Marketing execs share social media successes

By Harvey Chipkin
NEW YORK — Advertising budgets are constrained, and the competition for eyeballs is intense. But four venerable travel enterprises recently demonstrated their ability to use tactics, primarily social media and grassroots activism, to generate eye-opening returns on investment from creative campaigns.

Marketing executives from the four firms, each from a different segment, shared their success stories at a meeting of the Association of Travel Marketing Executives hosted by Henry Harteveldt, the association's chairman and co-founder of Atmosphere Research.

The programs relied heavily on social media and/or grassroots activism as a way to leverage resources, and the results were impressive: dizzying numbers of Facebook and Twitter followers, media impressions in the millions and enviable advertising value equivalencies (in other words, the amount it would have cost to pay for advertising that the coverage has earned).

Social awareness for agents

Travel Impressions/American Express Vacations launched what it believes is the first B2B social media campaign, aimed at getting travel agents excited about selling Travel Impressions' tour products through social media outlets.

At Travel Impressions, the strategy was twofold: Educate its agents about selling through social media and then work with them to promote "engagement" with Travel Impressions through those channels.

"We need our customers, travel agents, to advocate to their customers, the consumers," said Susan Black, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Travel Impressions.

"A lot of agents are not on top of social media, so we started a quarterly, free webinar series to educate them," Black said. "We call it Social U., and the first was last January. We promoted it via email for less than two weeks and had over 2,700 attendees."

Each webinar had a different syllabus, according to Black, but they are basically best-practices case studies.

"We taught agents to convert their Facebook profiles into Facebook pages. Also, we needed to get engagement through Facebook, not just 'likes.'"

Most business Facebook pages, Black said, get 3% to 6% engagement. "Prior to our new approach, TI's engagement was very low, and now it's in the 20% range, sometimes exceeding 30%," she said.

"We did this through visually appealing content, because text-heavy messages don't drive engagement. Images are the lifeblood of successful Facebook pages."

Travel Impressions also found that trivia contests helped generate engagement. It ran a summer promotion giving away a trip every day for 31 days, which Black said resulted in triple-digit increases in bookings for those trips.

As a follow-up, Black said, the company created TI Ambassadors, or experts in various destinations; it found those agents through a social media contest. Black said Travel Impressions would support its ambassadors locally through public relations and social media channels, "so people in their area will know where they are."

National Train Day

Amtrak, also on the panel, used National Train Day, celebrated on the second Saturday in May, as its example of a successful campaign.
While Amtrak has almost universal brand awareness, said David Lim, its chief marketing officer, it has only 2% market share, partly because consumers don't know they have stations nearby. The event encourages groups to offer events at their local train stations, using public relations and social media to promote them.

Amtrak also partnered with corporations like JP Morgan Chase to get the word out. Actress Rosario Dawson served as spokeswoman.
Station events, all developed and funded locally, included equipment displays, kids' activities, model trains and culinary demonstrations. During the events, Amtrak's key messages were disseminated: that Amtrak is a green transportation alternative, that rail is the backbone of the transportation system and that ridership has never been stronger.

On National Train Day, 60,000 people attended 189 separate events with 2,200 earned media placements and millions of impressions. Amtrak's website visits spiked, and Lim attributed $244,000 in ticket revenue to the event. In addition, Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers also picked up significantly. "Our goal was four-to-one [return on investment], and it was much higher than that," Lim said.

England and the Olympics

Two of the campaigns were Olympics-related: VisitBritain sought to generate tourism before, during and after the London Games, and Royal Caribbean International developed a promotion to capitalize on the buzz with its own athletic competition featuring two Olympic medalists.
The focus "was around these being the first 'social Games,' so we wanted people to interact with athletes going to the Olympics from the U.S.," said Karen Clarkson, vice president, North America, at VisitBritain.

She said that, in a first, the tourist board of an international Olympics site worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee. They chose seven U.S. athletes in 2011 and followed them as they prepared for the Games, providing extensive video content as the athletes traveled around the U.K.
During a second stage, VisitBritain identified another 20 U.S. athletes, including swimming gold medalist Ryan Lochte, and highlighted them in a social media campaign that eventually generated 9 million Facebook fans and 6 million Twitter followers. Those athletes' interests were the focus of this campaign, showing them in places in the U.K. that were relevant to those interests.

The 'Royal Deck-athalon'

Royal Caribbean, aiming to make the most of Olympics fever, sought to align itself with the Games in a way that would get the message across that the onboard experience has changed dramatically.

The line hired Michelle Kwan, the figure skating champion, and diving legend Greg Louganis to compete against each other in a project called the "Royal Deck-athlon."

Viewers were directed to the line's Facebook page to see the legends compete in a series of 10 events that included ziplining, minigolf, surfing and cupcake decorating.

"We took Michelle and Greg out of their element and put them in competition on shipboard activities," said Jeff DeKorte, vice president of digital marketing. The competition was held on Facebook, and fans were able to vote for their favorite athlete.

To promote the competition, the line bought sponsorships of local TV stations' Olympics coverage, "Much cheaper than the actual Games themselves," DeKorte said. He added that studies have shown that 77% of people are looking at another screen while they watch TV, suggesting that a 30-second TV ad could be converted into online participation.

The campaign helped convey what it's like to sail onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, DeKorte said. "For the two weeks before and two weeks after the Olympics [we] created a big buzz on Facebook as well as on other Olympics-related sites. The major investment was a single 30-second TV spot, and everything else emerged from that."

Fans who voted were eligible for daily prizes and a grand prize of a cruise. There was a huge return, DeKorte said, in terms of views, clicks and impressions.
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