In this third part of this report on Travolution’s search skills session, hosts from digital specialist Propellernet look at building authority through online networks
With authority being so important in how Google and other search engines find and rank websites, social media, despite not being an established sales channel, is playing an increasingly important role.
All the panellits said social media was on their radars and the job of generating and managing the marketing channel was increasingly becoming part of their day-to-day businesses.
However, social media was considered to be better established in the US where it is used by professionals, from architects to dentists, and where Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, now has its booking engine on Facebook.
P&O Cruises did use Twitter to generate additional interest in the launch of its latest ship, Adonia, when the Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, who oversaw proceedings, was asked to tweet from the ship’s christening in Southampton.
This sort of authority through links to celebrities has also been exploited by Hurtigruten. Referring to a BBC travel programme about the northern lights presented by Joanna Lumley, Hurtigruten UK managing director Kathryn Beadle said: “One of the reasons we could capitalise on that was we knew it was happening so we bought all the keywords. As a result we had the most phenomenal uplift and we do every time that programme is repeated.”
Andy Harmer, sales and marketing director of the Cruise Portfolio, said social media was an increasing focus: “We are a really small team looking after four brands. For us to go to those lines and say ‘give me two to three years and we’ll sort out SEO and hopefully in the meantime we’ll pick up some sales’ is a difficult message.
“But what’s interesting about the brands I represent is that the people who cruise have become anoraks and we pick up business from other lines because they trade up, so in many ways SEO is not as important for us.
“But one of the ways we are going into this in a big way is social media because it is free at the point of search. It’s not free, of course; I wish it was. But it’s one way into the market without that two to three-year lead-in.”
Cruisecompare founder and chief executive Tom Fotheringham said: “We target certain keywords like ‘cruise deals’ where it might take six to 12 months to get to the top three on Google. But write an article, get it on Google News and, bang, within half an hour you get three thousand visitors.
“We’ve tried to make our site quite efficient. People share stuff. And because we have positioned it as a consumer champion type product, people share it, so we have a good presence on Facebook quite quickly.
“We have 50,000 Facebook fans and we encourage them to upload photos, create profiles and ensure the site generates its own content, so the site is constantly getting updated by our own fan base rather than by us.”
Iglu Cruises marketing development manager Kirsteen Fox said Facebook was a potential route to the hard-to-reach cruise rejectors but only “if you are prepared to put a bit of money into it and do a bit of trial and error”.
“You can use the Facebook contextual advertising,” she said. “There’s a new Facebook Conversation device where you can buy keywords and a story will appear which is much more compelling than just a regular ad.”
However, Cunard president Peter Shanks warned about being overly commercial with Facebook. “I know from watching my daughters growing up they have no interest in buying anything from Facebook,” he said. “If we start putting sales messages out on Facebook like we do in other channels, people start to close down really quickly.
“Social media is fantastic fun. It gets conversation going, it keeps your customers loyal and if you make it on to a news channel it gets you great coverage. But you have to be cautious about your messages on social media because it’s not yet delivering bookings.”
Rachel Krish, travel account director at Propellernet, said firms that had spent money creating great content must optimise how hard it works for them. This meant targeting certain user groups online and trying to use ‘pull’ tactics to build links with websites that share the target audience.
“You need to build relations with customers, have a personal relationship,” she said. “Use competitions, and leverage existing partnerships, such as with tourist boards, to work with the various destinations.
“Find out what questions people are asking and create guides that answer them. Are there other sites you can put your content on?
“It’s about the social networks, people they look up to and respect, and who is actually talking about cruising. Get to the people your target audience are listening to.
“You have spent money on creating an asset; you want to amplify and maximise everything you can do with it.”
Propellernet works with bloggers with its fashion clients to not only generate articles and online PR but also as a feedback mechanism to find out what people are talking about.
Blogging in cruise has also taken off, with some high-profile blogs written by cruise line directors generating a huge following.
In the UK, influential bloggers who post articles on the Cruise.co.uk site are now regularly invited as a group to ship launch events.
Seamus Conlon, managing director of specialist agency Cruise.co.uk, said: “Blogging is huge. Look at America, where architects use blogging, dentists use blogging, everyone uses blogging as a way of effectively having a personal website.”
Shanks, himself now a regular blogger, said: “Different blog content gets different reactions, so you learn, but you always have to remember it’s a two-way interaction.
“I wouldn’t say we have a three-year blog strategy; it’s adapting all the time. But it’s a good way of talking about experiences. It mustn’t be used as a sales tool; it must be interesting. It’s worth investing some time in.”