Creating compelling social media content and building meaningful relationships

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Listening to what customers are saying is key and can be a strong starting point for any social media initiative.

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Listening to what customers are saying is key and can be a strong starting point for any social media initiative. Once an entity is sure about its brand attributes, then it is in a position to work out its social media strategy, which can reflect the values of a particular brand. The team can then take it forward and focus on relevancy to manage social communications and content.

Engaging with past, present, and future customers online through social media platforms is not a temporary or short-term initiative.

For some travel companies, their social media focus is a reflection of how they go about their customers as an entity. For instance, in the case of Roger Smith Hotel in New York, social media is derived from an inherent belief of its CEO and President, James Knowles. He believes in and encourages “the miracle of human growth.”

The hotel’s connection to a community of people is based on story telling, off-line connections, and relationships built on passion, says the company. The team is always interested in telling stories that engage people while building relationships and relevant communities. The hotel says it is selling hotel rooms and events via the strength of its networking and content.

EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Johnny Miller, Founder, Manumatix about content strategy, the types of social content, making the most of internal resources, etc. for social media activities on an ongoing basis. Excerpts:

It is recommended that one can have a rough content plan to guide you, but one needs to be topical. Encourage debate and let the community guide you where you want to go in terms of future planning. What do you recommend when it comes to generating content or initiating conversations across social media platforms?

JOHNNY MILLER: I believe people are incredibly adroit at detecting disingenuous behavior from brands. Many brands try to control conversations and they end up pushing their fans away.

Content planning should be give and take… like any conversation, both sides should be asking questions. It is important to not continually dominate the conversation and make it one sided. Content should also, if possible, be shareable. Creating content that is something valuable and worth sharing is a surefire way to ensure that you are in the debate.

Our service, Bamboo offers an entertaining, compelling, and inexpensive way to reach new audiences across Facebook and Twitter while controlling all of your branded content. Leveraging your core customers through Bamboo will allow them to share all kinds of interactive messages with their Friends on Facebook and Twitter. The content can range from coupons, real-time alerts, interactive polls, videos, the latest news, to invites for current events, etc. Bamboo is the tool which will mobilize your core audience and put them into action… all they do is engage with your new app.

How can a travel company count on its best resources – employees – when it comes to posting content and interacting with consumers on social media platforms?

MILLER: While social media gives everyone a chance to be an ambassador for the company, I think it is very important to have a guided and cohesive company policy for social media platforms; commander’s intent as they say. If available, I believe companies should have a dedicated individual who actively and proactively interacts with your customers via social media. Like any great customer service initiative, your customers will appreciate the time and attention you give them, and as the word spreads that you are a company who “listens,” more and more folks will be drawn to your brand.

If consumer generated content on social media sites and networks vis-à-vis content produced on travel companies’ websites/blogs is perceived to be more credible by the online travelers, then how can travel brands attract their market towards them and stay in front of them without intruding too much? Should travel companies guide consumers towards their blogs/social media platforms rather than being part of conversations on independent blogs/ ocial media platforms?

MILLER: Again, I believe this calls for a mixture. People can adroitly identify content that is “biased” and are sensitive to it. If, however, you have established yourself as credible on independent blogs and shown that you are willing to go “against the grain” at times, people will respect your views and value your content, wherever it may be. Transparency is always key, too. I am a huge fan of making sure that your bias is known right from the get-go. People will respect that. Acknowledge it, establish your credibility, and then make your point. Work on your own blogs and contribute when you can to independent blogs and platforms. Nothing wrong with a company inserting themselves in a debate… in fact, I think people welcome it, as long as they do it in a forthcoming manner.

How should companies go about nurturing brand personality through social media? What do you recommend when it comes to choosing the right tone/engagement strategy to suit a particular brand?

MILLER: The right tone is the one that goes with your company culture and brand. The same tone you use across your marketing should be utilized with your social media. Far more important than specific tone is to simply be respectful, attentive, proactive, and willing to engage in a fun way with your customers. I also like to incorporate as much of a first person voice as possible. People like to know that they are dealing with a human being. Every person you connect with in a positive way is growing your brand recognition.

Expedia says it is focusing on its Facebook app to go beyond just the booking phase to place added focus on the pre-trip preparation, in-trip and post-trip stages, leveraging the strengths of social media to help in planning and trip sharing, and working in combination with other channels where appropriate. What’s your opinion about the same?

MILLER: There is a saying, fish where the fish are. There are a lot of people on Facebook, and with today’s technology, users can experience all the benefits of a website within the social playground Facebook offers. I am a huge fan of offering engagement opportunities within Facebook applications, because it gives your followers a chance to reach out to their networks and participate in something where they are already spending a huge amount of time. On average in the US, people spend about an hour on Facebook each day. I want to leverage that.

As far as Expedia’s focus on pre- and post-trip engagement, I think it’s brilliant. They are encouraging users to engage with their networks in new ways and as such are going to bring in more people to the debate, which is a great thing. We have also seen successful implementation of pre-trip preparation with our Cruises Only Facebook Application. Members are invited to share photos of their trips for others to view and are offered inside information about the activities available to travelers. Overall, it helps users leave better prepared to have the most enjoyable experience imaginable. Which, of course, hopefully encourages them to travel with us again!

How do consumers influence each other in social spaces? What types of social content are the most influential?

MILLER: Candid reviews that don’t sound like they are completely biased one way or another are terrific motivators in my opinion. I still read reviews before purchasing anything. Again people can detect disingenuous behavior pretty well, and as such, well written and thoughtful sharing of experiences are highly motivational. From a content format type, video continues to be extremely popular and seems to lend itself to sharing quite well.

Travel companies are introducing a sharing functionality that enables the user to share the trip within their network if they wish. In this way, they are able to offer recommendations from both the mass of travelers who have visited that destination along with more personalized advice from their social network. How do think travel companies are making the travel planning experience more social?

MILLER: This is a great strategy. Encouraging users to share their trip is a win-win. Not only does it activate a user to engage with their social network, it sparks discussion on trips. People want to share travel tips and really do enjoy living vicariously through other people’s journeys. If you really think about travel, it is probably one of the most social media-friendly subjects out there. Before social media, people were still photographing, videotaping, and sending post cards to friends and family. You can’t help but want to share travel experiences, and social media allows you to do it easier than ever before. With people sharing travel experiences through their social networks, it will encourage more people to travel and ensure that travelers have a better experience, which is good for us all!

Johnny Miller, Founder, Manumatix, is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing & Social Media Europe 2011 to be held in Amsterdam (October 10-11) this year.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.