14 Social Recommendations for Travel Destinations

BloomThink Can Help travel destinations must do better with social media
Creative Commons: Attribution by Flickr user apparena

Travel website Tnooz and the European Travel Commission recently ran an article with a laundry list of social media recommendations for travel destinations.  They scored the top travel locations and found that, in aggregate, they stink at social media.  This is surprising since most people love to holiday in exotic and exciting locations, have a good time when they’re there, and like to tell others how great their vacation was.  The list is a good start, but provides nothing in the way of how to do it.  So BloomThink has picked up the ball and has the recommendations AND some ideas of how travel destinations, boards of tourism, chambers of commerce and attractions can get started today.

There are some examples of companies doing it right.  Carnival Cruises is one example.  They are very engaged with their customers (and wanna-be-customers).  BloomThink has outlined what they have done right in our report “Wish You Were Here: Social Consumer Engagement in the Cruise Industry” (Free PDF Download)

Recommendation:

1) Concentrate on the inspire-before-during-after phases of travel for consumers

People love to share their positive experiences.  We love to share photos of ourselves in amazing locations.  These inspire and recommend locations to others in our social networks.  So if all that content is out there and already being created, tap into it!  If travelers are already posting photos at your locations, help them connect that content to your social presence while they’re there!  We are people who are willing to take an action if it is immediate and convenient.  So  Invite them to upload their photos on your Pinterest board while they’re at the beach.   Tell them the Twitter hash tag to use and invite them to post or tag you on Facebook while at your hotel or restaurant or city!  This focus on the easy transaction during travel builds up content that will inspire others before they travel.  Additional capabilities like searching for and repinning/reposting/retweeting photos and videos of others at your location help to amplify the experiences of your customers.  For some additional investment, create time bound microsites where visitors (especially leisure travelers) can view professional photos your staff takes of them.  This brings them back to your social “properties” and adds another opportunity for engagement and maybe purchase.

2) Create more interactivity

Interactivity is vital.  Each opportunity to interact is also an opportunity to transact.  Invite people at your location to comment, rate, upload funny photos of themselves, vote on the photos of others.  Gamify experiences at locations by providing items like badges or coupons or collectibles at each room or area on a property.  Don’t tie everything to a purchase.  Deliver some value and fun just for being there.

3) Include trip planners and itineraries and make them more visible for users

If you want people to explore everything your destination has to offer, create a trip planner for your travelers.  You know your location the best so you know what kinds of food, drinks, entertainment and conveniences go together.  Invite people to explore and participate by creating lists of items that go together.  These can be as simple as downloadable PDFs or as sophisticated as apps.  But definitely keep it mobile.  People will keep their phones and tablets with them, not their laptops. Plus it creates more opportunity for interactivity and that all-important engagement during their stay with you.

4) Support SMEs and “manage by jealousy” by encouraging the best to do better.

Do you have “regulars”?  Promote them.  Ask them to create some of those trip planner lists.  Get their testimonials and views.  If they’re regular, they like your location, brand and experience.  Help them spread their own word.  New customers and travelers are more likely to believe and trust them than you.

5) Create clusters of innovative users and support them

Similar to number 4 above, tap into groups of super users for insight and advocacy.  Host a “regulars only” event.  Give them specials and thank-yous over and above loyalty points or a free drink.  Make their experience remarkable and they will remark about it.  But don’t pander.  If users feel you are pandering to them their good will can quickly change into displeasure in a group setting.  People don’t like being manipulated.  They like feeling important and having their needs and desires met.  So do it.  Create a custom Twitter hashtag for groups at your location.  Encourage them to tweet about it with their own hash tag.  Then aggregate the tweets for them on a custom micro-site.  You deliver a special value to them for almost no cost.  They get a memorable experience that is tied to you.  Does your destination have a special family section or event?  Make sure families know about it and then ensure that their entire experience is tailored to that need.  Remember, businesses look at line items.  Groups look at the whole experience.  Adjust your perspective accordingly.

6) Produce themed microsites and use social media to address niche markets

We’ve already talked about social media.  Microsites are one page sites that are about one topic.  There are a ton of free micro site creation utilities available.  It’s also not difficult to create and host one yourself.  From about.me and check this to tumblr to wordpress and blogger there are many ways to quickly and easily set up one-topic sites that are easy-up, easy-down.  Just like a restaurant has a “specials” menu to showcase seasonal, special occasion or promoted items, your destination’s social and web presence can do the same.

7) Implement news feed of social media channels

The importance of social “listening” is huge.  Social listening is the intentional paying attention to the constant stream of updates, status reports, images and feedback that is happening all around you.  Key listening techniques include looking for your brand name, hash tags (even the <your name>FAIL tag!) and location.  But it also means listening to items related to your destination.  Cruise companies need to be looking not just for their brand name but also for people talking about sailing, cruising or even vacation.  Got a club in downtown?  Look for people tweeting about going out tonight in your town area.  Tweet them back with an incentive to come to your club.   When people do talk about your location, make sure that you amplify their message.  If it is positive, include it in an automatic feed on your website, or on a big screen at your location.  If it’s negative, respond with a “we’re on it!” style message and then make sure you get on it!  There are a ton of free and pay tools that can help automate this process.  But remember that automation alone is not the answer.

8) Integrate strategic marketing/online marketing/social media/PR

Too many organizations think that social marketing and traditional marketing are separate entities.  Not only must social practice be coordinated with traditional MarCom but when done intentionally, they can mutually reinforce each other.  Nothing is worse than a social marketing group completely missing the boat when it comes to traditional marketing.  From disasters like the Quantas PR Twitter nightmare not too long ago to the tragic social media missteps during the Aurora shootings, your destination cannot afford to mess this up.

9) Utilize user generated content as a major strategy to inspire prospective travelers

We’ve already mentioned how to make it easier for current travelers to share their experiences of your destination via images, instagram, videos, ratings and reviews.  But the reason this is so important doesn’t stop at creating a memorable experience for your traveler.  Prospective travelers are researching your destination (and competitive ones like it).  Study after study shows that people trust the comments and ratings and images of other customers much more than they trust the word of your brand.  They even trust the word of a stranger over your word.  This is because of the perception that, no matter what, you’re going to spin and airbrush everything to your favor.  Other consumers, they reason, would be a bit more honest if something isn’t quite up to par.  So when you enable and empower current users to tweet, like, check in, explore, collect and share you are providing more and more credible evidence of your desirability.

10) Take advantage of geo-tagging and prepare for location based services

Honestly, it’s to late to “prepare for location based services.”  They’re here.  Nearly all cell phone cameras (and certainly all higher end digital cameras) embed geo tagging information into photos.  The ubiquity of cell phone navigation means that whether through GPS or tower triangulation, consumers can tell where they are and where they want to go and how to get there  at any given moment.  If your destination is not listed, then your customers are missing out on your location.  If there is one area for investment it is interpretation and understanding of location based content.  It can be as simple as “where is the nearest bathroom” in your giant arena or “how to get back to the exact place on the beach in Cancun where you first proposed”.  At least start by listing your destination  – at an appropriate level of detail – in popular services like Google, Foursquare and Yelp.

11) Develop video and multimedia content and drive websites with visually attractive multimedia

Multimedia is where the interaction is at.  Right now pictures are prime.  According to Factbrowser, “people are most likely to engage with branded content on social media that contains pictures (44%), status updates (40%) and videos (37%) source”  The hyper ubiquity of cell phone cameras means not only does everyone have a digital camera / video recorder, but also they probably have one with them right now.  The popularity of YouTube (nearly 20% of allhttp traffic) means that we simply love to look.  We love pictures and videos that show WINs as much as FAILs.  The extreme popularity of Pinterest demonstrates the power of the picture.  So spend some of that marketing budget on some professionally produced but whimsical photo and video collateral.  Many good pros charge about $1000 per finished minute of video.  Think of that as 2 high quality video spots.  Then amplify this rich content through social and traditional channels.  Listen to the social feedback.  Ask people what they think.  Track their feelings then use that as input for your next rich media spend.

12) Integrate virtual reality applications, 360-degree tours or webcams to increase transparency of tourism product

This is a corollary of number 11 above.  While VR applications are in their infancy, you can go a long way to answer the “What Would It Be Like If I Was There” question with applications like these.  360 degree tours are important because they are more honest than a one shot picture.  They show all the corners rather than only the best angle.  Augment traditional marketing collateral with QR codes.  These codes are scanned by mobile devices and augment the current experience.  They show the beach at sunset, or during a party.  They bring up a picture of the item on the menu with wine pairing ideas as well.  In all, these kinds of applications will take a little more time and money to develop but not much.  But they will deliver a much deeper and richer experience for your current and prospective customers.

13) Improve current technologies and applications constantly to maintain standard

Technology is always changing and developing.  It is true that in order to achieve an ROI on one technology investment, you must stick with that platform for  a little while.  But also realize that the market and the consumer doesn’t care about your ROI.  They don’t care at all. So if you have 1 year left on your Garmin platform before it pays for itself, but you’re losing audience and market share because they’ve all moved to iPhones and Android phones with their free mapping.  It simply doesn’t matter.  You must be where your audience is.  Don’t let IT forget that all important point.  Make the best out of what you have but do not try and force your audience into an old or clunky interaction simply because you’re too tight.  It will be much harder to rebuild your audience after they’ve left you than it is to maintain and grow your audience because you’re meeting their expectations.

14) Develop consumers as advocates/ambassadors of a destination brand

Remember that customers and travelers are all interested in positive experiences.  When an experience is positive they like to share it.  But make it easy to share.  Sure, we’ll all share our experiences with our immediate family and maybe friends.  But if you want them to really get out there and share it, do some of the work for them!  Make it click button easy.  To this extent, a must have book is The Conversation Company by Steven Van Belleghem.  I’m still reviewing it but so far it is the best, most practical guide to building advocates and ambassadors of a brand that I have ever read.

So there you have it.  14 social recommendations with practical how-to steps to achieve them.  Engage BloomThink in the form here for help creating this strategy for YOUR business.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Trendspotting 2013

Dec 2012 HARO Tech Query Word Cloud by BloomThink2012 is gone and there are plenty of entertaining and profound retrospectives from Google’s Zeitgeist 2012 to your very own Facebook year in review. But it is much more interesting to look ahead and anticipate where the market will go based on the trajectory established in late 2012.  Therefore we have performed some deep textual analytics, data mining and business intelligence operations on forward looking data sets to arrive at the following conclusions.

  1. 2013 is the year business adoption of social media starts in earnest.  For many years, technology and innovation have far outpaced business adoption.  As niche players grew into success over the last 2 years, big business interest in the revenue of thos spaces grew as well.  2012 was a year of many notable social acquisitions by big firms. Facebook bought Instagram, Microsoft bought Yammer, LinkedIn bought SlideShare, Salesforce bought BuddyMedia, Google bought Wildfire, Oracle bought Vitrue, and IBM bought tealeaf to name a few.  Undoubtedly you could name others.  Such acquisitions are leading, rather than trailing, market indicators.  As the big companies buy innovation, expect them to monetize their purchases by driving those social technologies deeper into their customer lists and solution stacks.
  2. 2013 is the year organizations move from infants to juveniles along the maturity spectrum.  While social technologies enjoyed the limelight among marketers and consultants, the rest of the organization yawned and continued with business as usual.  That meant email.  Despite pockets of enlightenment, most businesses are just now dipping their toes into the ocean of social business.  Like toddlers at the beach running towards then away from the surf, they are curious about what is out there and convinced that it is amazing.  Yet, as the 2012 IBM Tech Trend Report demonstrates, they are cautious and fearful as well.  Combine a maturing business user with available technology and 2012 – the year of introduction – completed and the stage is set for businesses to do some growing up.
  3. 2013 is the year big data meets big social content and has a social intelligence baby. The match has already been made.  The sheer power of distributed compute systems like Hadoop when brought to bear on the sheer magnitude of social data produce amazing insights. But outside of some basic ERP optimization or network bandwidth allocation, most businesses have largely been left scratching their heads with what to do with all this new information.  Big data has yet to regularly produce actionable insight from all that information.  2013 is the year that unstructured content is brought into the mix.  The combination will produce a small but promising technology trend – social intelligence.  It will undoubtedly be named something else. And what we mean by “social intelligence” is not the best time to post your tweets.  Rather it is the synthesis of big data intelligence, social CRM, CXM, enterprise knowledge and unstructured data that produces the contextual lens through which business decisions are made.  The burgeoning cloud backup market is getting a handle on all the unstructured content in the business.  As they add indexing, search and sharing to their offerings  – as pioneers such as Digitiliti have already done – the availability of enterprise knowledge will become independent from the snags and barriers known today as “check in pages”.  As APIs and integrations become productized the combination of these centralized knowledgebases with big data warehouses will be tapped by enterprising reporting engines and genius data scientists.  There will be many small niche players in this area in 2013.  But those will be snapped up in 2014 and we’ll see a growth in maturity in social intelligence – or whatever it is called – in 2015.

In closing, the image above is a word cloud that highlights terms from forward looking technology queries posed by journalists looking for help writing their stories.  It covers December, 2012 and more than 7600 words.  If the news is to be believed, 2013 will be a year where business has a deep need for expertise, data, security, people who can execute (make) and information is at the heart of it all.  There is also a proliferation of smaller topics that form a milieu rather than remain on the periphery.  Taken all together, 2013 will be a year of learning to use what we have to drive insight we have always suspected was there.  Cheers!

Empathy in Social Media

understanding
via Acts of Excellence Blog: http://actstraining.com/2011/04/communicating-for-understanding/

If you have read any social business articles, whitepapers or blogs lately you probably read that you need to have a plan, deploy the technology and engage the users.  Such advice barely scratches the surface.  It fails to advise how to plan, how to deploy and how to engage.  It is like describing the ingredients to a gourmet dessert but failing to explain how to make a mousse.

What guides successful planning, deployment and engagement is something much fuzzier and difficult to nail down: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else and get a sense of what they’re feeling, experiencing and desiring.

Successful social engagement systems rely on empathy.  What separates successful Facebook contests from failures is the ability to anticipate and deliver a chance at a coveted experience or prize.  Similarly, some QR Code campaigns work and others bomb because the successful ones correctly anticipate the context and desire of the person scanning the code.  The failures simply splash a code on some packaging.  Successful internal social business systems gain adoption by anticipating and delivering relevant content to employees.

Did you notice the key words in those answers?  They were “anticipate”, “coveted”, “context”, and “relevant”.  These beg the question of How do you accurately anticipate? And How do you know what is coveted, contextual and relevant?  The only way is to hone your sense of empathy.

What will a suburban mother of 3 working part-time covet?  It will be different than the thing coveted by the urban hipster.  Which group are you targeting in your social marketing Facebook campaign? Which are you serving with your internal social business system?

Understanding your prospect’s context requires empathy.  A person willing to visit your business’s Facebook page that they saw at the bottom of a magazine ad while on a plane headed to 10,000 ft is in a different context than either the mother or hipster described above.  Your Facebook page (or tab) should respect and reflect that they are a traveler, away from home and have limited time.  Your social media campaign should tie your product or service to a sense of adventure (empathy with traveler), comfort (empathy with away from home) and convenience (empathy with limited time).

A person willing to scan a QR code in a store is doing other things as well.  They are away from a desktop or laptop computer, they’re on a mobile phone, they’re looking for a reason to buy.  This kind of empathic understanding should govern what your QR campaign actually does.  They’re on their iPhone and looking for a reason to buy?  Deliver a mobile only website with persuasive buy-it-now messaging. 

Thinking about those internal social business systems ask yourself, “Are all my colleagues/employees the same? “ Why would you think that simply deploying a social technology platform will secure adoption?  Platforms don’t meet the needs of end users.  They are foundations upon which solutions may be constructed.  Too many hyperbolic sales-pitches from big platform vendors ignore, omit or hide this fact.  So empathize with your different employee teams.  Who needs easier access to old email archives?  Who needs to find an “expert” in the company who they don’t already know?  Who needs to see the campus map?  Who needs to combine support call info with sales pipeline info with appointment scheduling?  When you identify real needs through empathizing with people you can start to craft solutions on that platform you bought.  Until then you’re going to suffer from adoption drain.

The answers to these empathy-driven questions will serve you well as you follow the ubiquitous but pedestrian advice to have a plan, deploy the technology and engage your audience.

New Facebook Timeline Available

Facebook started rolling out their new “Timeline” today.  TImagehis is a radical new way for you and others to see your “wall”.

Eventually it will be default for all.  Right now, you can opt in to get it. When doing so, you have 7 days to review all your old wall posts, photos, updates, links etc.  For some folks this may be a fun walk down memory lane.  For others it could be cringe-worthy.  For most of us it will probably be a little of both.

You can find out more from Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/about/timeline
BloomThink has a great one-hour seminar on Smart Social Media that covers the new security and privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.  Contact us to find out how you can bring this seminar as a brown-bag lunch session to your company!

Have a great Holiday and Smart Facebooking!

Wish You Were Here – Social Consumer Engagement

Social Media has exploded in recent years.  However the maturity and

Social Sailing Infographic -- By BloomThink
Social Sailing Infographic -- By BloomThink - Click for Full Size

sophistication with which organizations engage with consumers through the social tools still leaves much to be desired.  Executives see this in the lack of social media ROI.  Marketers see this in the difficulty of converting fans and followers into advocates and customers.

Social CRM – customer relationship management – is helping to bridge the gap somewhat.  But CRM, however social, is still focused on the business managing the customer.  The customer wishes not to be managed but to be engaged.

BloomThink conducted a deep social consumer engagement analysis of a high-touch, consumer focused industry: the Cruise industry.  We reviewed 6 large cruise companies for how they have grown in social media reach over the last year and how they are using the social platforms to engage their customers and prospects.  We reviewed Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Holland America, and Celebrity Cruises.

BloomThink focused on their Facebook and Twitter interactions and used social media metrics to graph their results.

social consumer engagement maturity model
social consumer engagement maturity model - Click for larger

Emerging from this study was a very clear Social Consumer Engagement Maturity Model with 5 clear stages.  All cruise companies we reviewed were at or past stage 2 but none were at stage 5.

BloomThink found that Carnival Cruises were the best example of an organization engaged with their consumers via social media.  But even they were not yet doing all that they could.

This whitepaper  (also to the right) indicates areas for improvement for that apply to any company starting down the social consumer engagement path.  We point out specific areas where leisure travel agents should be tapping into the huge fan and follower base of the cruise companies.  We also point out areas where the social media teams of the cruise companies can improve their social interactions with consumers.  BloomThink stands ready to help.

As a result of this study a downloadable infographic and maturity model were created (both above).