Yesterday I attended an HSMAI South East Asia event. It was a breakfast session entitled: Social Media – A Distribution Channel?
Hosting was Andrew Chan, President HSMAI SEA Chapter. Mario Jobbe of Brand Karma delivered the Keynote. On the panel along with Mario were: Anil Damodaran from Abacus, Illka Gobius from Euro RSCG and Patrick Andres from Sabre Hospitality.
Mario kicked off with his Keynote and introduced us to some key changing forces impacting travel distribution – Social Media, China and India, Rich Media, Mobile and the emergence of Gen X and Gen Y. Collectively these have caused shifts in focus among which are an increase in personalization and the overall raising of customer expectations.
The ‘old booking journey’ was described by Mario as a basic four-stage process:
Search -> Compare (price and location etc) -> Transact -> Share
OTA’s have generally done a very good job with the above, he said. But things are increasingly becoming de-centralized and category leaders are emerging.
In the field of ‘Compare’, specialized and sophisticated aggregators like Kayak are leading. Starwoord, for example, is optimizing their own ‘Transcat’ areas with a recent launch aimed at those consumers looking to transact in Chinese.
What was once a centralized landscape is now becoming fragmented. It’s now far broader than it was before.
The New Shape of the Landscape
Peer Reviews: An area dominated by TripAdvisor - lots of reviews but no transactions.
eCommerce: Expedia, Agoda – customers transact and use the reviews on these sites. (Although Mario didn’t mention it at this point, let’s not forget the implications of Facebook’s upcoming foray into eCommerce)
Blogs, BBS and forums: - the ‘traditional’ journalist-type audience
Social Networks: Facebook and the Chinese ‘Facebook’ versions.
Mario described how he has seen two broad types of users emerging in this new landscape – those that might visit 10/15 different sites as part of their research and those who trust one or two sites and make decisions based on these.
The new challenge then is to put your brand into each of these ‘sections’ of the new landscape – to be just a click away.
What can we do to be just a click away from the new battlegrounds of Search, Compare, Transact and Share?
In the area of search, Mario shared with us a new behavioral trend where users are now becoming far more specific with their search strings. What used to be ‘Bangkok hotels’ is now ‘Bangkok hotels with great roof-top bars’ for example. You can use your social media reviews to reverse engineer what people see as the key aspects to your property and then buy these more specific terms – understand your organic drivers and buy them cheaply.
Wego puts user reviews up front and center on their pages. It’s important that you facilitate good reviews for your property or destination to ensure prominent placement search results on these types of sites.
Whilst a few hundred views on YouTube might not seem a lot compared with the astronomical numbers of views you see on Lady Gaga videos or those with cats playing the piano, don’t underestimate, said Mario, the potentially significant impact of even a single view from a potential customer of your hotel room or pool facilities. Those 500 views could well be doing you a lot of good business.
With TripAdvisor there is the option to be just one click away by buying sponsored links of course.
Some interesting points were raised and discussed amongst the panel and the audience following Mario’s keynote.
Andrew asked if it was a case of ‘the more the merrier’ when it comes to Facebook Fan Pages.
“It’s about HOW you engage with them,” said Illka. “You need to create a comms strategy.”
Patrick added “the problem is the commitment to doing it and explaining to the senior management that the world has changed. The tools and the strategies are there.”
Mario suggested that OTAs need to be savvy and to re-invent themselves. There was also some talk about the role of OTA’s and cost of distribution with someone adding that he constantly sees failures of brands and properties failing time and time again to convert customers via, say Expedia, to future direct business.
A large part of the discussion was focused on who should be ‘doing’ your social media. What kind of person should be sat on Facebook and Twitter all day talking with customers?
Young people, of course, can be a lot cheaper and they know how to use Social Media in a more appropriate way than older people perhaps. (I don’t count myself in that older group in this respect, incidentally!)
But could a young person speak in a language that would resonate with more mature business travelers? And could younger, inexperienced people recognize and proactively react to an impending brand crisis or the implications of travel disruption following a natural disaster?
“Perhaps it should be the GM?” suggested Patrick. Anil said it’s part of the job of the Marcomms people.
Mario talked about a balance between good Brand Stewardship and Social Media savviness with Illka adding that she could see Social Media in the hands of younger, more junior people who were equipped with proper escalation procedures.
Patrick alluded to the past when accounts people were put in charge of new computers before CIOs were invented.
Perhaps we will all be hearing from Chief Customer Officers? Paul Hagen writes about these folks on the Harvard Business Review.
So, be just a click away from the new online battlegrounds and have a think about who’s ‘doing’ your Social Media.