Social Networking Sets Its Sights on an Older Demographic
Social Media Strategies for Travel Special
Assessing such initiatives, Kevin Fliess, CEO, TravelMuse, says, "Social media marketing is a completely fluid space. It's not a one-size fits all kind of things."
"At this point, you need to try a lot of different things and then focus on what works for your business. For some companies that might mean integration with horizontal social networks, for others it's integrated forums, and still others blogs and wikis. No one has nailed it yet and much of what you see is still exploration," Fliess told EyeforTravel.com's Ritesh Gupta.
Fliess also spoke about successful examples of UGC, how social networking has inherently changed travellers' expectations and much more in an interview, conducted ahead of Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2009 Conference, scheduled to take place in San Francisco on March 10-11. Excerpts:
EyeforTravel.com: Most travel sites are directly tied to a purchase decision, but there is also the opportunity for paid membership based communities; research and feedback communities; loyalty program communities and of course the media property model based on advertising revenues or value of the database. As with so much else, it comes down to developing UGC sites not because they are voguish, but because they specifically address a business need, customer need or a market opportunity. What's your viewpoint regarding the same?
Kevin Fliess: Social media marketing is only effective when it's aligned with the business strategy. That's hard to do but it's what separates successful initiatives from gimmicks. The best and most successful example of UGC in the travel space we have today are user ratings and reviews.
We now know that properties with reviews monetise much better than those without reviews. And properties with 20+ reviews monetise an order of magnitude better than those with only a few reviews. This is proof positive that relevant UGC can strengthen monetisation. It's done wonders for TripAdvisor, in fact they built their whole business around UGC.
EyeforTravel.com: Social networks are a community of users who create and post content on a website - usually in the form of profile pages - to communicate with each other across a network. These social networks are just one of the many social media forms including blogs and UGC. Do you think social networking has inherently changed travellers' expectations or attitudes at this point?
Kevin Fliess: Travel is an inherently social exercise. We know that word of mouth is the single biggest influencer when it comes to travel decisions. Social networking is just a means to an end – namely making it easier for people to share their ideas (as they do already) just in a much more convenient and viral way.
Instead of emailing one friend my recommendation, I can now reach my whole address book and reach all my friends (and friends of friends in many cases) at once. The adoption of social networking tools will change traveler expectations over time and it's one of the tenets upon which we're building TravelMuse.
EyeforTravel.com: It is said that while membership of social networks broadly tracks the age distribution of Internet users as a whole, participation levels, particularly daily usage, peak with the younger segments. In this context, how should a travel company approach their overall spend/ presence on independent social networking sites?
Kevin Fliess: The overall age of social networking users is trending up. So I think this point is nearly moot. Ask yourself: How many of your friends were on Facebook a year ago? How many are on it today? Chances are if you're a working professional over the age of 35 you are already on one – if not several – social networks.
EyeforTravel.com: What is the right combination of trip-planning tools, user-generated content and blogs? Do you need to provide all of them to achieve maximum results?
Kevin Fliess: It depends on what the goal of the site is. If it's a media model then it stands to reason that having all three is advantageous – at TravelMuse we do have all three.
If it's a CPA based model I would posit that user-generated content is a must and the other two are nice to have. All three could certainly help build engagement.
EyeforTravel.com: Should social media be built around one portion of the trip, such as the flight, or the whole travel experience?
It should be built around the user's need. There's a lot of discussion & collaboration that happens today both pre-trip and post-trip. Only a fraction of this is captured through established social media tools for travel. Much of it occurs through face-to-face interaction, on email, or through horizontal platforms like Facebook.
So the opportunity certainly exists to leverage social media solutions to help users have a more engaging experience throughout the travel lifecycle – and in so doing generate more revenue.
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