Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises 05 August 2010
It once was thought that online social networking was the exclusive digital playground of kids and job hunters. But increasingly social networking is proving to be one of the most powerful channels to deliver personalised marketing messages directly to luxury consumers.
As a travel professional, you know that you need to engage your clients wherever they are located. And right now they are flocking to online social networking websites. Are you feeling a bit intimidated by social networking? Don’t be! You can easily embrace the channel to elevate relationships with your clients and market luxury travel to a select audience.
There are more than 120 million active users of Facebook in the USA alone. Luxury brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co have tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of devoted “friends” on this channel. Even on Twitter, approximately 20 percent of “tweets” mention a brand somewhere in their text.
Still think your clients are not engaged in online social networking? In a recent survey conducted by the Luxury Institute, 72 percent of consumers with an average household income of $415,000 said they belong to a social networking site, with Facebook and Twitter ranking among the top three fastest growing sites. There also is plenty of room in this realm for you to start a conversation about up-market and prestige brands with a potential client.
So why is social networking so “hot”? Like other media, social networking helps you tell a story. But what differentiates this new channel is that it helps tell the story in real time as it unfolds. The immediacy of social networking channels makes you the “insider” and the “go-to” expert.” They also help you efficiently communicate with a large number of clients simultaneously.
Social networking also gets your audience, and your clients, involved. It invites them to engage in a discussion with you and your other clients in a forum that you’ve created, helping you to build and enhance your client relationships on a whole new level.
Through the proliferation of smartphones with social networking capabilities, such as iPhones and Blackberries, your clients can now receive and respond to your Facebook and Twitter updates wherever they are, whenever they want. Up to 30 million active Facebook users access the service through a mobile device. Now you’re doing mobile marketing!
Many of these social networking websites are very user-friendly and do not require technical expertise, so almost anyone can do it. All you need to do is sign up and start posting. Be sure to invite all of your clients to “like” your Facebook page and “follow” your Twitter feeds. If you have a blog, add a button that allows visitors to join your social network with just one click. And while you’re doing that, be sure to “retweet” your Facebook update and post your tweets on your Facebook page. In this way, you can connect with people in the various communications channels that you own.
Keep things fresh with regular updates, but stay on topic. Creating a store of interesting discussion topics can be very simple. Ask your friends and followers what their opinions are on a luxury travel news item that you saw during your morning headline searches, or briefly recount a memorable luxury travel experience that you can deliver again. Someone may ask you to tell them more, and that someone may become a new client.
Social networking sites also are great channels to gather intelligence about what your clients are thinking about certain topics. Spark a conversation by asking a question like what port city offers the best fine dining. Or survey your friends and followers to see what they think will be the top exotic region to visit next season.
Of course, timely responses to your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are critical to your social networking success. In the luxury sector, you know that service is a prerequisite. Responding to feedback from your Facebook friends and Twitter followers is an extension of that high-touch service. This, in turn, represents an opportunity for you to create a new relationship or foster an established one.
Though the internet is not a new space, engaging luxury travel clients through social networking is a new way of doing business. Luxury brands are flourishing through social networking and luxury consumers are paying attention – perhaps even more than the average consumer. Are you the one who can help them find an enriching experience in their search for information through social networking? In the end, if you don’t engage your clients in the places where they are, someone else most certainly will.