The inspiration for this blog post came after reading this great post on the GROW blog: Are we killing our customers with engagement? Catchy title, I thought, but the article actually makes some pretty compelling points, arguing marketers have fully embraced social media to a point where it may now very well boomerang back. After all, “engagement” has got to be the ultimate buzz word of 2011, if not this decade – time will tell if a better one comes up soon! To what extent do customers wish to engage with a brand? I often wonder who follows chocolate bars or toilet paper brands on Twitter, or “likes” similar brands on Facebook. I mean, it seems to make more sense when the brand is a luxury hotel or a type of car, even a travel destination. What’s the difference? The former are commodities, the latter are aspirational products or services.
In the travel industry, we actually sell experiences, which are quite different than commodities. There are exceptions, of course: road warriors who travel for a living come to expect a certain level of service from hotels, restaurant and airlines in a somewhat commoditized approach. Still, if one is used to stay once a week at a certain property, be it a Super 8 or Ritz Carlton, one may want to interact with that brand via social media, depending on preferred platforms, via mobile or web. Yet, some folks will still revert to front desk, concierge or customer service call centre rather than tweeting a comment or checking-in on Foursquare. For most folks, however, travel is very much an aspirational experience, where we’ll plan ahead of time, seek feedback and recommendations from friends, colleagues or family, check out reviews on TripAdvisor, compare fares on sites like Kayak, then actually live out the trip and bring back memories, pictures and stories that will be shared via blogs, social networks and good ol’ word-of-mouth. Social media thus have become an incredible tool to empower customers to voice their concerns, comments and complaints, and where brands now have the opportunity to respond publicly, address issues and highlight relevant topics.
Given this context, is social media “engagement” just a big hype, the flavor of the day? Or is it just plain common sense, doing business in this day and age, an extension of customer service and how brands ought to be interacting with their constituents: customers, employees and communities?
So many businesses now are out on the social web expending resources and money trying to get a conversation started on their page and blog. What if they were all spending the same resources and money trying to find valuable ways to serve consumers
While I do believe there is a lot of hype surrounding social media these days, it seems inevitable that we now need to integrate its possibilities within the realm of business processes, specially in the travel industry. Not just within marketing, but as part of customer service, HR, PR and most public-facing components of our businesses. But social media remains only a facet of communication tools available to engage with customers. Engagement takes place over the phone, at front desk, waiting in line for a chairlift, or during a meal service. It’s just common sense, but as marketers we sometimes tend to forget to go back to basics… 😉