment level, are the leaders in collecting fans and followers.
Social media is great for engaging existing customers
If you have a large customer base, especially if you have a large group of advocates for your brand, social media marketing is an extremely effective vehicle for customer engagement. Social media Friends, Fans and Followers offer a captive audience for a steady stream of invitations, reminders and promotions designed to draw visitors back. Destinations and attraction brands with frequent repeat customers – such as ski resorts, summer camps and theater groups – can use social media to remain in contact with customers who are likely to return often (a highly valuable segment of any potential audience).
If your destination has a large base of highly satisfied customer, social media is an essential channel. Use it to create buzz for your brand through re-tweeting, sharing and linking from your satisfied customers to their friends and followers in the social network. Word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing: the opinions of trusted, non-biased consumers carry considerable influence for today’s Internet-savvy consumer.
Read more of Social Media Marketing in the Year 2011 in the Wanderlust Report, Volume 3, Number 1.
Wanderlust provides marketing and branding expertise to destinations, resorts and tourism attractions. We help them uncover what will drive people to choose their destination above others and build integrated marketing programs to attract them — using mobile, the internet, social networks, direct marketing and mass media.
Contact: Mark Shipley
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