Interviews

Creating a buzz: social is made for building relationships with guests

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There are countless things a social media community manager in a multinational chain has to think about.

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There are countless things a social media community manager in a multinational chain has to think about. From managing cultural differences and language, to communicating with stakeholders across the business and across the world, as well as keeping customers happy – the challenges, it seems, are endless. But then again, so are the opportunities – providing you do it with passion.

In Denmark, for example, you cannot incentivise guests on social media, because it’s against Danish regulations, but in Italy that is possible. In Germany, the social network Xing is popular, but the French prefer Viadeo, while Russian-speaking countries use VKontakte. Of course, Facebook, is popular in many places, but in Morocco, users access it mainly via mobile, whereas in Latin-speaking Europe, desktop access is dominant. A ‘tweet away’ may work in the US and the UK, but don’t expect it to perform well in Greece where penetration is still low.

So just how do community managers – and especially those who manage social media for an international brand – cope? EyeforTravel’s Pamela Whitby spoke to Remi Lefevre social media community manager of upscale and luxury brands at Intercontinental Hotels Groups (IHG) to find out. Lefevre, who hails from France, has a degree from a Czech University and is now working in London for a very global company, has witnessed first-hand how differently people from different backgrounds behave on social media.

So how much of a challenge is it to manage social media in a region like Europe, for example, where there are so many different languages?

REMI LEFEVRE: Europe certainly is a very specific region, where not only languages but also strongly-established cultures coexist. Although this certainly is a challenge, it’s also a great opportunity as it allows us marketers to leverage specific cultural codes in our campaigns, provided, of course, we know and understand them.

With social media, it’s important to keep three things in mind.

1. Those channels, while specific, are first and foremost enabling conversations, but they do not create them per se.

2. Different cultures communicate differently and will use social media in different ways.

3. Keeping all relevant stakeholders in the loop is of prime importance, not only on the corporate side, but also at the regional and local levels.

How do you achieve this?

REMI: We do this by creating an internal “hive,” an ecosystem that favors exchanges with people across the business. This is very important for multinational businesses. Community managers cannot work effectively without being in touch with PR, communications, marketing, brands, or corporate responsibility, and those stakeholders cannot ignore the on-going conversation either. It’s all about constantly sharing information and having the right processes in place, and doing it faster than ever before. This cannot be achieved without a certain level of trust between the stakeholders, hence the concept of the hive. It’s especially true when it comes to Europe or Asia.

Do you have to budget more for Europe because of how complicated the market is?

REMI: Well, it depends on a three main factors: first, your customers; second, your resources; and third, your priorities. Your customers should always come first: who they are and how they like to talk to you, but also how they want to be talked to, will come into play when budgeting. Depending on how large your existing teams are, it may be that a couple of social marketing experts will suffice if they can share their expertise with and tap into them. Your priorities in terms of market expansion, for instance, will also be an important factor.

In a hotel group with different chains, your customers probably vary widely, too. How do you deal with this?

REMI: All in all, the equation isn’t the same for Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. The guests aren’t the same, they want to be addressed in different ways, the teams in place have different sizes, and the priorities are obviously different as well. Therefore, it’s unlikely that we would allocate the same budget to the two brands, if we were to differentiate them as two different companies.

How important is it that social media delivers a ROI? And how tough is it to convince management that you need to invest in it?

REMI: When it comes to ROI there is no secret: the happier your customers are with your product, the more they will spend on it. The question that remains is how to kindle satisfaction, and in this respect, personal relationship is second to none, in travel especially. In our industry, a lot of factors merge to make the relationship that we have with our guests very emotional. As choices are numerous, it is usually rather expensive, and it takes time, which means that guests want the best deal for their budget. Customer care is, therefore, crucial.

And, of course, you can do this through social media?

REMI: As I’ve said, social media channels are no more than dialogue enablers: they make it easier for our guests to reach out to us, and the same way that we wouldn’t ignore them if they were to come to one of our front desks, we cannot ignore them when they come to our Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, or Weibo pages. Social media channels are valuable channels at many levels, from awareness to PR, through customer care and promotional activities: you shouldn’t have to convince your management that you need to have a presence. Ten or 15 years ago when websites became popular, we wondered if it was worth the investment, and look at where we are now! Creating relationships with guests is what social media channels seem to have been made for, and that’s a huge opportunity.

What are your top tips for others with a multinational presence?

REMI: Whatever it is that you do, do it passionately. If you organize trips, be passionate about the countries you take your customers to, and if you’re into hospitality, be passionate about your guests and your destinations. As travelers and people passionate about travel, our job is to help people experience difference: never cease to marvel at it, and you’ll always be in tune with your business.

Rémi Lefevre, Community Manager, upscale & luxury brands @IHG will be speaking at EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing, Mobile & Social Media in Travel, Europe 2012 on October 3-4. The Early Bird price expires on Friday, August 31! Don’t miss your chance to register at the lowest rate.

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editor

Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.