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MW: Is social media an opportunity for travel brands?
CH: Sociability is in Virgin’s DNA. [Our social media interactive map] Vtravelled is a way of connecting with our customers and a place where you can find information around travel destinations. It is ultimately about serving customers, giving them peace of mind and a place to socialise.
FL: We started using social media 15 months ago. We took the initiative in the UK because it is more advanced in terms of social media than continental Europe and we found that using Twitter and Facebook had an immediate impact.
PVDS: Although people may be looking for more economical ways of travelling, they still want to go away, relax and have “me time”. Whether it is at dinner parties or round the coffee pot at work, people love to talk about holidays and share experiences. There is an obvious synergy with social media.
KA: Our Facebook and Twitter channels have the objective of driving sales worldwide. We have a small team at our head office working on this and we are very active in blogs, peer-to-peer knowledge and responding to customer service queries. As most of our competitors are in social media, we need to be active in that space.
MW: How should marketers choose what type of social media works for them?
NP: Social media can be about other people doing the selling for us, and this is absolutely happening on our community pages – in particular, our “Just You” single traveller-focused brand. People who are nervous about traveling alone use our community pages to help them make decisions about a holiday. It is a great opportunity for advocates to talk about the product.
PVDS: It is worth recognising that in addition to Facebook and Twitter, there are some specific travel websites, such as Tripadvisor, where people ask questions and give feedback to each other. We are engaged in all of those channels.
MW: Can social media channels aid new marketing campaigns or are they primarily about PR and customer services?
KM: They can aid new campaigns, but you must be very careful about how you position it. With social media, we take an “information sharing with a friend” stance, rather than positioning it as a sales tool – we made a conscious decision not to use it for our Heathrow Airport campaigns. If you want to use it as a sales tool, you have to be overt about it so that when your consumer becomes a follower or a fan, they know the relationship they are getting into.
LW: We use social media channels very conservatively because the numbers tweeting about Transport for London and its services are so great, as are the resources it takes to monitor and respond to them. We have one official TfL Twitter feed but there are also 25 unofficial feeds that other people have set up. Putting out pure information on the feed is valuable.
MW: To what extent can marketers control social media channels?
PVDS: Our sister brand Carnival Cruise Lines has its senior cruise director John Heald writing a very popular blog where he is forthright about his ideas; it’s witty and personal. Real life is what engages people and if we make social media too artificial and too much like we might want it to look, we bore people.
SL: Social media has to be part of a brand’s joinedup communications. With regard to employees referencing the brand in their Tweets and blogs, the best practice is guidance, not rigid control.
CH: We have a social spaces forum where people from human resources, customer services and public relations meet once a month and share experiences. It often starts with marketing leading the way – and certainly someone needs to own the process – but it benefits from the expertise of customer services and PR. So we have a customer services representative on Facebook but we also run it as a marketing channel for engagement.
LW: It is part of the communication channel but then the whole organisation gets involved. We are looking at strategies for what guidance is needed for the staff. TfL employs 26,000 staff, so there are a lot of people out there who have the ability to use social media to our advantage with the right guidance.
MW: Thinking about social media and data, what can we learn about the people who engage with us across different channels?
KA: The data we use from Twitter is predominantly direct feedback. We are using it together with our normal feedback channels to complement our consumer insight.
Passengers use Twitter to give us a nearimmediate response, which we use as a flag for our insight and data team. Then we can say, for example, that last month we saw a lot of feedback about certain areas coming back from our Twitter feed and ask: Does this correlate with our quality systems management (QSM) data? It is being used to understand different categories before we delve deeper.
NP: It can take people two years of planning before they travel as a single person. We have to look at what the barriers are to making that leap. We have taken some of those learnings and put them into our latest TV campaign. For example, the fear of dining on your own and how we can put a positive spin on that. We have found out about what people’s issues are and how they are getting over them.
MW: What are the challenges for brands offering a real-time response on social media?
KM: The expectation of someone who has posted something on Twitter is a lot higher than someone who has written a letter and is prepared to wait 28 days for an answer.
Our metric is now one working day for the Twitter poster to get a response. We have shaken up customer services and corporate communications and then merged them. So everyone is now a passenger communications adviser. We wanted to move with the times in terms of having a personal relationship and engaging with passengers, but it has taken a different type of BAA employee to do that.
CH: We have a dedicated customer services representative on Twitter and Facebook. As a result, we have the infrastructure in place to allow for an immediate response.
MW: How do you quantify what social media does for you?
KM: There are various tools out there that are quantitative measures and sentiment measurements. From a customer feedback perspective, we monitor the number of people who come back to us after they have made a complaint. But at the moment our measurement is limited. It is probably one of our largest stumbling blocks in terms of how to ensure what we are doing is good – what does good look like?
KM: It is very difficult to measure, but we have invested in resources to test social media and the early signs are that we are getting a positive return in customer service, engagement and sales. We have to be active because otherwise we are missing an opportunity.
PVDS: However much our consumers use it, we have to be careful with social media. We have to clearly evaluate what we want to get out of it and what the value is going to be to our business.
MW: If social media strategy is about engaging and sharing, how do we equate it with growth?
CH: Social media is still new and a lot of companies are only just investigating what this can mean. However, it has to come back to our original strategy of serving people, socialising and then selling. You have to have the right tracking, see which channels people come through and what that means in terms of revenue.
SL: I would like to draw a parallel between people embarking on a social media journey and brands embarking on a CRM journey. Once you start on that journey, you can’t really get off it. As it gets bigger, the resources have to be there.
KM: Compared to some of the brands here, we have a very limited marketing budget, so for us social media and finding key influencers is very important for us for customer services, marketing and sales.
MW: When looking for metrics and return on investment, can you view your social media strategy in isolation?
NP: It has to be a complementary channel. The online effect has taken us by surprise as to the number of people going online rather than telephone in terms of a response mechanism. There are an awful lot of assumptions being made and we all need to be a lot smarter about how we are looking at responses in the multichannel environment we are in now.
CH: We have been looking at whether someone has answered on Twitter versus someone calling customer services and if we are able to make cost savings.
FL: For us, social media started within direct marketing and ecommerce because that is an area of innovation for us. Some sales are coming out of Twitter and Facebook but we have to recognise that social media is not only for sales. It is hard to find the right balance and you need to test, test and test again.
PVDS: We do an annual brand-building awareness research survey, and this year we will measure social media in terms of awareness and people’s decision-making mindset.
MW: What could marketers be doing with social media data that they are not doing yet?
JM: Social media is a fantastic source for automated market research. There are all these conversations going on about your brand and your competitors. If you can distill that down to the topics that people like and dislike at brand, product and service level, it can drive an understanding of what changes you might need to make.
MW: Are we getting to a place where businesses are recognising the importance of data?
SL: There are so many different sources of data that trying to get it together in a fit-for-purpose state in a timely fashion is difficult. It might take a long time to get the value back on social media, so it depends on the organisation and how data driven it is.
KM: The data you glean from all the response mechanisms can have a great impact on what you are doing. We would be silly to say we are only doing this for engagement and brand advocacy – it is about the bottom line.
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