This article was featured as a guest post on Tnooz in June 2011

The most common question we hear from prospective customers is; We know we NEED to get involved with social media but we don’t know how?’

All over the world and in many different industries, social media marketing is taking its place as a legitimate marketing channel, and organisations are realising the huge benefits they can achieve via social media.

For the travel industry especially, the sheer importance of social media is even greater.

A recent study by L2 Think Tank (Digital IQ Index:Travel) found that social media is a significant source of traffic for 78% of travel websites. While most of you will already be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, this is in fact only one aspect of a complete social media strategy.

Here at Digital Visitor, we feel confusion about social media is due to a lack of strategic direction, so to make things simple, we have created a philosophy on what makes a successful social media strategy…

There are two types of social media to consider, and if you want an effective, long term and profitable social media strategy, both need to be considered. 

These are:

1) Onchannel strategies – drive new traffic to your website 

2) Onsite strategies –  increase online conversions and repeat visits to your website

Let’s take a look at these in more detail…

Onchannel social media

Aims to direct traffic back to your company website. However once you achieve this, you are still a long way off towards showing a clear ROI for your social media marketing activities.  Therefore, it will be the job of your website to convert your new online visitors.

Onchannel strategies mostly revolve around activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and over 300 other social media sites. Currently, Onchannel strategies make up 99% of all social media strategies across every industry. With nearly 800 million people on Facebook, and 150 million people on Twitter, the potential to capture new customers via Onchannel social media activity is significant.

And let’s not forget that Onchannel strategies are also an excellent way to communicate in a less formal way to your customers or prospects.

As with all your other marketing campaigns, you need to make sure that your social media efforts also include set targets in order to clarify a ROI, and with Onchannel social media, this is primarily shown against your marketing and communications activity.

Here are 3 ways to measure ROI for Onchannel activity:

1)  Traffic back to your website which can be offset against SEO or PPC spend.

2)  Job applications via your social media channels can reduce recruitment fees.

3)  Communicating via these channels can reduce email marketing costs.

In the travel industry, there have been some good examples of travel companies using social media channels to promote their brand, destination or service. Here are a few of our favourites from the past few years;

1)  JetBlue’s incredible sCRM campaign. They use their channels to reactively answer customer complaints and turn them into positives. Even with tricky PR situations, they still answer every question, whether it’s positive or not.

2) KLM, have consistently been innovative with their Onchannel social media activity. Most impressive of all was ‘KLM Social Surprise’ where a team researched KLM customers who were waiting at airports through their social media check ins. KLM staff then located them and offered them a small gift based on the interests on their social media profiles.

3) VisitBritain’s activity on Facebook and Twitter during the recent Royal Wedding was certainly impressive.  VisitBritain’s objective was to capitalise on the global media interest in the RoyalWedding and increase its engagement with prospective visitors across digital and social media. The results: the ‘LoveUK’ Facebook Page was the 6th most “Explosive Page” on Facebook during the Royal Wedding week, gaining 127,546 new fans to double their ‘Love UK’ membership.  Moreover, content on the page was viewed by over 1.3 million

On Twitter, discussions started by @VisitBritain and mentions of Royal Wedding articles on the VisitBritain Super Blog, reached more than 2 million people in 48 hours pushing their Twitter Kloutscore (the standard measure of influence where 1 is the least influential and 100 is the most) to over 71, taking @VisitBritain into the top 1% of Twitter users.

As we have already mentioned, Onchannel social media strategies is currently the vast majority of social media BUT be warned….you are not really making the most of social media by only concentrating on Onchannel strategies.

Whilst Onchannel strategies can save marketing costs and drive brand new audiences to your site, does it really have a significant impact on website conversion rates? We feel that for this to be achieved, the social media journey needs to be continued by the visitor on your own website – Onsite.

Onsite social media

Aims to increase browsing time, conversions and repeat visits on your own website. It focuses on how to best utilise social media on your own company website and under your own brand and includes such activities as enabling visitors to upload reviews to your website, create forums and discussions and join your own community.

SMgraph_YourWebsite (2)

Onsite social media, like Onchannel social media, also aims to drive search traffic to your website, but it will primarily come from organic search engine traffic rather than direct referral.

Moreover, ROI from Onsite social media activity is easier to measure and should portray:

1) An increase in browsing time – on average, our clients who have quality content see the browsing time of their visitors double.

2) An increase in online conversions – provided the correct content is displayed on the correct pages of your website.

3) An increase in repeat visits to your website and repeat bookings.

Another important factor to bear in mind is that Onsite social media is a long term investment.  Reviews on your own website and your own community will continue to grow and will continue to provide benefit to your website with little maintenance required.

5 reasons why you should also consider Onsite social media

1)  Increase the browse time on your website
Social media including videos, photos and reviews are more inspiring and engaging, so they increase the browse time on your own website.  One of our clients who has created their own online community, has increased the browsing time of their online visitors by over 3 minutes.

2)  Increase traffic to your website
Referring back to the study by L2 Think Tank, research found that those travel companies who do allow user reviews on their website, report an increase in traffic of 24%.

3)  Maintain traffic rather than send to competitors
Reviews on your own site increases your authenticity and builds customer loyalty and trust with your brand.  And quite frankily, if you don’t provide this on your website, your online visitors will simply search elsewhere to find it!

A recent study by Forrester Research found that consumers overwhelmingly rely on online reviews and price comparisons to research products and services before making a purchase. In fact, the study continued to state that 47% of consumers rely on online reviews about products or services actually on company websites over newspapers, magazines or social networking sites before making a purchase decision. These results also highlight the importance for organisations to have up-to-date reviews on their own company website. More here…

4) Better analytics
Facebook provides some basic tools to help you track interactions, but they are certainly not as insightful as your own websites analytics. Google analytics allows you track every single interaction on your website; including how people found you in the first place. Valuable information like Keywords and Referrals are not included in Facebook analytics so social media on your own site can actually be analysed in greater detail.

5) Flexibility
If you redesign your website, or move your CMS, your valuable reviews and communities can easily be transferred using innovative new developments in this marketplace.

Our technology provides functionality via Javascript and can therefore seamlessly migrate from one version of your website to another.  This is more future proof solution compared to your investment in Onchannel websites such as Facebook.  Remember, you do not have total control over your brand presence Onchannel. What’s more, Facebook regularly changes it’s rules and businesses have to constantly catch-up. For example, ‘Fans’ are now ‘likes’, ‘polls’ are now ‘questions’ and competitions are technically not allowed just on Facebook

6) Brand identity
Your company should be about your brand and not theirs! Onchannel, there will always be a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or other experience running in the background, reminding people that they are interacting with these channels just as much as they are with your brand. This clearly dilutes your brand identity. Onsite social media on the other hand, allows you to communicate like you would on these channels, but on your own website, on your own terms, and in your own style and branding.

In summary:

So remember, before you commit to your social media strategy for the year, don’t forget to consider Onsite social media.

Find out more about our social media services…