Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, blogs, wikis, forums and your own customer communities – people are sharing more content than ever online. There’s no bigger source of honest, direct and outspoken opinion and community assistance than social media sites.
Social media is global, real‐time, uncontrollable and dynamic. And every company has to face the fact that customers are talking online. Maybe they’re discussing and solving a product issue you don’t even know about yet, or whether to buy from you or your competition.
Social Media Phenomenon
The era when business could shape what gets written about them seems to be over at least in the online domain due to the voice available to a common person at a very nominal cost. Social software is changing the way information gets reported online. Almost anyone with an inclination to write and with access to internet connection can potentially get their message across. Social media continues to grow in importance. It has not only become one of the critical tools to interact with the customer but is also considered on the key elements impacting organic search and ranking for all business. Hotels and tourist operations that take advantage of these trends are seeing significant benefits in terms of online placement and revenue.
It’s already affecting a range of business firms, from software, to hotels and restaurants, manufacturing or hardware, to name just a few. This new trend has all the signs of being durable and requires serious thinking on the part of businesses, as to how to handle it. Gathering customer feedback online is going to become important and some firms are already doing it, either through mining the net or through their own official blogs. Not only gathering data is going to be important but also being proactive about the issues the data might throw up.
Companies that do not watch the ‘social software spectrum’ are actually missing out on market intelligence and other behavioural and trend information, which is pertinent to their marketing strategies and is freely available.
Hospitality and tourism operators find the issue of critical importance for the following reasons:
- hospitality and tourism product offerings, as intangible goods, cannot be evaluated before their consumption, thus elevating the importance of interpersonal influence;
- many hospitality and tourism products are seen as high risk purchases, for which the emotional risk or reference group evaluation is an important aspect of the decision making process;
- hospitality and tourism products are both seasonal and perishable, raising marketing stress levels for providers;
- the hospitality and tourism industry is intensely competitive, suggesting that the use of online interpersonal influence may provide important competitive advantages for early adopters;
- and finally, considering the dearth of hospitality and tourism industry specific literature related to the issue, it would appear that the industry lags behind others in the development and discussion of strategies for managing interpersonal influence in an electronic environment. An increasing number of companies are already putting the mechanisms in place to monitor the web and it may be prudent for many others to follow the same course.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS GAME CHANGING
It’s game changing because it is shifting the power to define and control a brand from the traditional institution to the individual or community. With each day that goes by, the ownership of all brands is gradually becoming the domain of the user.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT JUST ANOTHER MEDIA
Social media is not like other forms of traditional media. Traditional nodes of communication travel one-way, usually between the brand and its customers or potential users. Social media bonds networks of people with a digital medium enabling them to interact with the content. Brand messages are personally interpreted, shared and conversed between friends and people who’ve been given permission to enter into discussions about common interests.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS MORE THAN BLOGS
Social media is defined by the act of sharing content in and between social networks regardless of the content type. Blogs may have recently attracted mainstream interest to online networks but various social media have been around for years. In the beginning, there were discussion forums and opinion sites, and now it has morphed to include: video sharing, photo sharing and microblogging. Social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are driving the social nature of the medium, along with the key review sites, such as Tripadvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com and Kayak.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS DECENTRALISED AND REAL TIME
Users of social media share a lot more than just their opinion. Those who enter the social media domain have left behind a lot of clues about who they are and how they think via information found in social bookmarks, comments, engagement, influence, friends, followers, downloads, favourites, views, votes and links. From all of these user actions, you can measure what’s important, what ideas are gaining ground and who, or what, is having the biggest impact on your products, services and brands.
SOCIAL COMPONENTS DRIVE BUSINESS RESULTS
- By monitoring social media, companies can track how their messages are being interpreted in the marketplace to understand how the company is perceived and to learn how any responses or message changes should be approached. This will also provide valuable insight into potential threats from competitors, changing industry trends and customer preferences. Monitoring also enables companies to track the evolution of known trends in order to quantify the ones gaining the most attention and acceptance within their target audience.
- Measurement provides the qualitative reporting data on the specific issues and buzz driving media coverage making it easy to demonstrate the impact of PR and marketing efforts.
- But social media also calls for a discovery approach, in which companies learn what influences are driving the internet discussions in the marketplace. From this, companies can measure the growth of many emerging trends and identify ideas for new products and opportunities to improve their current ones.
- With this knowledge, and the data points to support the decisions, companies can improve their levels of engagement with customers by employing new marketing tactics to participate effectively in the conversations that are occurring around them. Working with customers to build and expand the brands together, companies can harness the new influence that is driving the way purchase decisions are being made today.
See the Next Article in this series by Steve Wilson – “Online Reviews and Bookings“