1. Spark conversations. Find out how consumers feel about your brand. Ask questions and express genuine interest in your guests. What do they like and dislike? What's important to them? Listen and respond to what people are saying and validate their feelings. If they post about what they plan to do while using your service or visiting your destination, surprise and delight them with a thoughtful gift to enhance their trip. After they've dished about their great adventures, thank them -- in a conversational voice, of course.
2. Make it personal and two-way. On your brand's Facebook page, have a dedicated staff member with the autonomy to engage and encourage fans to express themselves. Identify the people behind your posts, too, to humanize your brand. Search for and respond to comments about your brand on Twitter and on Travelocity, TripAdvisor and Yelp. If guests complain, thank them for the feedback, act swiftly to resolve problems, and offer a discount or gift with an invitation to try your brand again.
3. Affirm your values. Identify what stories you want consumers to tell about your service or destination and make it simple for them to do so. If your brand stands for play, let visitors check out fun items like toys, games or kites. If you're promoting an active lifestyle, organize morning fun runs and provide bikes for guests to use during their stay. A sustainable brand may provide transit passes, or perks for consumers taking the train or driving electric, hybrid or biodiesel cars.
4. Be authentic. If hot or rainy weather is common in your destination, publish a "beat the heat" or "relish the rain" guide providing suggestions for how to enjoy inclement weather. If a friendly dog welcomes guests to your business, entertain fans with short videos featuring his latest antics. Showcase real people consumers might meet during their visit, sharing what they care about and inviting travelers to come find their own unique experiences. Oh, yeah, and don't write online reviews of your company's services posing as if you were a guest.
5. Amplify consumer sharing. Advertise on Facebook to let them know you're here and to garner more fans. Add "share" and "like" buttons on your website and blog. Encourage people to tag their photos, identifying where they stayed on their vacations. Hold contests and reward people for uploading photos and itineraries. Look for additional ways to help fans tell your story, like featuring selected posts in your consumer newsletter.
Building loyalty through social media takes time, but it's worth it. PhocusWright calls social networking "one of the most powerful forces driving planning today." A Ypartnership/Harrison Group study confirmed that 81% of active travelers are most confident in the information they receive from family and friends when making travel decisions.
When consumers tell their friends about their travels, the impact is great -- and much more meaningful than through traditional marketing. By rewarding the great stories your customers share and sincerely responding to negative comments, you're validating that you care about fans as people. They'll remember that human connection when it's time to choose which company to do business with. Why? Because you hooked 'em with feeling.