According to Antonio Batanero, senior director distribution and digital marketing, Sol Meliá - The Americas, social media has to be seen as a mix between word of mouth, customer satisfaction, email marketing, CRM, loyalty... and that is what makes social media so difficult to manage.Should social media be entirely classified as word of mouth strategy?
Word of mouth advertising can be a huge benefit or detriment to a brand, and it is said that social media is literally word of mouth on steroids.
According to Antonio Batanero, senior director distribution and digital marketing, Sol Meliá - The Americas, social media has to be seen as a mix between word of mouth, customer satisfaction, email marketing, CRM, loyalty… and precisely that is what makes social media so difficult to manage for most of the companies.
“It is not clear who should be the responsible (should it be just one?), whom the accountability should fall on and –even more important- deciding upon the right messages,” says Batanero:
Batanero says it is also important to consider each step in the consumer decision path and the moments that most influence their decisions or their touch points; people now go to Facebook or Twitter before booking a hotel the same way they used to go to TripAdvisor. So they will take a look at the photos, videos, comments, etc. but more importantly, they will see if the “language” use by the brand/product is close to the way they communicate with friends and families.
“And at this point, it becomes not just generational but psychographic. Bottom line: word of mouth is friends talking to friends (same language) but in social media word of mouth means people talking to people, brands talking to people, etc. That is what makes channel management and message the two main columns for the social media strategy,” Batanero said.
Batanero spoke to EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta about organisational issues related to social media strategy:
Using social media in a tactical way, as part of an integrated marketing campaign, is an excellent way to test the waters and begin to see how engagement through social media affects your bottom line. Do you agree with this?
Antonio Batanero: I could not agree more. In fact, it is not just about testing the waters but knowing how your company has been seen in the past and in the present plus taking decisions in order to correct wrong directions. The main benefit of using social media in a tactical way is what would have taken ages to change years ago can now be done in a question of months. For years we have been told to be dynamic as companies but using mostly static tools; now thanks to social media we have access to those dynamic tools. But this may be a double-edged sword.
Most companies are used to tying every aspect of business to an ROI, and currently there are no meaningful financial metrics with social media efforts and that is one of the major challenges with this medium. How do you assess the situation?
Antonio Batanero: We have created our own metrics in order to measure the social media ROI. There are many options that companies can develop to see if the investment (not just in terms of money, but in hours, resources, etc.) is worth it. I always say that not every single company needs to be on Facebook or Twitter. So ROI should be the first step before even thinking on opening an account. Besides those metrics we also have a monthly report property by property where we see what is the volume of comments, which are the most active sites, if there are more positive or negatives comments, which area within the hotel is the most commented, nationalities of the people talking about our hotels, value of the comments depending on where they were posted, if they come from previous clients, no clients, travel agents… we could spend weeks talking about these reports. I really think companies still do not really realise how big this is.
On the other hand, ROI must also be measured by the actions that you take based on customers’ feedback. In other words, if all your fans/followers are giving you tons of feedback on a specific subject of your hotel but you do not do anything to change that in the property, then ROI is extremely negative. If you show people that you care about their suggestions and you are willing to implement them, then… ROI is incalculable.
In many companies, there might not be any social media experts but how can companies nurture internal champion(s) who monitor social media and make it a priority?
Antonio Batanero: Well, I love the companies that have created a position called “Head of Social Media” or similar. That is a big step! In fact, I wish I could start from scratch my career and became one of those “head of social”. Every company should have one (again, just those companies that need social media) since this is no longer about companies reaching customers and has become more customers reaching companies; it is pretty obvious that someone in the marketing departments must be taking a look at what is going on in the social media. These people will be the future social media experts so if you work in a marketing department do not hesitate to claim for that position.
Do you think brands that invested and experimented in this space in 2009, especially during the downturn, are as of now ahead of the curve?
Antonio Batanero: Like in every aspect of marketing, the early bird catches the worm. But more important is how the decision making process has changed since Internet appeared in our lives. For example, it is not the same trying to reach people who are at the beginning of the buying process than reaching those who have already made the decision of buying a product but have not decided yet which brand. Or even those who have decided the brand but have not purchased yet. In a recent report from McKinsey –where they examined the purchase decisions of 20,000 consumers- they analysed the changes from the traditional funnel to the new kind of “circle” process. Turns out that two-thirds of the touch points during the evaluation phase involved customer-driven marketing activities like Internet reviews and friends and family recommendations. That means it is not a matter of being the first but a question of being as dynamic as possible to integrate those touch points within your strategy.
Would it be right to say that traditional online campaigns that are either CPM or CPC based, though familiar, are not necessarily the optimal marketing tactics to use in the social media world?
Antonio Batanero: Social media opens a huge range of metrics that no one used to use before. Creativity is the limit i. e. the ratio of interactions to posts in Facebook (A higher interaction / post ratio indicates that content is more interesting to fans.) or the ratio of views per interaction in Youtube. (A lower ratio is good as it takes fewer views to generate a response.). But those are just a few examples…
What proof or conviction can a marketer bring in front of the senior management to get a buy-in for social media marketing? Is there any tangible way of explaining the utility of social media marketing?
Antonio Batanero: Probably a little bit of different proofs, although there is a clear connection between negative reviews and what the competition is doing out there; you can never go wrong with those two. However, I would say that the way some of the OTA’s have started to consider travellers reviews as part of how they would rank your hotel plus how important reviews are for the rest of the travellers should be enough to consider social media as part of any marketing plan. Also, from a revenue perspective, I read in a recent report that visitors who read hotel reviews on OTA’s websites are twice as likely to book as the ones who don’t.
The best social media outreach usually engages multiple departments within an organisation, ranging from marketing to product to engineering to editorial. How do you assess this approach towards nurturing a team and a culture?
Antonio Batanero: One solution would be creating the “social media committee” that should be a team made up of –ideally- six people: one from the marketing department, one from sales, one from communication & PR department, one from digital marketing/e-commerce, one from operations and one from human resources. And very important: do not build up this team with your junior members or interns. High level positions are a must. If the objective is to align all elements of marketing and present them in the right way to the customer you need first to make sure all those elements are integrated across your organisation. That is when social media becomes so powerful.
Antonio Batanero is scheduled to speak at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA conference, which will take place in Miami (2-3 June).
Related Link: EyeForTravel Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA 2010