Let’s Talk Twitter

You know what subject we don’t talk enough about on the Travel 2.0 blog?  Twitter.  I hear it is going to be really hot this year.

Recently, yours truly, was asked to take Travel 2.0 international for an interview with the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA) Compass magazine.  Naturally, we were flattered and agreed, thinking a trip to Thailand would be a lovely break from the states.  Alas, thanks to email, we were able to complete the interview online.  No Thailand for me, but an easy copy and paste for our readers.

Those of you on the PATA Compass subscription list, the issue hits newsstands in September, so consider this a sneak preview.

And last but not least, thanks to the editor of Compass, Catherine Monthienvichienchai, for inviting us to participate.  Always a pleasure.

People talk about Twitter as the latest craze to take over the social media world. Why is it so powerful?

It all goes back to communication.  Forget about the word and site that is Twitter, the service is simply another way for people to communicate.  Something which we all love to do.

For many of us, we have seen this pattern before.  Letters, the telegraph, radio, phones, TV, tapes, CDs, video, DVDs, pagers, cell phones, email, instant messages, texting and now Twitter.  All communication methods that have built upon one another.

And while a lot of social sites allow you to communicate, very few have hit upon the secret formula that has propelled Twitter into our pop culture consciousness.

The simplicity, number of users and influence those users posses are what makes Twitter stand out from the rest of the social media crowd.

How is it useful/relevant to the travel and tourism industry? What benefits can it bring? Can it simply be used as a marketing tool, or does it have wider uses/benefits?

A question that I discuss frequently with my colleagues, what do you say on Twitter?  Unfortunately, for a lot of brands and travel organizations the primary use for Twitter is simply to repeating marketing messages.

Consumers have been opting out of heavily-focused email marketing messages for years, why do we think a new social site will allow us to resurrect old methods?

While marketing messages do have a very small place, the travel organizations that are seeing success using Twitter are having relevant conversations and providing useful information.

Travel Portland and Hyatt are two great examples.  Neither one is focused on a marketing message, but rather provided helpful information…in the case of Travel Portland, the local opinion and perspective and for Hyatt an online concierge for their guests.  While both of these examples do not present a heavy marketing message directly to the consumer, they realize that the entire interaction on Twitter is basically one large brand building effort.

How has Visit Denver made use of Twitter? What benefits has it brought to your organization?

We have utilized Twitter in a few different ways.

We communicate and assist travelers to the Mile High City in (near) real-time, a Twitter Visitor Information Center, if you will.  Using the search functionality of Twitter, we can monitor specific keywords and questions that visitors to Denver ask the rest of the Twitter universe.  Then, our team at VISIT DENVER and typically more than a few Denver locals, will provide tips, answers and recommendations.

Additionally, we have used the service to uncover trends in our visitors…what are they talking about, where are they going, etc.  Even if you or your organization does not want to commit to providing answers or tips via Twitter, you should at least be taking advantage of the research and insights that your

visitors are tweeting about on a daily basis.

Finally, we leverage the knowledge that is present in Twitter to better inform and educate our non-Twitter visitors.  Using Twitter, we pull specific tweets that highlight local opinions, tips and hidden gems into VISITDENVER.com.  These tips and tweets make up our ‘Like a Local’ section, which provides all of our site visitors a local perspective on what to do in Denver.  So far, it has been an excellent way to introduce user generated content onto the site with little overhead, but a high return.

Is Twitter an effective tool for organizations of any size, or does it work best when an organization already has strong brand recognition? (e.g. Large hotel chain vs a boutique independent property).

I would say Twitter works well for an organization of any size.  Of course the organization needs to be committed to the effort, otherwise, irrespective of size, the campaign will not be successful.

Well-established brands do have a scale advantage…a larger database, more customers, etc, etc…so the size of their Twitter audience will be naturally larger.  However, as I am sure many of my boutique or niche counterparts would argue, perhaps not as loyal of an audience when compared to their smaller neighbors.

Furthermore, larger brands maybe at a disadvantage with new technology such as Twitter.  These brands pull from a wider cross-section of the social and economic scale, and, in theory, could have a less tech-savvy audience than a niche property.

What strategies should travel and tourism organizations employ to best engage with (and increase) their ‘followers’ on Twitter?

That depends if you want quality or quantity.

Currently, you see a lot of brands and frankly, spammers, following anyone and everyone on Twitter.  Sure, that organization’s follower count appears to be high, but at what cost.

The better strategy, like search engine optimization and lead generation, is to built your list or followers, organically.  The secret is talking to people.  That is what Twitter is all about, the more you say, the more people want to know and the more people that will follow you.

Should organizations actively try to direct more people to their ‘Tweets’ or should they let followers grow organically?

A little of both.  Your messages or tweets should be first and foremost be interesting to the reader.  Once you have successfully engaged the Twitter community with interesting content, you then need to educate the other segment of your visitors who are unfamiliar with Twitter.

Think about ways to take the valuable content created on Twitter and present that to users who are not participating in Twitter.

At VISIT DENVER we have taken the messages out of Twitter and presented them to our visitors on VISITDENVER.com as tips about the Denver area.  Additionally, we explain where these messages are from and what Twitter is.  Some of our website visitors will explore Twitter further; others will simply take the content at face value.  Either situation is fine with us, but for those visitors who become part of the Twitter community we have not only added them to our follower count, but created a long-term relationship.

Who within an organization should be responsible for ‘Tweets’ and monitoring feedback? What kind of resources does this involve? Should it be managed by one department (if so which one?) or should it involve a wider section of the organisation?

Another very popular question and unfortunately, one that will have a different answer for each tourism organization.

Typically, a Marketing or Communications department seems to be a natural and popular choice for managing a Twitter campaign.  However, participation in Twitter should not be limited to just one or two departments.

The team at Experience Columbus (Columbus, Ohio) is a perfect example of how to adopt Twitter throughout an organization.  Participation is not limited to only the Marketing or Communications team, but is open all team members.  This widespread use creates a richer and more informative experience for the local or potential visitor, while leveraging the knowledge within the staff.

As far as resources, again, that depends on the organization.  A Twitter campaign does have the potential to involve a significant amount of time and resources, however careful management and planning should prevent this type of situation from happening.

How important is it that organizations maintain an appropriate ‘tone’ and brand image on Twitter – one that both engages with followers in an informal way, but doesn’t conflict with the wider branding/marketing strategies of the organization?

In my opinion, very important.  It is a delicate balance to strike, informal enough to seem friendly and approachable, but still professional to maintain a sense of responsibility.

The ‘tone’ of your tweets should be established before you begin.  What words and phrases do you want to use or not use?  How do you reply to serious questions or complaints, and who answers those questions?  Should we tweet as the brand or as individual representatives of the brand?

Establishing these guidelines prior to the start of a Twitter campaign will ensure a consistent message for your followers.

Any other issues/strategies that travel and tourism organizations should think about when starting to ‘Tweet’?

Another popular question is how to handle recommendations made from Twitter and what, if any, legal responsibility the tourism organization may have in regards to the tweet.

While I have not seen any examples of lawsuits due to a recommendation via tweet, it certainly would not hurt to develop a policy and procedure to address this potential issue.

How does Twitter fit in with Facebook and other social media/web 2.0 activities?

It depends on your goals.  If both Facebook and Twitter are options in your social media marketing campaign, then using them either in conjunction or to promote the other social network makes logical sense.

However, an effective Twitter campaign does not necessarily have to be run in conjunction with other social sites…it is possible to run a Twitter-only campaign.

How can organizations measure the success of Twitter and other social media activities?

There are a few different ways to monitor the success of Twitter.  Of course, the measurements used are not the same as traditional web statistics such as unique visits or time spent.  With social sites, we simply do not have access to these metrics.

One of the better methods currently available are the 4 metrics put forth by our colleague Peter Kim.  The metrics: attention, participation, authority and influence are not as concrete as unique visits (for example), but do allow for insight into the effectiveness of our campaigns.

We have talked about using these metrics quite a bit on the Travel 2.0 blog.

Another good measurement tool is Twitter Grader.  The service is built upon a formula that measures several Twitter related factors, including the number of followers, frequency of tweets, number of retweets, etc.  While the formula is basic, it does provide a nice baseline to determine growth and progress for your campaign.

Do you believe social media is taking over traditional marketing/communication channels, or is there still a role for both?

I think there will always be a role for both.  We will continue to see shifts in both traditional and interactive marketing…names will change, adoption rates will shift, new technology will appear…but overall, both will continue to exist and thrive.

Enough of my thoughts, what do you think?  Give us your answers in the comments.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.