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.

Madigan Pratt

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”:

investment |inˈves(t)mənt|

  • 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

Joseph E. BulherJoe 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: jeb@buhlerworks.com | +1 203.529.4841 | Skype: jebworks

AUTHOR: Madigan Pratt

Madigan Pratt is President of MP&A Digital & Advertising, an award-winning agency helping luxury hotels attract and retain profitable customers. Principals with over 60 years of collective experience at some of the world's largest advertising and direct marketing companies lead the agency's team of marketing, creative, public relations, Internet and social media professionals.

  • Bonjour Joe,

    I would put another myth, #myth6 “social media is the same everywhere in the World”

    I would say NO, cultural local relevancy is a key. You can’t do the same in France than US, in China is very different, etc

    And in many countries local social media platform’s are the leader (China, Japan, Russia…)

    So, be cultural relevant to the country or area and use local platform if you want to engage witht the local customer.

    Best regards from France


    February 7, 2012
  • Good article by social media evangelist we know well 🙂

    While I agree with the overall topic that social media is critical nowadays and must be part of a hotel’s digital marketing strategy, the challenge is not whether to be active social media, but how much.

    This balance between being active and being at the forefront is what most independent hotels struggle with. We do frequent roadshows and webinars, and while almost all hotels have Facebook pages, most don’t know what to do with them. So, while it’s not about the tools, tools are the only thing that may make social media a viable communication channel for hotels….

    February 7, 2012
  • Great post Joe and I enjoyed your take on ROI for social media. Knowing that there are two types of ROI…Return on Investment (the traditional one that the hotel GM understands) and the second, Return on Interaction (the one that a savvy social media marketer understands).

    With Return on Interaction one puts in interaction to get back more interaction which returns tenfold in trust, loyalty, and the development of advocates and influencers. That’s the return that should help GMs sleep better at night.

    February 7, 2012
  • Thank you for your comments, gentlemen.
    I totally agree with you. In all marketing activities it is important to consider cultural differences to be relevant. Social web engagement is no different.

    Don’t know about the well known part 🙂
    The balance of marketing activities is very important. I have never advocated anyone to exclusively use social media but to have the most effective mix of tools. What I mean with my comment regarding social media not being about tools is confirmed by your statement mentioning hotels with a Facebook page but knowing what to do with it. If that’s the case, why have one in the first place? For the consumer coming across it this makes a worse impression than being absent. If the answer to the key first question of “Why?” is not clear, then don’t start. Maybe it’s time for many to review their entire marketing mix and in the process find there is more room for the social web than originally thought.

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments about interaction producing a positive return. That lies at the foundation of the whole social web issue and why this has changed so profoundly how people communicate and yes, interact, with each other and businesses. It strikes me as odd that for this basic concept some critics demand proof of a directly measurable financial return when that same return is often assumed and not requested for most other, more traditional marketing activities. In fact, I’m still waiting for a response to my tweet on Sunday asking about that ROI for a 30 second Super Bowl commercial…..

    February 7, 2012
  • Is there a difference between marketing and sales? I have always viewed marketing as an important but nonetheless a more dormant exercise than selling. Using social media to me will not sell an idea or product directly but it gets the name of your company and what you do into the public domain and I would see this as marketing. For social media to work I feel you would need a database of people who frequent or regularly use your premises and use these people (if they are online) to send offers to.
    Social media is fine for sending a message but I also wonder if this phenomonen is overused by businesses and it becomes just a trading platform will the ordinary user become fed up with blanket marketing of products into their domain. As a sales tool I just do not see it selling products directly, its a bit “hit and miss”!

    March 6, 2012

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