In the era of ever changing communication media and rapid technological advancement, companies are now dedicating a growing portion of their marketing campaigns to social media platforms. Large corporations have created positions for full time community managers, and companies dedicated to content management are being created everywhere. One may wonder how destination management companies (DMCs) should position themselves and what should be their approach to a social media marketing campaign.
Most DMCs correspond to a B2B (business-to-business) model. Most of us are familiar with the online companies that follow a B2C (business-to-consumer) model, such as Starbucks or Nike. The challenge thus lies in the fact that the strategies are quite different for both models. As users ourselves, we often do not seek out companies that cater to the B2B model on our own online time.
The goal of B2C companies is to convert joined consumers into customers. The network effect of social media allows these companies to reach millions of people within their target market at the click of a mouse. In the case of destination management companies, the network effect is not as important as thought leadership, feedback, and leads that can be gathered from the web.
Understand your approach
To properly understand social media marketing, one must first comprehend the users to identify the approach that should be used. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs, the average user will connect on a platform to not only communicate with friends, but to bond with other users, join groups and discuss shared interests. The user will want to create or voice an opinion among peers and equals, be it about any possible topic. Using this perspective, a company should not use the traditional “push” marketing method and try to sell their product or service the same way it is done in a printed magazine advertisement. The concept then becomes to lead a discussion, tell a story that will compel users to actively participate in a conversation. A business should work at establishing itself as a credible and knowledgeable source of valid and free information to its fans, followers, and connections.
Before starting a social media campaign, be sure to subscribe to Google Alerts, a tool that will help you track mentions of the company on the web. The point is to get a feel for what is or isn’t being said about your company online. After acknowledging the current image, clear guidelines and goals need to be established in regards to the message you wish to get across.
Search engine optimization
The first item on the list an optimized, up-to-date website, as all the traffic across social media platforms will be directed to the website. SEO (search engine optimization) is now common practice among programmers, who use key words and write code that will allow a website to be easily found on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. It is also important to note that frequent updates of the website also contribute to better SEO.
It is also very important to be prepared to manage conversations. Hiding a negative comment or complaint from the public eye will only exacerbate frustrations. A company should be prepared to invest the necessary time and resources into the participation and management of conversations stemming from past services or current discussions. If no one within the company has experience with online brand management, the suggestion would be to hire a community manager to generate pertinent content and keep an eye on the conversations.
The challenge of time management
One may wonder how much time and effort should be invested into social media marketing. The answer is not so simple when it comes to DMCs. Social media cannot be the only form of marketing and should only be used to strengthen an ongoing advertising effort in the B2B model. A considerable amount of time will need to be invested to generate content across platforms, keeping in mind that bi-weekly updates are more than necessary when one wishes to create interest.
The entire marketing campaign should be in sync and the message should be the same across all utilized media. You may use Facebook or Twitter to inform the general public of your active involvement in the community and remind them of your presence at events; however you should never use it to try and sell your services. Given that you are not directly trying to convert consumers into customers, the return on investment remains difficult to quantify. A Google Analytics account will help you track the web traffic and identify one or two social media of choice. It is also important to realize that although the internet now travels at an incredible speed, building a community can take months, if not years.
Don’t be a pusher
For destination management companies, and any B2B product or service company, social media platforms can be used to generate leads and find potential clients. Many discussions are occurring regarding future meetings, travel plans, and so on. Be sure to contact a potential client in a very polite way. Although it may seem that social media are a very informal way of meeting people, no one likes to be aggressively pursued.
All of us wish to increase our sales and profits. We all want potential clients to find us easily on the web, and once they do find us via our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, we want them to grasp our expertise. It is important however to remember that we are not trying to sell a consumer product like a cup of coffee to individuals, but a service to another company and that we should not expect a viral popularity. Should you decide to start or maintain a social media campaign, remember who your clientele is and what message you want to get across. Keep in mind that social media marketing efforts should only be used as support to your campaign.
Grasping social media marketing is not an easy game, and a company should not invest time or resources in these tools before the goals and message have been clearly identified, and be ready to manage online conversations as well as accept criticism.
About the author
Véronique Lou is Project Coordinator at Zeste Incentive based in Montreal, Quebec.