The importance of social media
2012 saw a huge expansion in the use of social media in Northern Ireland. Whether people are liking status updates on Facebook, tweeting their every movement or filming themselves for YouTube, it has transformed the way many people communicate. To give some perspective, in the UK, there are over 30 million Facebook and over 10 million twitter users. Businesses need to be where their customers are – as there’s every likelihood your customers are already active online, you need to be too.
Worldwide, the tourism and hospitality industry has been relatively quick to realise the power of social media. The secret is to be part of the conversation – social media is not a one way street, but is a perfect tool for engaging with existing and future customers on a conversational level. Nobody logs on to Facebook looking to shop. From a hospitality perspective, it’s the local pub of the internet where people want to relax and see what is happening. Therefore, any marketing has to be subtle and thoughtful and nearly subliminal.
Of all the travel sites available online, TripAdvisor is by far the most popular. Many of us now consult TripAdvisor to check out what other customers say about a hotel or destination before we book. With that in mind, if your business is listed, ensure you have ownership of that listing. By doing that you can reply to any reviews (good or bad) and show customers that management value customer opinions. In many respects TripAdvisor comments should be treated in the same way as the customer telling you them face-to-face and you should react online in the same way as you would react in person.
While TripAdvisor gives a “wisdom of the crowds approach” we normally don’t take a total strangers viewpoint as fact. There is where Facebook acts as a ‘shop window’ to your travel & tourism business. Despite the fact that we all joke about being bored about looking at other people’s holiday snaps, seeing those images can plant a seed for our own future travel plans, particularly when coupled with what is effectively a personal recommendation from a friend. Indeed, a recent survey by Skyscanner.com found that the ‘facebook factor’ affected the travel plans of 52% of users questioned. Engagement is the key to a hospitality business using Facebook. If people see a trusted Facebook friend commenting on or talking about a destination’s page, they are more inclined to ‘like’ that page too.
Twitter is another platform where you should have a presence. Not only does it allow you to get your message across succinctly, but it allows you to get your name or brand connected to conversations about your locality. To many people a twitter timeline is a cacophony of noise, much like an orchestra without a conductor. You want to be playing lead violin, and not second fiddle, to ensure you are heard above the ‘noise’. Twitter has transformed travel into a social experience, allowing tourists to chat with friends and fellow travellers online during a trip or visit.
The vital component for any company using this medium to communicate is to have a Social Media Strategy. This will enable you to have a birds-eye view of your content across your social media channels as well as ensuring you are not duplicating content. Of course, as in all time spent on a business, everyone looks for a Return on Investment (ROI). When it comes to Social Media, ROI may not directly be from financial income, but perhaps from increased recognition (more twitter followers or more Facebook ‘likes’) or more hits on your website which lead on to a booking. You could also consider offering deals to customers who ‘check-in’ online using apps like Foursquare or Phlok where both the business and the customer benefit.
In reality, it doesn’t matter how many ‘likes’ or followers you have. There’s no point having 2,000 likes or followers if you only ever get three or four people interacting with you.
Quality interaction and engagement is the bedrock of both Social Media and the hospitality industry.