Hotel marketers are still grappling with matching business objectives to the appropriate social media but not as much as they are wrestling over the definitive social media metrics. In this quandary, it is both relevant and helpful to remember that consumers are still figuring out social media as well. That said, travel consumers are usually ahead of most suppliers and large global corporate brands. Recent research reveals consumers employ social channels when seeking useful information in the context of their point in the buying process and that they expect faster, better service on social channels. Some research suggests guests would rather use social channels than phones to resolve issues. Still more data show consumers want to be treated special by the brands that they follow and like on social media. Consumers seek authentic engagement – not mass customization and they expect coupons and contests, getting deals and offers before others, as recognition of the relationship they have established through these channels.
In the hype and jargon of social media, it is easy to forget the consumer has goals too. Consumer behavior is purposeful; this is one of the timeless principles of marketing—and social media marketing is no exception to the rule. Consumers seek from brands numerous features and benefits; some are sought out simultaneously and still others are sequential. Ultimately and simply, customers are searching to fulfill their needs, wants, and desires.
What if you took a step back and indulged in the 30,000 foot view of your social media vision? And, it may very well be an indulgence because of the day-to-day or rather minute-to-minute pressures of managing the immediacy of social media demands. Yet, studying that Big Picture—before digging into the Big Data--may provide a key to meaningful alignment of goals across social media platforms. Looking over the travel consumer landscape, envision three broad spatial planes on which to define how you are fulfilling your guests’ needs, wants, and desires. Think of these three intersecting planes as 1) The Aspirational = Desire. 2) The Relational = Want. 3) The Transactional = Need.
When reflecting on the company’s social media plans, ask these questions: 1) How do we increase the consumer’s desire to be part of our brand? How do we make them want a long term relationship with our brand? How do we make getting what our guests need from our property easier? Usually these three---need, want, desire, exist simultaneously but are sequentially exhibited in the search process. Social media should match consumers with the Aspirational, Relational, or Transactional opportunities of your brand to fulfill the desires, wants, and needs of guests.
Each social media category lends itself to one or more of these three overarching customer purposes. By considering the consumers’ goal first, the most effective medium may be selected and a natural flow to the brand’s business objectives observed. For instance in the Aspirational category, consumers have the need to grow or aspire – to be part of a group admired, to personally develop as part of esteem creation. During the “dreaming” phase of the traveler’s decision process, content rich sites such as blogs can provide opportunities for travel brands to create awareness among prospects, foster value-propositions and convert the agnostic buyer to the evangelical brand advocate. Consider the Relational purposes of consumers--the need to be, well, social, and join groups that provide meaningful associations built on trust. Media sharing sites such as YouTube or networking sites such as Facebook affirm the guest’s relationship with the brand as other user-generated content does when it is acknowledged. These relationships and exchanges may also generate referrals. Last and by no means least, in the transactional plane, when the guest is ready to consume (be that book, buy or check-in), the faster and easier the process, the better for the customer. The sense of urgency surrounding social platforms such as Twitter and Foursquare lend themselves to resolving guests’ problems during consumption, quickening restaurant reservations, room upgrades, and booking spa treatments. All the while, these efforts in each plane and platform have the added bonus of optimizing search results for your property.
As hospitality brands refine business objectives of social media, marketers should be able to better distill what the consumer seek of brands by the various social media platforms. As consumers adapt and change their growing use of social media outlets and as new media emerges, hospitality brands that keep the big picture of consumers’ needs, wants, and desires in sight and align their social media accordingly will succeed.
Donna Quadri-Felitti, Ph.D., CHE, teaches primarily marketing related courses as a Clinical Associate Professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University School of Continuing & Professional Studies Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management in New York City. Her main research involves applying the experience economy model to improving consumer experiences within a wide range of tourism and lodging products. She was named one of HSMAI’s Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing for 2013. Find her on Twitter @DrDonnaQuadri.