Social media – are you crossing the Rubicon or stranded on the river bank?

By Peter Watson*

travel management‘WHILE some travel businesses have taken the social mantle and run with it, others are floundering in the tidal wave of new social media outlets. But ignorance of the immediacy with which social media is flooding the online environment is potentially damaging’

So wrote my colleague Suzanne Cavanagh a short while ago as she prepared to address a forum on social media in travel and it is there that I thought that I might start.

Take the flying leap into the world of social media and how it effects travel agents, large, medium or small, and see if we can untangle the web and de-mystify the social media myths.

The benefit of social media is that any enterprise, no matter the size, has the potential to engage with its market and with its client base at a very cost effective level.

Companies are “on both sides of the Rubicon” – on the one side enterprises have embraced social media as a key element of their business development and of their marketing. Travel and
tourism organisations such as Trafalgar, Tourism Australia, G Adventures, Tourism Spain and a host of others are showing the way, and are reaping the benefits.

On the other hand some travel organisations, whilst appreciating the opportunity being missed, struggle with the practical implementation. It is almost as if they are scared of the involvement, and because of that they are hesitant to take that first step, probably through fear of faltering.

They simply do not want to take the first step so they stand on the bank, look across the waters and either feel alone and unloved, or make excuses for not taking up the cudgels.

So let’s ask a couple of very relevant questions up front. First, just how important is social media to travel and tourism?

Answer: In my view it is vital. In fact it is the modern day key to building strong client relationships, to moving away from being a purely transaction-based business and towards one that generates genuine engagement and builds lasting relationships.

Second, what can be achieved with effective social media platforms and campaigns?

Answer: In my view a number of things, but the key (that word again) is engagement, with clients and with potential clients. Used properly and efficiently social media can facilitate lead generation, brand building, client contact, product distribution and, most importantly, building and maintaining customer loyalty.

There are some barriers to performance, that stop some travel businesses large and small moving ahead; they are:
1. A lack of knowledge and expertise as to how it all works and fits together;
2. A degree of uncertainty as to how to incorporate social media into the businesses strategy;
3. A degree of concern about creating content and how to publish it efficiently;
4. A lack of conviction in respect of the value and doubts about the return on investment (ROI);
5. Being totally overwhelmed by the number and variety of channels that are available;
6. A lack of any clear guidelines or policies;
7. A complete lack of awareness of social media within the company or the marketing and management team;
8. Fear that social media is not appro-priate for the company or the brand;
9. Fear of a negative reaction from customers and partners; and
10. The lack of an appropriate agency partner.

So given the barriers above where do you start?

Answer: By taking advice, talking to or with someone who has some knowledge of, or skill in, the business of social media. Test it out for yourself by dipping your toe in the water, experimenting with the simple platforms like Linked In and Facebook, as a person, and getting a feel for how it all works.
Then when you come to talk about setting up the business side of your social media program it will all come a little bit easier.

The fact is social media is here to stay; its expansion is rapid and wide reaching and the travel and tourism business needs to be on board, or it will miss out completely.

Next time; when we discuss social media we will talk about those who have already crossed the Rubicon and we will have a look at some of the travel industry’s top campaigns.

* Peter Watson has spent almost 50 years in the travel industry. He is a founding partner of Creative Planet Media, established to create social media and marketing opportunities for small to medium businesses in the travel, tourism and lifestyle industries. Peter works as a management consultant, travel writer, communicator, teacher/mentor and “elder statesman” within the travel industry and sees it as “giving something back” to an industry that was good to him.