“A great and lasting story is about everyone, or it will not last”, East of Eden.
Thank God we live in the digital era. Fifteen years ago, we would have needed an Amazon forest to write down the ways social media transformed our lives. Social media’s power to connect millions of people through the exchange of information has radically changed the way companies and governments do business, while being a promising source of added marketing value that is yet to be harnessed.
Brian Solis, modern guru of the new media, reported the most important lessons from his experience in social media consultancy into a business-oriented book called “Engage!”. The main value of social media, he believes, lies in the notion of “engagement”: New media technologies enable companies to engage their audiences in a humanized relationship of trust, by providing information and experiences that deliver meaningful value to their customers. This value will be paid back to the brand in terms of recognition, positive perceptions, brand loyalty, and of course, higher sales.
“Engage!” analyzes realities and principles ruling this mutual give-and-take between businesses and markets. Five of them are critical to Solis’s idea of profitable engagement. Let’s see what these principles are and how they can be used to help the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) improve the public image of Greece.
i. Be well aware of who you are and what you wish to accomplish.
Everything starts from knowing who you are, what your value promise is, and how social media can help you deliver on that promise. Solis suggests that the first step before planning a digital campaign should be an assessment of the company’s identity, missions, and core values. Identifying the brand’s persona allows answering to a fundamental question: what is unique about the brand and why customers should care; defining the brand’s purpose enables setting measurable communication goals and figure out the ways each element of a social media plan will be set to achieve those goals.
ii. Listen to your audience, or your audience won’t hear you.
Prior to any social media plan, a company also needs to find out who its audience is. This analysis must include a demographic, sociographic, and psychographic profiling, and a research on the latest trends in the related industry and markets. Monitoring the audience’s online discussions is equally important: it allows a company to find out what the main issues and topics are; explore brand perceptions and attitudes; discover the most frequently followed digital platforms and opinion leaders; observe the culture of the discussions.
iii. Don’t wait for them to find you; go where they are.
Customer-oriented content creation must go hand-in-hand with strategic content distribution to channels, individuals and communities that the intended audience follows. Solis analyzes the socialization of a social media object in three steps: the tagging and titling of the object with keywords that people use in their search queries (the Daily SEO Blog offers very useful tips on Search Engine Optimization); its dissemination to networks that are focused on content sharing; its promotion to people who already look for the information that the social media object provides.
iv. Get some help from people with genuine interest in your business.
A few years ago, people would turn to the media to learn the news. With the advent of social media, information reaches us through our virtual connections and contextual-oriented search-engine systems. People consider more trustworthy a message that comes from external advocates; these influencers don’t necessarily need to have hordes of followers. As another social media expert, Michael Brito argues, the secret of a successful influencer engagement strategy is to involve people who already love the brand and, as a consequence, need no incentives to spread the word within their networks. His analysis of the new social business model provides valuable tips on how to earn long-term market success.
v. Social media engagement is a round-trip ticket.
As mentioned above, many companies fail to determine which specific communication goals their social media plan is set to pursue, making impossible for them to assess the plan’s success. Even when they set goals, companies sometimes neglect to monitor the receiver’s feedback. Solis strongly suggests companies to analyze people’s online reactions towards corporate efforts for customer engagement, so that the latter can be improved.
Case Study: The Greek National Tourism Organization
Solis enlisted search engine portals that can help companies track discussions about their brands. I explored some suggested sites to monitor conversations about Greece as a travel destination. A research on Google blogsearch, Backtype, and Technocrati identified popular travel websites and blogs, such as TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Hotwire, Hotel.com.
General discussions about Greece are overwhelmingly absorbed by the ongoing debate on the Greek financial crisis. Travel blogs, in contrast, draw a more positive image. Visitors report favorable reviews and post rich web content about their visits. The main concern voiced by those who consider visiting Greece is the lack of an online source that would help them organize their trip and would respond to the numerous questions that they post in the blogosphere. This underscores the need for GNTO to design a comprehensive online travel guide that will provide all kinds of travel information and assistance to both prospective visitors and tourists during their visits in Greece. A social media team needs to track all the relevant questions on a daily basis and drive the discussions from external blogs to GNTO’s blog.
The monitoring also identified people who have posted up to 30.000 social media objects about Greece in travel blogs over the past 8 years. These self-motivated people can use their knowledge and passion to bring priceless contribution as guest bloggers, responding to questions, sharing experiences, and advocating for Greece.
Finally, Google Adwords identified terms to be used in tags and descriptions of social media content, including: “Hotels”, “Where to travel to”, “Island”, as well as “About Greece”, “Travel Europe”, “Grecia”,“Griechenland” and others, depending on the topic.