Writing this post today is acting somewhat as a personal catharsis for two reasons. First, since I am going through these questions to put in place a holistic social media strategy where I work. And second, this very topic is the premise for my upcoming presentation at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel conference, next June 7-8, in Miami. Rather than going with specific steps to follow, I thought it would be more useful to share the four key questions I believe require attention before setting up an effective social media presence for any company, regardless of size or location.
1. Where does social media fit into your corporate structure?
Depending who you talk to, or which publication you read, the answer will vary. Some folks believe social media belong in marketing, others say it is purely a PR function, while some advocate it’s an extension of customer service. Others claim it can do wonders for recruitment, thus making an HR tool. Well, truth is, it’s usually all of the above depending on your reality and ressources in place. But the real answer is usually not that straight-forward, and asking yourself that question can lead to unexpected answers. More importantly, asking this question and having senior management buy-in and understanding of the stakes will lead to finding the proper solutions for your reality. You will most likely find that social media impacts the company at various levels, but some departments have more involvement and thus should take a greater part in the strategy.
More importantly, determining where SM fits in your company also defines who ought to be accountable for it. Many hotels and airlines operate with a SM task force, in many cases made of customer service agents trained and able to address most questions and situations. It falls under Operations, or Customer Service, or even Marketing. But how can small & medium businesses (SMB) manage without dedicated ressources? Here lies the biggest challenge, where it usually boils down to either finding a champion within the company, or seeking help for external providers – see Question 4, below.
2. What’s your social media strategy?
Once you have a better understanding for who “owns” social media within your company, the next important question to answer is: what’s your strategy? For many travel companies, sadly, it’s still “well, everybody else is on Facebook, so we might as well”. Opening up a Facebook page takes only a few clicks, just like it only takes a couple of minutes to set up a Twitter account, a Youtube channel or a Linkedin company page. But what are you going to do next? Who will manage its contents? Are your clients even looking for you online or via these social networks? It can impact ever more negatively your brand if people go to your hotel page on Facebook only to read that the last comment or added photo there is dated October 19, 2009.
Defining your objectives will lead to determine how you will measure success online, and be able to track the return on investment for your social media efforts. For a detailed article on this topic, read my blog post on What is the ROI of Social Media in Travel and why it matters.
3. Does your company have a social media policy in place?
Whether it’s the marketing folks, the lawyers, the IT guys or the PR specialists who “own” social media in your company, chances are almost everybody on your payroll is a potential brand advocate or detractor on their personal time. Of course, the line is always blurry between personal and professional, between work at home and personal time at work, specially nowadays with smartphones, laptop and being connected everywhere, all-the-time! Having said that, do you have a social media policy in place at your company? There are many varieties, but if you don’t have one I recommend you at least take a look at this social media policy tool which offers a pretty good template to start with. Or read this blog post on the matter.
4. Outsource or DIY?
OK, so you know what you want to do, but you wonder who will do it? This is without a doubt the toughest question out there, that is: if we can’t do it ourselves, can we hire a freelance writer for our blog? Or perhaps ask an intern to manage our twitter account & Facebook page? Maybe the agency can look after some aspects our social media strategy implementation? Here again, there are no silver bullets and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In most cases, outsourcing your social media execution to an intern, without proper knowledge of your brand, is a recipe for failure. But must you do it all by yourself? Not necessarily. There are pros and cons to outsourcing your social media marketing, you just need to make sure you are aware of all the options out there.
Start by seeking, within your own company, who’s already doing social. It may be a person working front desk, or a concierge, or perhaps a waiter working in the restaurant. If they are avid twitterers or bloggers, perhaps they could contribute to the corporate blog and help humanize its content by giving the “employee’s” perspective, thus enhancing the customer experience perspective of your destination or property. These same folks can contribute likewise to other social networks, depending on your strategy and its deployment.
Personally, I believe the leaner, the better. And yes, I have a biased view whereby I believe social media should stay under marketing, to ensure tone, look and feel stay true to the brand.
The answer can also be to do it yourself AND outsource some bits of your strategy. For example, if you don’t have ressources to justify hiring an analyst or someone to roam the blogosphere, working with your agency or an outside third party may be a solution in order to manage tools such as Radian6 or Revinate. These tools will help tracking the success of your efforts and how your property is moving the needle on its reputation management, but they require some time and efforts, not to mention expertise that often can’t be found in SMB or Mom & Pop shops.
Last but not least is how you will set up your task force. Should your social media team be made of employees from various departments, i.e. customer relations, marketing, sales, HR, PR, etc. working under the supervision of a senior manager? Or should it be employees from a business unit, say marketing, spearheading all SM efforts, with a close link to folks from other departments when required? Bigger companies will most likely opt for the former, while SMB would go for the latter. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and both approaches have their pros and cons. Personally, I believe the leaner, the better. And yes, I have a biased view whereby I believe social media should stay under marketing, to ensure tone, look and feel stay true to the brand.
Have you experienced a different approach to implementing a social media task force? Do you agree or disagree with the above questions and remarks? I would love to have your feedback so please feel free to drop a line.