Social media promotion packages: Engagement by Social Media

Establishing interactions and relationships with customers and prospects does not necessarily mean that they are engaged. As previously men...

Establishing interactions and relationships with customers and prospects does not necessarily mean that they are engaged. As previously mentioned, customer engagement is more connected to emotional and social bonds between a company and community members and among members within a community. Therefore, firms should try to understand the right decisions to make in order to employ a successful and engaging social media approach, considering that each social medium has its own language and rules. What works on Facebook does not necessarily work on Twitter, etc. Moreover, the proliferation of new social media further highlights the importance to improve social media knowledge and awareness.

To start with, a first step is the analysis of company’s features and target markets’ profiles to understand the preferable media to employ. Hereafter, according to available corporate resources (budget, staff, etc.), technology knowledge, interest of customer segments, etc., the company can choose the social media mix that should be managed coherently with other firms’ actions.

Consumers’ Engagement in Online Corporate Blogs

A way travel companies can employ to interact with their customers and with prospects is setting up a corporate blog dedicated to the company, a specific brand or a certain product. When developing a corporate blog a travel company can make various decisions about the focus, the funding, and the governance, according to its specific features (Wirtz et al. 2013).

Concerning the first aspect, the community focus can be mainly related to a specific firm (company, brand, product), can concern a wider shared interest, or both. Companies with strong brand identities can focus mainly on their brands. On the contrary, for companies with weak brand identities is advisable to focus on a wider topic rather than on the single brand, exploiting the community members' interests (Fournier and Lee, 2009). In this way, they have the opportunity to develop low-cost relationships and to enlarge their brands.

Corporate communities can be online, offline, or a hybrid between the two forms. Several online corporate communities are the result of previous forms of offline communities. Furthermore, online communities can have also offline specific activities. For example, people can connect through online games blogs: they can play together in the virtual world, share content and opinions about the game and, at the same time, they can organize some offline events in order to try new products, and to participate to fairs, annual meetings, etc.

Concerning funding and governance, corporate communities can be created and then managed by the company itself and/or the community of enthusiastic of that brand/topic (Wirtz et al. 2013). Some scholars suggest a hybrid approach of governance based on a shared managed approach that contributes to the development of high engaging environments based on co-creation (Fournier and Lee 2009; Hatch and Schultz 2010). This is because governance can affect credibility: when the community is completely controlled and managed by the company, online content may be perceived as less credible. Indeed, two-sided information reflects a more authentic approach that increases credibility and consequently the opportunity of engagement.

The relationship between the motivation of consumers to engage and the actual online community engagement is conditioned by some moderators (factors that can modify the process of engagement) related to the product, the size of the online community, and the customer (Wirtz et al. 2013).

First, product complexity and involvement can influence customer participation to the community. For complex products characterized by high involvement, the experience of participating in the online community assumes more value in terms of practical implications. Taking part in a community allows users to get information about a product, to interact with a brand and with other community members, reducing the perception of risk about the purchase.

Second, the size of the online community is another important mediator. Generally, small brand communities allow members to create more tight relationship with others and then increase the level of engagement with the company/brand/ product.

Third, consumer-related mediators concern the community members’ experience and longevity of the relationship. Expert consumers are generally less dependent on others’ opinions in formulating their choices.

Well Begun Is Half Done: Give a Good Welcome

The first impression to newcomers in a corporate community (a blog, a social network, or a content community page) is particularly important for the subsequent level of interaction and engagement. A good start can overcome barriers related to personal character (i.e., shyness, diffidence) that stop interactions and engagement.

Given that only a small part of social media users are lurkers from the outset (Noonecke and Preece 2003), new users generally would like to introduce themselves and to know other people in the group. A message that gives an introduction of the community and that asks for a brief personal presentation can incentive new members to interact for the first time. This action can trigger messages of other community members that welcome the new comer and therefore stimulate a conversation. Moreover, such a start could reduce the perception of risk of writing a post.

The reply to newcomers’ messages and to new subscriptions should be very quick. If not possible a real-time response (with maybe an automatic procedure), the reply or “welcome” should be sent as soon as possible. The perception of the right timing of response obviously varies according to the type of social media considered. Certainly, mobile technologies increase expectations about real-time responses but, at the same time, offer community managers new instruments to keep themselves updated about what is happening on social media, offering additional opportunities for prompt replies.

Finally, novices do not know all the community procedures and customs, therefore, it could be useful to give them, in the first introductory message, main information about the group and main working procedures. In this step, it is particularly important to be very kind also in case of naïve questions, otherwise, the new member could decide to stop posting for the future or even to leave the community. Sometimes rude and unfriendly responses come from other community members. In this case, the company can act as a moderator in the conversation trying to change the tone of the response in order to isolate impolite feedbacks and enhance the sense of community and social bonds.

People entering in a new community expect to be able to publish easily. This does not mean that anyone can post whatever without rules. The objective should be to create a safe community environment, along with clear and simple procedures to follow in order to become a member and start participating (registration process, privacy options, etc.). In particular, technical problems can stop conversations. In these cases, community members are key sources of information and their collaboration allows companies to rapidly solve the problem.

Engaging Content on Social Media

Irrespective of the kind of social media, what is really important in order to engage customers is the content published. Engaging content can create a continuous interaction with consumers/prospects and stimulate word-of-mouth, generating all the previously mentioned benefits that this implies.

Therefore, it is useful for companies to understand which characteristics of social media content can affect customer engagement. Sometimes, this is not linked necessarily to specific features of a product, a brand, or a firm but it can depend more likely on the company’s ability to create engaging stories that, in turn, produce an emotional bond.

Hereafter, a few possible suggestions to create engaging content on social media are provided. These actions can be valid for different kinds of social media (social networks, content communities, corporate blogs, etc.), otherwise considering the necessarily adaptations.

Firms often underestimate that social media content has to be of interest for their users (Sernovitz 2006) and congruent to norms and narrative style of the community (Kozinets et al. 2010). This means to have a deep knowledge of various customers’ profiles and awareness of what they expect from the conversation on that medium. Then, before deciding the social media approach to adopt, it is recommended to conduct specific investigation about company’s target markets and to explore main working principles for each social medium.

The company’s ability to create and tell a story can increase customers and prospects’ engagement (Mangold and Faulds 2009; Sasoon 2012; Fontana 2013). Storytelling is a good way to create content in a narrative form. Stories can concern the company, special events, the management, the staff, other customers, etc. Each event can be a story to be told. A valuable example previously mentioned earlier is the blog “Marriott on the move” managed by Bill J.W. Marriott who posts comments about his personal life, business life, and anecdotes about him and his family. In the case of customers' narratives shared on the blog or on the company’s social network page, we notice a double effect that can engage other users and create conversations: content enrichment of the page and storytelling. For
example, two customers who get engaged during the travel could decide to publish the photo of a sparkling ring to say thank you to the lovely staff.

Generally, content related to strong emotions (humor, joy, fear, sadness) are more likely to create engagement and then to be forwarded to other people (Dobele et al. 2007). Very humorous jokes and stories are able to meet even infrequent senders (Phelps et al. 2004). In particular, “high-arousal” positive (awe) or negative (anger, anxiety) emotions tend to be more engaging and more viral (Berger and Milkman 2012). Furthermore, visual content (pictures, photos, and videos) have been demonstrated to be particularly engaging and to mediate travel experience (Tussyadiah and Fesenmaier 2009).

Social media content can be obviously promotion-oriented and related to the brand, the company, or a specific product. However, firms should pay attention to the risk of too self-referring content. Social media users appreciate a balance and alternation of corporate-centric content and users-centric content, generally referred to other topics of discussion about their habits, their preferences, etc. (i.e., the best ways to pack). Finally, social media content represents for people a form of entertainment and then it should be always innovative and not too repetitive in order to avoid annoying users.

In fact, social media users sometimes interact with firms or brands via social media because they want to obtain a concrete benefit: for example, getting discounts, purchasing products, and services, reading reviews and product rankings (IBM 2011). In these cases, special offers dedicated to social media users (e.g., Facebook rates or fares) and connections with travel reviews websites represent interesting content. For example, TripAdvisor Widgets allow companies to add TripAdvisor content to their own website or social media page that displays the latest reviews and awards. TripAdvisor widgets give valuable information to social media users and encourage customers to post a review.

Call Social Media Users to Action

One easy way to continuously generate innovative and engaging content for social media users is “call them to action,” that is to ask for their participation and stimulate them to share their experiences by publishing posts, photos, videos, etc. (Mangold and Faulds 2009). Participation of users can be stimulated in different ways:
• request to answer to a question (i.e., what you cannot forget when packing? which is your mood today? with different options depicted by two funny pictures);
• request to give an opinion (i.e., What do you prefer? Sea or mountains?);
• request to share photos, videos, audio, etc.;
• request to participate to a contest.

Posts, opinions and, generally speaking, user-generated content shared on social media, if related to the travel experience, a brand, a destination, etc., represent free word-of-mouth even more valuable because it comes from peers. Therefore, it is perceived as more credible by users rather than content published by the company. Moreover, user-generated content engage who is posting but also other users because enrich the content of the page and stimulate conversations.

A particular way to ask for social media users’ participation is crowdsourcing. The company posts a problem or a proposal online in a specific community and all the members offer ideas to solve the problem or improve a project (Brabham 2008). For example, a request to collaborate to something: give ideas for a new hotel concept, or help the company to conceive the new advertising campaign, etc. The winning ideas could also be awarded and then realized by the company.

Contests can be very appealing and helpful instruments to create conversations. They can stimulate users to create contents that enrich the entire community. For example, a restaurant could ask social media users (i.e., Facebook) to post their favorite cake recipe in order to innovate the menu, the best idea being awarded with a free dinner. The dinner could become an occasion for the award ceremony to which all the community members should be invited. This action generates possible social bonds in real life and produces new contents for the future. Indeed, the day after the event, other community members involved in the contest will expect the company and other people telling them about the dinner experience through photos, videos, messages, etc. An event like that can generate also a high level of virality on other social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) before, during and after the event.

An Investigation on European Hotel Brands Facebook Approaches

In the light of previous social media approaches, this section deals with some useful findings of a study conducted by Minazzi and Lagrosen in 2013 in order to investigate the use of social media by main European hotel brands.

Research was conducted in the period March–April 2013 and methodology consisted in the analysis of the Facebook pages of selected European hotel brands by means of 14 items that can be grouped in five categories: accessibility, information, “call to action,” connections, and performance.

social media promotion packages


For the purpose of the present analysis, we will focus especially on the second part of the study that provided a content analysis of the posts published in 2012.

Facebook social media promotions


The results of the content analysis are displayed above. Nearly 48 % of posts are promotion related.41 Hot topics are the promotion of a specific hotel (29 %) and of the destination (28 %). Only 16 % of the posts are contest-related. The overall impression coming from the analysis is that the majority of posts stems from the hotel brand itself, mainly to promote the hotels of the chain. Therefore, the Facebook page seems to be used more as a traditional marketing tool rather than as a
media to engage with users. This is confirmed by the results related to the level of interaction with users. 42 % of posts ask for user-generated content, especially to answer to a question and to give an opinion, only 1 % of posts ask for the collaboration of users (different from giving the opinion) that could be, for example, asking the users to help the company to create a slogan or similar. Moreover, only 1 % of hotel brands respond in the posts to something or to someone.

The interaction with users is often interrupted by a link to another website (60.4 %). Moreover, only 5 % of posts give an advice or a comment on something (different from a specific hotel of the brand). Consequently, the opportunity of engagement will be reduced. A possible reason of this behavior could be the lack of commitment in creating interaction on this media following the belief that funny
pictures or amazing photos (the preferred content published, 55 %) are enough to create engagement. As mentioned in Sects. 4.3.1 and 4.3.2, customer engagement is the result of both emotional and relational bonds connected to intimacy.

The analysis of counting metrics supports the findings related to the lack of interaction and engagement with users. In practice, we noticed a significant gap between number of “like” and the number of people “talking about this”. This means that hotel brands are not able to fully exploit the opportunities offered by people who like the page but who do not interact with the brand. The ability to encourage lurkers to post, stimulating interactions, can be a first step to create engagement with Facebook users. Moreover, replying to users posts and asking for their collaboration and experience, as well as promoting contests could be useful actions in order to create a higher level of engagement, trying also to influence customer loyalty, word-of-mouth and sales.

Facebook is confirmed to be the most used social media among examined hotel brands. From the point of view of customer engagement ability, and considering the moderate level of integration and connection among different media pointed out, investigated European hotel brands generally are positioned in the first stages of development of a social media approach on the continuum from Social media presence to Social CRM. However, at the same time, they reveal some signals of a gradual development of the social media approach directed to “call to action.” This is mainly connected to the attempt to convert social networking contacts into sales by means of the “book now” function.

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