Posts Tagged ‘challenges’

I’m just going to come right out and state the obvious: I love vacations.  I know, that’s a bit of a shocker, right?  Seriously, one of my passions in life is travel and like most people, I enjoy planning trips.

The planning process itself is fun for me because it builds up my expectations for the trip and gets me excited about where I am going. I’m in the process of planning a summer vacation with my wife and it got me thinking that it wasn’t long ago that the type of planning we do today just wasn’t possible.  We were at the mercy of a travel agent to plan a dream vacation or next business trip. The web has completely revolutionized the way we research, plan and book travel. With the influx of travel sites available, finding and choosing what fits our needs and budget is only a click away.

Social media has taken travel planning to the next level by providing recommendations on destinations as well as feedback on hotels, airlines, rental cars, price, etc from trusted advisors, travel experts and friends in a way that was not previously possible.

This new power in the hands of the consumer gives us the ability to seek exactly what we want and literally “name your own price” for hotel, airfare, and car rental.  This has left the travel & leisure industry struggling to keep pace. When you consider that most travel decisions are based primarily on reading peer reviews it comes as no surprise that travel & leisure organizations are looking for new ways to engage and promote discussions from their most loyal and enthusiastic customers across the social web.

From the point of view of the brands involved, keeping customers engaged and happy is paramount if they’re going to increase sales and market share. This is exactly why brands such as Fairmont, Marriott, AirMiles, American Airlines and JetBlue are leading the charge.  Each have active followings on multiple social channels (primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr as well as their own branded communities) and are highly engaged with their market. These communities provide a forum for the brands to build new online relationships, engage customers, provide unique personalized promotions, provide customer service and increase sales while reducing costs across the board.

According to a Google study, 33 percent of travel website readers changed their travel plans based on a negative or not so favorable online peer reviews. This is exactly the reason why major hotels  and airlines have shifted their marketing strategy to one that keeps loyal customers engaged online.

A March 2009 study by Knowledge Networks,  found that between 10% and 24% of US social media users turned to social networks when making purchase decisions about various categories of products and services. (eMarketer, October 2009) Also, it was found that online social network users were three times more likely to trust their peers’ opinions over advertising when making purchase decisions. (“Social Networking Sites: Defining Advertising Opportunities in a Competitive Landscape,” JupiterResearch, March 2007)

Further, if a hotel or airline has a good base of members registered following them on the social web, it will maintain and increase sales. In fact, studies show the rate of staying at a hotel or flying on an airline instead of at a rival establishment is 50 percent higher for active members (elliott.org, 2004).

Ultimately, having an active community across the social web and a valuable destination drives an enhanced experience for loyal customers at a lower cost for the organization.  The challenge faced by many organizations is how to manage multiple social channels, ensure security and control and ensure a positive customer experience.

When a travel and leisure brand decides to engage with its consumers online it needs to be sure to offer a platform that will assist its members as best it can. This, on top of offering superior experiences, facilitating true conversations with members, and offering an easy-to-navigate framework of resources for its members.

Bottom line is loyalty and interactions go both ways. As long as travel and leisure brands recognize that community members are valuable marketing resources, strategic decisions as to continued engagement can be made.

Finally, when you empower your customer base to communicate their desires, likes and dislikes openly, you are allowing them the power to connect with your business and others. This power is valuable to them and gives you a key competitive differentiator in your industry – one that allows you to compete more effectively and drive loyalty, and increased sales.

Photo Credit: mon of the loin (via flickr) Used under a creative commons license

Today Awareness announced that the Social Marketing Hub, our latest software innovation, became generally available. During the development of the Hub, Mark Cattini (our CEO) and I traveled to over 50 of the largest brands in the world to get their feedback on the new product.  We spent time collecting feedback on every aspect of the solution from functionality to pricing to market positioning.  While we spent time discussing the product we also spent a significant about of time talking with each company about their approach to social media, their objectives, their successes and their challenges.

I have to admit that I was surprised by some of the findings and was even more surprised to learn that most of the organizations we spoke with face similar challenges despite being of different sizes and in different industries.  What are those challenges you ask?  Below is a summary of what we learned.

1. Inability to scale

The inability for organizations to scale – to quickly and easily manage, maintain, and measure multiple social channels – was a top theme coming out of our meetings. Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group recently published a post that discusses the pain of scaling social media programs in more detail and breaks down the Social Media Management Software market. A real life example of this pain came very early on in our tour. We sat down with the interactive marketing team at a large retailer who explained that they needed to drop MySpace as a channel because they didn’t have the resources to manage and report on it in a meaningful way. Because it had become too burdensome to maintain, they opted to stop spending time updating and managing MySpace and, in their words, “break-ties with our 30K+ MySpace friends”.

The issue for them boiled down to scale. They are not able to utilize and promote additional channels because managing their primary outposts – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube – requires a huge commitment in terms of resources. They would like to be able to easily add and test new channels but don’t have the time or energy to expand on their current strategy.

2. Security & Control

Raise your hand if your organization shares passwords to your social sites via an excel spreadsheet? If you are guilty, trust me when I tell you that you are not alone. In fact, of the brands we met with only a handful were not using excel to share passwords.  In one of the more uncomfortable moments from the tour, we met with the marketing group and a representative from the IT team at a large consumer electronics company. We mentioned controlling passwords was a challenge for many organizations and they went on to explain how they share passwords through excel. When someone leaves the company they change the password, update the spreadsheet and resend to nearly 30 people who “may” need access to manage updates (this includes resending it to their multiple marketing agencies). Needless to say, the rep from IT was not happy and that resulted in a heated discussion about internal security protocols.

This example is just the tip of the iceberg for security and control. Many organizations have Facebook Pages, YouTube Channels, Twitter Accounts, etc controlled by individuals within the company, outside of the team responsible for controlling messaging. This makes it very difficult to control messaging and posts and makes it almost impossible to retract assets that may be out of date or contain obsolete messaging.  It’s also impossible to report on who published what, where and when.

3. Lack of resources and buy-in

Many of the top brands – some of which have received kudos for their social performance and strategy – are operating with an extreme lack of resources and next to no buy-in from senior execs. A contributing factor to this is a lack of meaningful reporting (see point 4) but it is still shocking that social media has not been fully accepted in the highest levels of some of these enterprises.

Take for example a large, multi-billion dollar retailer who has two individuals managing multiple twitter accts, a few Facebook pages, multiple YouTube channels and a recently launched Flickr page. The management of these channels is only a small component of their everyday jobs which makes prioritizing them very difficult.  While meeting with the social media tandem they needed to continually excuse themselves to respond to support issues on Twitter. The challenge they face is resources are difficult to get. In their words “…  from the executives perspective, we are executing on social media and doing a great job. The question we get is ‘why do you need more resources, everything is going really well’. The problem is we are working 16 hour days to make this happen and are spending large portions of our day arguing with other departments about access, controls, messaging, etc.” This is a good segue to point #4 – reporting…

4. Reporting is Ad-Hoc

Reporting on social media is the single biggest hurdle faced by large organizations because it impacts every other point on the list.  Without reporting, it’s difficult to scale, get exec buy-in, maintain control and centralize your social media strategy.  What surprised us is that pulling general reports from the big channels – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube – is a manual process that people are spending a great deal of time on. We have seen everything – interns hired specifically to pull stats and aggregate data, marketing agencies getting paid top dollar to pull data on a weekly basis, departments forwarding weekly reports to an individual who aggregates data on specific channels and pieces of content and a myriad of other ways to resolve the issue.  The point is there is a big hole to fill around reporting. Organizations want and need a central place to collect data from multiple channels and have simple way to manipulate data to see how assets are performing and which channels are providing the best bang for the buck.

5. Centralization

Organizations are looking to centralize social media efforts across the organization. What we found is that most organizations handle social media in silos. Different departments create pages and accounts for their division and this makes it difficult to deploy a centralized strategy.  Another large retailer we met with is experiencing this issue on a global scale.  They have over 200 physical retail locations in the United States and Canada and many of the local outlets have taken the initiative to develop and manage their own social outposts to target individuals within the local geography.  The problem comes when one of the local offices decides to promote a sale too early (or not at all), promotes a new product before it’s announced by corporate, uses incorrect messaging and generally doesn’t conform to corporate guidelines.  This is a huge problem faced by not only retail organizations but also inside large multinational corporations with departments that are dispersed across the globe.  Centralizing the social media strategy is something that is gaining a lot of momentum within large companies and most are moving to bring social media to one department who controls all engagement and interactions.

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We used these interviews and the information we collected as a guide to help us develop the Awareness Social Marketing Hub.  By listening to our customers we gained a deep understanding of their approach to social media and built the system from the ground up based on their needs.  With the market constantly evolving we wanted to make sure the system met the needs they have today as well as be capable of supporting needs that develop over time. We are continuing to gather more knowledge about enterprise social media needs and are always using our learnings to innovate our offerings.

What do you think?  Did we miss any challenges?  Are these the same ones that you face on a daily basis?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

All photos used under a Creative Commons license.  Photo credits:

  1. Scale: Hanson Bros. Scale 04.06.09 [96] by timlewisnm
  2. Control: No Controle (in Control) by renatotarga
  3. Lack of Resources:  089/365 Money…What Money by stuartpilbrow
  4. Reporting: AAAARRRGGGHHH by evilerin
  5. Centralize: Collegiate Church, Salzburg by andreakirkby