Over the past few weeks Joe Buhler and I have been having numerous Google+ conversations concerning the effectiveness of social media. Joe is a principal of buhlerworks, an expert in development and execution of social web marketing strategies.
Several conversations dealt with the many myths surrounding social media so I asked Joe to write a guest column on the subject for Hospitality Marketing Blog. For hoteliers simply dabbling in social media, here is your wake-up call.
Let us know what you think.
Exposing Five Popular Myths of Social Media
By Joe Buhler
Myth #1 – Social Media is a passing fad and usage will decline
Whenever I hear a comment like this I start by stating the facts about where we are and then discuss where we are going. So, here’s where we are:
- Over 20% of all the time spent online is spent on Social Media
- Facebook is now approaching 900 million global users.
- One in every seven minutes spent online are spent on Facebook
- Twitter has over 100 million users – a 59% increase in the last year
- Google+ has been in existence for seven months. It now has over 90 million users and adding 625,000 each day. Estimates are for it to exceed 300 million users by the end of this year
Now look what’s coming. Have you seen Pintrest – the latest social media phenomenon. Pinterest is a visual sharing site growing from 20 million page views last May to over 421 million in five months despite the fact it still is in an invite only beta mode.
In travel we have TripAdvisor where people share their experiences with hotels, restaurants and attractions. It is one of only a few travel sites integrated with the new Facebook Timeline. This will further raise the level of awareness, importance and influence for the leader among travel review sites. After recently having been spun off by Expedia, the company has a similar size market cap of $4 billion as their former owners.
These numbers speak for themselves and even if the leaders would stop growing, or fail, which is hard to envisage, they have created an entire ecosystem of innovators that would take their place and continue to enable social interaction on the web.
Those companies and marketers who think social media is a passing fad or will decline are only fooling themselves and will wind up as road kill on the highway to profitability and sustainability.
Myth #2 – My customers are not using Social Media
Looking at the numbers mentioned above, this seems a moot argument especially when the highest growth numbers over the past few years have come from the 50+ age group. Boomers are spending increasing time on Facebook to enjoy never before possible options for communicating with friends, family and distant relatives.
In addition, the introduction of business pages on Facebook, and Google+ the B2B use of these social networks in addition to Twitter has not only become possible but essential.
As people become more familiar with the use of these social tools in their personal sphere, they are discovering that interacting with companies and brands can be as easy and often more fun as well.
Does this mean that every business on earth needs to have a Facebook page or Twitter account? Probably not, but for the vast majority in travel and tourism, an outpost on the largest communications platforms on the globe where hundreds of millions of people interact has become an essential part of the marketing mix.
Myth #3 – Social Media is about Technology and Tools
If that were true, then the rapid rise in the number of users of social networks over the past few years would not have happened. Social media is more about sociology than technology.
People have an innate desire to communicate and share information. With easy to use web based tools this is so much easier and for many very compelling. To sign up for an account is easy, free and without a long-term commitment.
Of course, for many, the initial fascination wears off but for millions more; it becomes a regular and welcome activity. The time spent on social networks mentioned earlier is ample proof and the curve continues to point upward. This phenomenon is occurring at the same time use of other media including newspapers and television continues to decline.
This has serious implications on businesses of all kinds and in all industries. There is no alternative to getting involved on the social web.
Before doing so, however, it is important to remember the purpose of these social networks. It is about communications and interaction between individuals. People do not sign up for social media to be bombarded with incessant and irrelevant advertising messages. Most of those are ignored.
To use social media effectively requires the right mindset before getting engaged. Just because you embrace the technology doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically have the social skills to have an interesting conversation about your brand online.
Myth #4 – Social Media is Free
The fact that the tools are free is a great advantage for many, as it levels the playing field. Any small business can be on an equal footing with major corporations, or even have an advantage over them by being more authentic and personal.
Although the tools of social media are free, it should become increasingly clear that being an active participant on the social web is not free.
To take advantage of social media it’s necessary to spend time and effort to manage and maintain an active presence, to listen, learn and then engage in a meaningful manner. This is not about a campaign or two, but an ongoing long-term commitment.
Before making that commitment it is essential to ask the key question “Why?” If there is no clear answer, success will be difficult to achieve. Once the purpose is clearly defined and is compatible with the business culture, one of honest and authentic communications, it is time to address the “What?” and “How?” and start down the path of integrating social engagement into your overall business and marketing plans.
To be successful this cannot be dished off to an intern or a junior staff member. This is too important so you will need to resources and time against it and that means social media is not free!
Myth #5 – There is no ROI for Social Media
Now, we come to the last, and in many respects the largest myth. This is the perennial question about the return on investment (ROI) for all this social media activity and engagement with existing and potential customers on the social web. Here is how the dictionary defines “investment”:
- The action or process of investing money for profit or material result
- An act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result
Take the first definition, which is what those with a financial bent are bound to do, the answer is less than straightforward. Marketing activities are not considered investments but expenses on a corporate P&L. For decades, based on this narrow definition there have been those who claim that for this very reason, there is no measurable ROI for marketing.
Using the second definition, however, the issue should become much clearer. As mentioned earlier, for social web engagement to be successful, it needs to be based on overall business objectives and integrated with other marketing activities. Once those objectives and goals are clearly defined it becomes possible to measure all activities against them, and that includes social media.
Social media is still relatively new too. They didn’t have Nielsen ratings for television and radio when they first started and few people doubted the effectiveness of those media. Companies have spent billions in print advertising will little real measure of performance. In time you will find ways to measure to even better measure the effectiveness of social media, but you won’t be around to see it if you don’t get seriously involved before that time comes.
In other words, to be able to show a positive ROI is mainly about the definition of key performance indicators. This then, is no different and no less possible for social media than for any other marketing activity. Is there an ultimate benefit to the bottom line? If we assume there is one for marketing in general, then the answer for marketing on the social web is also clearly yes.
About Joe Buhler
Joe Buhler has over three decades of professional travel and tourism experience. For 20+ years, he was responsible for the marketing of Switzerland Tourism, the national destination marketing organization (DMO) in Japan/SE Asia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. He first became interested in the web and aware of its disruptive impact as well as potential on travel, in the mid-90s. This led to his appointment as leader of the team responsible for the launch of MySwitzerland.com, one of the first national destination portal websites in 1999.
In 2000 he joined the management team of EuroVacations, the first web based tour operator, a start-up by the Rail Europe Group. For the past six years, Joe’s main focus of attention has been the social web, in particular the impact social media and social networks are having on how people communicate and interact with each other and with organizations. His expertise lies in assisting travel and tourism businesses to develop and execute smart and effective social web marketing strategies based on solid business objectives rather than hope and hype.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | +1 203.529.4841 | Skype: jebworks