By Steve Dunne, executive chairman of travel marketing consultancy Brighter Group
What would you think if a senior travel person said to you: “I find that not many people want to book holidays with me while they’re attending a wedding, birthday, christening or other social gathering”?
No doubt your eyebrows would arch and you would, perhaps, re-evaluate your view of that person and their understanding of when and where it’s appropriate to sell travel products.
And yet, every week it seems, in the trade media and at industry seminars we hear senior travel people bemoan social media. Comments such as “not a lot of transactional volume is driven by social networks” or “booking travel seems to be not applicable to social media” pepper our trade newspapers and conference addresses.
Now, as someone who has, over the years, had my Facebook Timeline invaded by travel companies using my page like a pinboard for special offers (car rental deals in Spain when I have no plans to go to Spain, that kind of thing) or brands direct messaging me or using hash tags to spam me, then this notion of brands seeing social media as a sales channel really strikes a chord with me.
Why do brands think people want to buy off them in Facebook, a platform where people essentially want to socialise? Why do brands get upset when people want to use the brand’s Facebook page or Twitter feed as a channel to complain or moan?
It often seems to me that brands (or the marketing people behind them) forget an essential point about social media – it was not invented for brands.
Social media was not invented to be another route to market for companies and their products.
When a brand enters the world of social media the first thing it must be prepared to do is listen. It’s no different to attending any social function.
If you were at a reception and struck up a conversation with someone who showed no interest in you – didn’t ask your name or answer your questions but who talked over you and discussed only themselves – you would soon be looking over their shoulder for any excuse to move away from them.
And that is the big issue for brands. Many enter the world of social media with the intention of selling – but the public are not necessarily looking to buy. And when you try to sell in an environment where people don’t want to be sold to, you risk alienating people.
In fact, many brands are damaging their reputations by not engaging properly and using social media for what it really is all about – building relationships.
No doubt my comments will have social media gurus rushing in to point out examples of brands that are selling products “hand over fist” on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest et al. And there will be brands that are successfully selling in social media – but my argument will be that they are few and far between.
Tui chief executive Peter Long summed it up perfectly for me at a recent Travel Weekly Breakfast Briefing when he said that people “like to talk about their holidays” and that they do it on the social media platforms.
There are many, many brands doing fantastic things in social media – but the common denominator when you examine what they are doing is summed up by these words – conversation, inspiration, insightful and entertaining.
The brands that give their followers or fans the chance to talk to them; who allow them to upload their own content and suggest ideas, or use photography or other people to inspire followers are the ones that really understand the power of social media.
The key to success for brands is to stop seeing social media as a poorly-performing sales channel and start seeing it as a powerful avenue for building relationships and advocacy.
After all, think of how many people have made new friends and lasting relationships at social gatherings such as weddings, christenings and birthdays.