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Going social with sales?

October 5, 2013

(Published in TTG 24.04.13)

Questioning, complaining and even purchasing – new research sheds light on how the public uses social media to engage with the trade, which could help get your digital strategy into shape. By Matthew Parsons

Travel companies have long mastered the art of social networking, but new research shows that only one in six consumers were willing to engage with suppliers in this way.

In a poll of 2,000 consumers, just 333 said they felt “comfortable” engaging with travel operators – more than 20% were aged 18 to 24, and 10% over 55 years.

Of the 333, the most popular type of communication was research. More than 60% of people were happy to ask questions about the holiday, or destination, before travelling.

Yes this was closely followed by complaints, with 56% happy to complain about poor service by a travel company on social media.

And while 42% of respondents said they would be happy to recommend a company’s service, of those polled fewer than one in three would be influenced to contact that particular company.

Kevin Taylor, chief executive of digital agency Gravytrain, which carried out the research, said: “Even if travel providers are not happy selling via social media, the fact that a high percentage of consumers would complain using Twitter or Facebook means companies need to be aware of what people are saying about them through these channels.

“Having a strong social media presence is a good way of monitoring to make sure their reputation remains intact, and they can deal with complaints or enquiries in a timely and professional manner.”

Making social media pay
Despite the overall lack of engagement, out of the one in six respondents who were comfortable on social media, exactly a third stated they would purchase a holiday using the medium.

Taylor added: “Social media has long been regarded as a leisure tool – a channel that is not used for ‘important’ purchases or decisions and therefore of little use to companies. As such, travel providers tend not to have a strong focus on the medium in their marketing strategies, but our research has shown that this needs to change.”

As a result, sales should be factored into social media. In February this year, American Express announced it would allow payments to be made using Twitter, as part of its “Twitter Sync” feature.

Twitter Sync was launched in March last year to allow customers to access deals by tweeting offer hashtags, from retailers such as Sony and Amazon.

But since February, users have been able to make a payment by tweeting a purchase hashtag, and then retweeting the confirmation hashtag from American Express within 15 minutes of receiving it.

While available in the US, it could soon come to the UK, with other merchant providers following suit.

However, Louise Newton, marketing manager at Inghams, believes UK consumers are not ready for this: “It’s interesting what American Express is doing, and in the UK we are one of its partners, but right now, the British public is not ready for this.

“There’s more confidence in Facebook, and social media is more about post than pre-departure.”

Inghams regularly adds media to its Facebook page (facebook.com/inghams), she added, including customers’ videos and snow update pictures from its reps.

“We encourage our users to talk to each other,” she said. “But overall it’s true that people want to engage with us via social media channels. And we’ll work harder to make sure we do this across all channels.”

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