Published on Thursday, January 12, 2012
IN-DEPTH: Budget planning should be built around supporting initiatives, campaigns and applications that provide users beneficial information, help achieve business goals and are interesting enough that people will want to engage, says Jennifer Stafford, Social Media Manager, HomeAway.com.
The challenge that social media platforms posed for marketers in 2011 was about 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.
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.
The past one to two years have seen many travel brands grow in their knowledge of how to better use social media to effectively communicate with their customers and prospects, says Jennifer Stafford, Social Media Manager, HomeAway.com.
Many companies are now more versed in targeting content to the various social audiences they communicate with on the different social networks through past experience and social network analytics that have become more advanced. Also, the value of having a fan base that is interested in your brand, versus just trying to get as many fans/followers as possible without regard to their connection with your company is becoming much more apparent as marketers shift focus to engagement.
"Similar to targeting content to different social networks, synchronising the look and feel of social media accounts and the tone of the messaging has also improved," says Stafford, 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) this year.
Stafford says most brands now have apps that are built in to their Facebook pages and are experimenting with Facebook ads and contests to draw users to their pages and increase engagement. On Twitter many travel companies have refined their strategy for engagement and offer deals to gain new followers. YouTube is being utilised for customer testimonials, highlighting corporate culture, site usage how-tos and videos of important events and announcements.
"While not all travel companies have reached a fully diversified social strategy that encompasses all of the major social networks, they are moving in that direction and I expect to see more diversity in engagement, content, promotions and apps throughout 2012 as they try to stay ahead of the competition. But no matter where your company is in terms of social marketing maturity, developing a social marketing strategy if you don’t already have one should be a priority for all brands," Stafford told EyeforTravel.com’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.
Planning and budgeting
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the way consumer access travel information and share their experiences online.
On how should travel companies go about planning and budgeting for social media marketing in 2012, Stafford says trip planning, engagement and sharing activities are moving deeper into the mobile space so ensuring that your brand has a strong mobile presence with an easy to use app is important.
"In terms of the social networks, and in addition to the mainstays of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Pinterest has emerged as a favourite among mom’s who lead the charge in most travel planning activities. If your business has photos or digital marketing materials it would be a worthwhile investment of time to be an early adopter of Pinterest," says Stafford.
In terms of planning for 2012, according to Stafford, the key is to ask: What reason do users have to engage with us? Are you offering deals, do you have a useful or fun application, do you offer fan only information on your social channels, are you running Facebook ads to your page?
"Budget planning should be built around supporting initiatives, campaigns and applications that provide users beneficial information, help you achieve your business goals and are interesting enough that people will want to engage. You should budget for running ads on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and StumbleUpon) that support your campaigns and branding materials, application building, promotions/prizes, social media management tools and design work if this isn’t available internally. We’ve found that these are generally the areas where you should bucket for the bulk of your social media spend," explained Stafford.
It’s important for brands to monitor conversations and look for opportunities to engage current and potential customers, but before you try to insert yourself into a discussion ensure that you’ve got a clear picture of the context of the conversation. If someone is clearly asking for help from their friends and connections, then stepping in as a brand might not result in a positive outcome. However, if someone is directly discussing your company or asking a general question where you can provide valuable information then it makes sense to jump in to the discussion.
Stafford said the social network where you are trying to engage with users is something to be mindful of.
She added, for example, sending a tweet to someone is generally less intrusive than engaging in a discussion on a forum or other network where there is a closer sense of community. The tone and intent of the messaging is also important. If you’re only trying to sell something it’ll be less welcome than providing meaningful information to the user.
"You need to use the time that you spend engaging in social conversations effectively so choose situations that will provide benefit to the users and are more likely to result in a positive interaction for your company. We’ve found engaging with customers and prospects online has been rewarding in terms of relationship building and identifying brand advocates so as long as it’s done with the intention to help solve a problem engagement from brands is usually accepted by users," she said.
Travel companies are attempting to tap into online conversations around their brands, products or services to understand what their core audiences are saying and determine the influence they have on their brands.
As the travel industry is one of the most talked about on social media, the ability to find data should not be an issue for most companies, says Stafford. Travel companies can easily monitor likes, dislikes, requests, issues and more from their customers as well as customers of competitors through social media conversations. By tracking the conversations brands can gather public information from customers previously reserved for focus groups and surveys.
According to Stafford, many companies are using this data for improving customer service on social media channels and build social apps in addition to internal product and process improvements. Utilising social conversations to learn what content your followers want to see from your brand is also a great benefit so you can deliver valuable information to users.
Additionally, conversations can provide you with information that can be used to more accurately craft messaging used in social advertising.
"Social data also gives brands the opportunity to identify who your brand advocates and social media influencers are so you can engage with them if they’re providing feedback to your company," concluded Stafford.
By Ritesh Gupta
HomeAway.com’s Jennifer Stafford 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) this year.
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