I've been doing quite a lot of research around social media in the last few weeks - in particular because I was presenting at WTM. If you're interested, my presentation Social Media for Travel Marketers: Unpicking the 2.0 hype is available to view on Slideshare with detailed notes too.
One of the issues that I find particularly interesting is the way that whilst brands are desparate to engage with social media - social media is making brands increasingly redundant.
Marketers see social media as the next great opportunity to grow their businesses. And it's not hard to see why when you consider that Facebook now has 350 million accounts worldwide and Twitter is growing exponentially too. Some 40% of online sales are influenced by social media already (McKinsey stats - more of this kind of stuff in the presentation).
But these very tools that travel marketers want to embrace are in some ways killing the brands they sought to build up - with vast expenditure and effort - over previous decades. Back in the old days pre the social web, big companies couldn't
communicate with all their customers on an individual basis. So they
sought to create 'personalities' - to put a friendly face on the front
of their products and companies so people could 'relate' to them. Sounds weirdly ridiculous doesn't it? But it kind of worked. The
whole discipline of brand marketing was born - humanising a faceless
company. Often they'd use 'brand personalities' - so Michael Jackson
endorsed Pepsi, Rutger Hauer came to personify Guinness and Nicole Kidman is the face of Channel No.5. Here were
real people - people like us (remember the Bisto family?) or else people we'd like to be like.
Absolutely tons of cash was pumped into this kind of marketing. (Interestingly I can think of no examples of travel brands that did this.
it was all broadcast. "This is what we want you to believe about our
company and its products" was the message. And your could control the medium so it was no problem - TV, print ads, advertising billboards. But social media isn't one-way... customers can talk back, customers can broadcast for themselves. It's a multi-channel conversation and anyone can join in.
I often think of social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) as being a bit like the pub. There's chat going on about all kinds of stuff. It's between like minded people and friends usually, it's relaxed and informal. They could well be discussing how cheap their new mortgage deal is or where the best resort for family holidays in Spain is. But can you imagine some bloke in a suit from say Halifax suddenly intervening with a sales pitch for his mortgages or a travel agent jumping into the conversation to suggest their latest deals for family holidays to Mallorca? (Despite the fact that the information they have to offer could actually be of genuine interest.)
Absolutely not. And that's the problem.
The old days of broadcast marketing, building a brand and pumping out your message could well be over.
So how does say First Choice or Thomas Cook get themselves into that chat in the pub about everyone's next family holiday? Could you ever see a place for a big travel brand to engage in these far more conversational and personal on-line environments?
(I have a few ideas which I'll share... but I'd be fascinated to hear what other people think!)