Emerging Travel Company Sees Huge Success through Social Media Efforts

Though social media can be used to market your products and services, it’s most effective when used to market your brand–even before the products and services are ready. Adam Salomone, who has worked with social media at a small Boston-based publishing company for the past two years, is helping to develop an online travel venture that will offer reviews, tips, and information to travelers. While traditional media outreach will be a small part of the mix, Adam believes that the biggest opportunity is online, especially since travel offers many of its own robust online communities. Though the company has not yet launched, Adam has already begun marketing the brand with social media outreach.

Q: What have you done so far to prepare for the company’s launch?

A: Listening and monitoring have been a key piece to reaching consumers. Using services such as Social Oomph and Google Alerts to find out what the stories are, and what consumers are asking about related to travel, and from there building a base of content has proven very effective. I encourage any company that is not already doing so to identify the social platforms relevant to their industry and use tools to find out what the conversation is.

Why listen? A lot of companies think it’s to see what consumers are saying about their brand. That’s part of it, but there’s far more marketers can do to build goodwill through listening and monitoring. Identify people who have questions / problems / concerns and use your company’s knowledge and awareness in that space to offer advice or a useful answer–in no way should you pitch or even mention the product. By helping people find a solution, they begin associating your company with that solution and in doing so may become customers without ever being pitched–it also makes for some longer lasting relationships.

The other useful technique, which just about everyone is doing, is seeding–producing content for end consumers. This is somewhat harder for a start-up for budget reasons, but will be a definite part of the mix once we have content ready to share. While we haven’t done much of this yet, I think the principle for content creation is the same as marketing–find the right mix in terms of kinds of content. Consumers love to read, watch, listen, and interact so make sure your content allows them to do all of this and more. And host it in places that are targeted toward your market and relevant to the content you are sharing.

Q: What forms of social media have worked best for you?

A: I’ve seen the most success with communities that are tailored to travel because that’s where I find people not only talking about their experiences, but asking travel questions. I find that when I’m able to identify folks who have a problem that needs a solution, I can provide that solution and build a better reputation for the brand as a whole. While Facebook and Twitter are also mainstream outlets for brands, I haven’t had as much success with these as opposed to sites such as The Travel Blog Exchange, Travellr.com, or Where I’ve Been. I’ve tried to be more focused in my approach (although I am and will continue to use both Facebook and Twitter as they are too big to ignore).

I believe that the travel platforms have worked better than the more mainstream ones because they are much more focused–people are there already talking about the subject matter that my brand is servicing. On Facebook and Twitter, the conversations are far more open-ended (and especially in the case of Facebook, more oriented towards the personal or immediate spheres of influence, making it much harder for a brand to get involved). Companies should always be sure they are involving themselves on platforms where they can make a meaningful contribution, not just by talking, but also by listening to consumers and providing solutions (regardless of if they involve your product). I find that operating on platforms within my industry allows me to speak knowledgeably and reach consumers more effectively.

Q: How does social media usage in the travel industry differ from other companies?

A: Social media within the travel industry is a different animal from almost any other industry. Travel is an around-the-clock experience, which can be seen in three stages: planning a trip, taking a trip, and reporting on a trip. At each of these phases, the needs of the consumer are different, but vigilant marketers can seek out users in each of these phases and find ways to target information to them. I also think travel is much more susceptible to the effects of “social search”–people searching in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Answers and others to find answers to their questions from people in their network–than any other industry. Travelers want to know what to do and where to go, especially when they are in the act of traveling, and are willing to take information from a source they can trust. Smart travel marketers build that trust, realizing that it’s a long-term relationship that will pay off when consumers come to you for their travel answers.

Q: Do you have a cohesive plan for when the company launches?

A: It’s difficult, and maybe even a little unrealistic, to think I’ll have a plan that takes into account all that we’ll do on social sites. I don’t necessarily know that a company can have a step one, then step two, etc. because so often it’s about responding to consumers needs on an ongoing basis. What I can say is that I’ve researched and vetted a number of platforms, both large and small, that we’ll need to have a presence on–figuring out what those platforms are, and exactly what a company should be doing one each of those platforms is how a plan comes together, but it also needs to be flexible and build in an understanding that a presence on some social sites will work better than others.

Q: Anything else you would like to mention?

A: Always be truthful in all that you do online–disclose any relationships or affiliations you have when marketing and explain why you are contributing what you are. Transparency rules the day in all that goes on online and anyone who doesn’t play by those rules will be found out sooner or later.

Adam Salomone is the Vice President of Social Media and PR for soon-to-be-launched travel resource and community RoomRaves.com.

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