by Peter J. Bates

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are We in Social Media and Technology Overload?

iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy – these names, among others, dominate our daily lives, whether we’re reading about these devices or utilizing them ourselves. And, today’s marketers are tasked with determining how best to take advantage of consumers’ obsessions with these latest and greatest technology ‘toys’ as well as how to effectively incorporate social media (Twitter, Facebook and more) into their strategies. It seems that every recent conversation I have had with marketing executives includes these topics to some extent as the hospitality and tourism industries try to figure out the best way to embrace new technology and communications channels.

In our effort to be innovative and strategic, it is crucial not to get carried away. For example, on a recent trip to London I dined at a well-known restaurant that recently opened following an extensive renovation. As always the food was excellent, but I was disturbed when the professional and efficient sommelier presented the wine list on an iPad. Was this really necessary? Leafing through the pages of a wine list is part of the enjoyment of selecting a good wine. I grew more concerned when that same sommelier had to spend several minutes at a nearby table explaining to the guest how to use the iPad. What was the restaurant trying to prove? Surely, a wine list on an iPad is no more than a gimmick. Is there any added value in the experience or was something authentic stripped from my lunch?

As an industry, it is imperative we balance our desire to use technology sensitively with the desire to satisfy our clients’ needs. Effectively using social media and technology to move the ‘profit needle’ requires asking key questions:

• Is Facebook the right communications vehicle for a high-end company in the hospitality and tourism industry? Or, it is a better communications tool for staying in touch with friends and family?

• Using Twitter to publicize certain news or to drive specific promotions (50% off and the like) seems to make sense, but does tweeting the hourly activities of a celebrity chef really move the needle in terms of generating customer loyalty or generating new business?

• Not too long ago, magazines didn’t exist in iPad format. In an effort to remain competitive, publishing companies have spent exorbitant amounts of time and money developing iPad applications. Has this proven to be a worthwhile venture? In our hyper-action world, how long do publishing companies and marketers wait to see a profit before determining the effectiveness of this communications vehicle? This most certainly needs to be examined in the future.

I don’t proclaim to have the answers but I know that questions need to be asked. I am a marketing strategist first and foremost so posing the right questions to discover the right solutions is in my nature! Of course, hoteliers and travel professionals will look at sites such as TripAdvisor to peak into the window of conversation consumers are having in the web space about a hospitality or travel product, and respond accordingly.

At a time when marketing departments are watching every dollar, how many hours are being spent on developing social media strategies, creating tweets, and posting pictures and news to Facebook? I suggest we take some time to ‘stop’ and use our valuable human resource assets and ring a genuine sales prospect or a past customer to seek out business. The power of face-to-face conversation and crafting a hand-written note to a valued client or industry partner shouldn’t be forgotten.

As you know, today’s luxury travelers not only crave bespoke experiences; they positively respond and greatly appreciate one-to-one, personalized contact. Never lose sight of the impact and value of customizing the dialogue to your client. Building relationships is the right path to cultivating – and sustaining – business. To this point, I reference a quote from Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century: “When I wrote ‘The World is Flat,’ Facebook didn’t exist. Or, for most people it didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound. The ‘Cloud’ was in the sky. 4G was a parking place. LinkedIn was a prison. Applications were something you sent to college. And, for most people, Skype was a typo. That all happened in the last seven years. And, what it has done is taken the world from concentrated to hyper-concentrated. And, that’s been a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.”

I am not trying to dismiss the importance of social media, the latest iPad app or any technology platform. I completely embrace technology – I have an iPhone and an iPad and think they are fantastic! I hope my thoughts will add some perspective for today’s savvy luxury travel marketers regarding the most impactful ways to reach customers and boost sales as well as where the precious assets of time and money should be allocated to make a positive difference on the bottom line.

Sales and marketing in the luxury hospitality and tourism industry doesn’t need to be complicated. At its fundamental base, it is about offering a product consumers want to buy and making it easy for them to purchase the experience. Managing time is critical. While traditional communications channels may be becoming somewhat less effective and increasingly expensive, we need to monitor how much time we are now investing in social media and the creation of online and pay-per-click advertising, and whether or not this process is creating an acceptable return on investment.

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