Saturday, July 09, 2011

Henry The Seventh: Social media success

Do you "like"? Do you "tweet"? Do you tube? Does your business do any or all of these things and, if so, does it really know what it is doing with them?

Social media. Social networks. Once upon a time, social networks were just networks of people, doing what people do, i.e. being social, being friends, being business acquaintances. Whatever the type of network, the purpose is the same: to make contact and connections.

And that's what it's about. "Making connections." The words of Seamus Cullen at No Frills Excursions when I told him I was going to be talking to his business partner, Toni Alenyar, about social media.

No Frills is a small business, but it is a successful one, and one reason why it is successful is that it goes about its business in a purposeful fashion. It plans. And among its plans is one for the use of social media. I have a copy: all fourteen pages of it.

Not every business can devote significant time and resources to social media, but most have come to appreciate that they are, as Toni says, "essential tools". Many businesses have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and the like, but do they really appreciate what they are doing with them?

No Frills is guided by a seven-step strategy. It is one that is partly specific to it as an excursions' operator, but most of the steps can be applied to or adapted by any business. How the company uses social media is geared to meeting one or more of these seven steps. Crucially, they are not the company's, they are the customer's.

From the customer's seeking of holiday inspiration and information to his planning and decision-making, to his taking action (making a booking and travelling) and to his sharing of his experiences, social media accompany each step along the way.

No Frills tests out any social media going. With some it is a case of learning what they offer and which may assume greater importance in the future. But with all its social media activity, there is a wish for the business to be visible, to enhance its reputation and to be seen as innovative.

Of the different networks, the most important to the company are Facebook, You Tube and Trip Advisor. The glowing reviews that No Frills attracts on Trip Advisor come quite obviously as a result of good experiences and good service, but the company actively encourages customers to review what it does, whether good or not so good, and spends time in responding to reviews which are posted.

The sharing of experiences by customers on Trip Advisor is the seventh step in the company's strategic approach, but it can just as easily be seen as the first step. As Toni points out, Trip Advisor is that significant now that a majority of travellers consult it as part of their initial planning.

The attention given to the traveller's information-gathering process is one that has led No Frills to be highly proactive and innovative. For example, it now makes short videos about hotels and posts them on You Tube. Why? Because someone interested in coming on holiday searches for information about specific hotels. No Frills videos give a short tour of the hotel and other relevant information about the resort, and relevance is a keyword in Toni's vocabulary.

But how does this benefit the business? It's not about selling as such. Of course, selling is the outcome that is sought, but it comes back to making connections. Someone sees a video about a hotel, it comes from No Frills, there will be some means of connecting to more No Frills information and the result ... There may be a sale either online or in-resort. Critically though, trust and credibility are being created.

Actually quantifying the benefits of the company's social media activity is nigh on impossible. Toni freely admits this. But then much promotional activity is hard or impossible to quantify. It is hard to place a value on the benefits derived from visibility, reputation and innovation, but social media, used well and planned well, will bring such benefits, and the importance attached to social media by No Frills is reflected by the fact that there is now a full-time member of staff who concentrates on the company's internet presence.

There is way more to the No Frills internet story. I've not mentioned how Google search enquiries have helped to create a whole separate website, I've not mentioned that each of the four No Frills offices (three in Puerto Alcúdia and one in Puerto Pollensa) has its own You Tube channel, and I've not mentioned Henry the elephant. You might guess though that Henry has his own Facebook page.

Any comments to please.

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