In perusing the travel marketing prognostications for 2012, it’s pretty clear that this year will be a big one for the bucket labeled “social media.” According to Frommer’s Unlimited’s 2011 Digital Marketing and B2B Content Survey, travel organizations in 2012 plan to invest:
The increased investment in social media is certainly understandable due to the unprecedented growth of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other sites that connect and amplify individual consumer voices like never before. However, one has to wonder what an increased investment in social media by travel companies really means.
For most companies, it probably means increased spending on social media tools, campaigns, and tactics such as social listening (i.e., brand monitoring), tweeting, community engagement, social gaming, advertising on social networks, and location-based campaigns. A bit of the budget may go to hire a social media consultant or two, but for the most part, the increased social media budget is spent on things rather than people.
And that may be the problem.
The “media” in “social media” are people—people empowered by the mobile Internet to share their activities, interactions, and opinions with their circle of friends (Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, etc.) and the entire world (Twitter, blogs, travel reviews). What we all want from these people—the social media—is vocal, engaged loyalty. We want them to tell the world why they should fly, ride, and stay with us. We want them to share their vacation pictures with friends—preferably with the location prominently displayed. And we want them to come to our defense should some disgruntled, non-believer attack our brand in a public forum.
Now ask yourself, does your expanded social media budget deliver that kind of vocal, engaged loyalty? My guess is that it doesn’t. Why? Because brand loyalty isn’t generated online through a single “like,” tweet or check-in. True brand loyalty—true fans—are created by first-hand experiences in the real world. They develop over time when they fly, ride or stay with you and walk away consistently satisfied. They spring forth from human interactions that exceed expectations so much so that you want to talk about them with people who aren’t even there.
The Achilles Heel of the social media budget is that it assumes that this amazing brand experience has already been delivered. It assumes that your customer-facing employees fully appreciate their role as brand stewards and understand that they can make, break or blow up your social media efforts with a single, negative, retweeted experience. It also assumes that your front-line employees understand how today’s mobile technology grants such powers to seemingly ordinary customers.
If we’re to “do social media right,” then we have to roll up our sleeves and get involved in parts of the organization that marketing may have once avoided, including:
-A primer on the brand and its relation to customer service
-A primer on social media channels and consumer uses-An overview of mobile technology fueling social media creation and consumption
-A review of corporate social media policies
-Social media scenarios and role-playing
The new reality is that each employee’s interaction with a customer has the potential to create “social media”—both good and bad. If you want to avoid seeing your social media efforts undermined by the uninitiated, it’s time to rethink the social media budget. Amidst the tools, tactics, and campaigns, there must be a commitment to ongoing, organizational training and education around the ever-evolving world of social media.
And while you may never be able to fully guard against the actions of a rogue employee, you can certainly create an environment where each and every employees understands the shared responsibility they have to the brand in today’s society where every customer is a potential media source.