Now more than ever, you need to reach your customers—and prospects—on their turf: social media. Seventy-one percent of consumers are more likely to purchase because of referrals on social media, according to Social Media Today, with Facebook being the site most apt to influence purchases. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said that companies’ social media posts affected their purchases. Yet successful brands know that it is not enough to simply establish a presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Your campaign must be inspirational and community focused, and built for mobile devices. “Social media represents an enormous opportunity for the vacation ownership industry,” says Jayson Smith, director of social media at RCI. We’ve canvassed the vacation ownership industry and beyond for 10 tried-and-true strategies that can help you optimize your own approach to social media—and help build an even stronger digital relationship with your owners, guests and prospects.
- Your owners, guests and prospects are your number one source of content.
Resorts should both support the content their owners, guests and prospects generate organically on their social media sites as well as ask them to produce new content. On
Facebook, Bluegreen Vacations frequently posts Owner Spotlights, which feature user-submitted photo graphs. One recent example at press time: On October 11 an owner submitted a picture of herself petting a horse at the company’s Shenandoah Crossing resort, in Gordonsville, Virginia, and Bluegreen Vacations published it on its Facebook content feed along with a quotation from her. The comments posted by other followers — which included “Love this place!” and “Love riding the horses at Shenandoah!”—reflect a high level of user satisfaction with the resort. The company also posts Owner Polls, asking followers to weigh in on fun and timely topics (“Haunted houses and ghost tours. Love or loathe them?”) and shares Owner Questions (“What’s your favorite way to search for flights?”). The brand even rewards loyalty, occasionally surprising a follower with a gift, such as a beach towel.
- Content defines your brand. And it should not only promote but also inspire.
You could say that traditional brand marketing strategies were akin to standing on a mountaintop and shouting, hoping the message would fall on receptive ears. But today’s audiences are increasingly sophisticated, and will dismiss purely promotional content as noise. Successful brands are crafting far more personable content that correlates with the passion points of their customers. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Instagram tagline—“Make every day an adventure with Royal Caribbean, your offi cial source for daily travel inspiration”—makes it clear that the cruise line is not taking a solely promotional approach but, rather, seeking to fuel travel aspirations. Posts focus on activities people dream about, like snorkeling in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and often make use of user-submitted photos (“ ‘Follow the fish to Charlotte Amalie.’ Snorkel snap by Alejandro P.”); exciting ship updates (“Anthem of the Seas is just around the bend. 25 days until the NYC arrival”); and the destinations their ships explore (“Piazzas and pizzas. Our two favorite things about Florence”). Similarly, RCI’s social media content is built to get people excited about vacationing, and also raise awareness about the benefits of timeshare. Ongoing Facebook series, such as Wanderlust Wednesdays, feature themes, like “the world’s most spectacular waterfalls.” And the GO RCI campaign doesn’t just encourage members to travel; it conveys the RCI value proposition.
- Use Facebook for Business to target prospects.
There are myriad ways to run advertisements on Facebook to pursue leads. You can promote posts on your Facebook page, or you can run ads and optimize them for desktop or handheld mobile devices (refer to Facebook for Business’s “Ads Guide”). Once you choose the type of post or advertisement you want to publish, targeting comes into play. There are standard ways of targeting on Facebook (geography, sex, age) but also Interests (i.e., what you have liked on Facebook, which indicates your interests) and Behaviors ( job, mobile device, type of traveler). Furthermore, you can use your current user data, such as email lists and adding a pixel to your site to build a custom list. For example, if you have the email address of every guest who visited your resort in the past two years but has not come back, you can set up a discount advertisement to entice them to return.
- A strong community is key.
Your brand has the authority to own aspects of travel, and be the rallying point for vacation seekers and travel enthusiasts. Occidental Vacation Club takes this prospect seriously. “We want our members to know they have an online home, a place where they can dream about their upcoming vacation, see the familiar faces of our staff and other members and stay up-to-date about what’s going on with their Club,” says Ignaura Tejeda, social media manager. To that end, on Facebook, Occidental Vacation Club regularly asks members about their vacation plans and to share their destination photos. Meanwhile, Bluegreen Vacations asks owners to contribute advice about their favorite things to do in resort destinations, a practice that has the added benefit of being helpful to new owners. And in fact, creating content that is not only fun and aspirational but also informative for owners is essential to developing a robust and loyal community. Bluegreen Vacations recently published a post advertising a webinar made for owners who wanted a refresher on how to use the company’s Saved Points program. Bluegreen also posts photos of actual accommodations at its resorts and even highlights property renovations. Another good practice is to emphasize resort happenings that owners may not know about. If a resort hosts wine events, for instance, consider posting a picture of one to get owners excited about booking. Keep in mind that it’s important to establish and maintain a personable tone. Your followers must know that caring people, not robots, are operating your accounts. One way to demonstrate your brand’s humanity? If you happen to receive negative feedback online, address it in a timely and friendly manner.
- Social is visual.
Social media has shifted to be more about seeing than about reading. Facebook remains the most popular site — 72 percent of adults who are online are Facebook users, which amounts to 62 percent of all American adults—and users remain highly engaged; 70 percent say they log on daily, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. The proportion of adults who use
Pinterest and Instagram—two sites even more visually driven—has doubled since 2012. Thirty-one percent of adults online use Pinterest (up from 15 percent in 2012), and
28 percent use Instagram (up from 13 percent). Daily user engagement on both platforms is also up from 2014. This shift provides a great opportunity for businesses that are ready to embrace the visual medium. GoPro, the maker of video cameras you can strap onto your body to capture extreme adventures, counts YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds and channels as part of the “GoPro network” and launched channels on Xbox Live and Virgin America on which viewers could stream the compulsively watchable adventures of world-class skiers, BASE jumpers and more. GoPro is harnessing user content to such effect that the company is being hailed as transforming advertising as we know it.
- Social is mobile.
Anything you are trying to market has to be a great experience on a handheld mobile device. Sixty-seven percent of adults are smartphone users, the Pew Research survey found. More than half of U.S. smartphone owners check their devices a few times or more an hour, and most Americans have their smartphones with them all day and even all night, according to a 2015 Gallup report. “We are able to use Facebook to break out the results for how our content is performing on various platforms: desktops, mobile devices and so on,” adds RCI’s Jayson Smith. For example, when running a campaign on Facebook, RCI consistently sees more than 90 percent of engagement coming from mobile devices. “One way brands can improve their mobile experience is to be considerate of how users are gathering information and consuming content on their phones today,” says Leon Wallach, senior director of global e-commerce and consumer insights at RCI. “People take advantage of ‘stolen moments’ to conduct research on their mobile devices. It happens while at home or when out and about. This limited time is spent figuring out what they want to buy, places they want to go and things they want to do. Brands need to be better at providing consumers contextually relevant answers to their questions quickly. Users shouldn’t have to work for it.”
- Use your insight data.
Of all social platforms, timeshare owners engage primarily on Facebook. To get started, familiarize yourself with the Facebook Audience Insights tool. You can filter Insights by Demographics (age, sex, lifestyle, education, relationship status, etc.), Page Likes (the top pages people like in categories, such as sports and women’s apparel), Location and Language (where people live and the languages they speak), Facebook Usage (how often people in your target audience log in and which device or devices they use to log on) and Purchases Activity (past purchase behavior, such as substantial buying of women’s apparel, and methods, such as in-store and online).
This data can be customized: You can slice it according to the general Facebook audience, to people connected to your Facebook page or to events and/or people in custom audiences you’ve already created. For example, RCI is able to run Insights for various types of members, including RCI Weeks® and RCI Points® subscribing members. These insights can help pinpoint business partnerships: If your audience has a strong preference for X, consider whether there is an opportunity to partner with a company tied to X.
Furthermore, this capability combined with the RCI Timeshare Online Listening Center (TOLC) can provide sentiment volume analysis and workflow to ensure that your social audience is being appropriately served through social media channels. Launched in 2012, RCI’s TOLC provides detailed monthly customized listening reports to help clients utilize their brands’ online feedback. TOLC actively monitors for thousands of individual hotels and resort properties globally across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp and more, in three languages, and reviews more than 35,000 mentions a month.
- Forget the myth that social media doesn’t appeal to all age groups.
Social media is relevant to everyone, regardless of age; the older segment researches and engages with brands through social media. Again, it’s useful to look at the Demographics tab of the Facebook Audience Insights tool to gauge the age groups that are most (and least) reached by and engaged with your brand’s Facebook page to optimize current reach but also to position your product for the next generation of buyers. Facebook still dominates: Eighty-two percent of adults online aged 18 to 29 use Facebook, according to the Pew Research survey, along with 79 percent of those 30 to 49, 64 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 48 percent of those 65 and older. But change is under way. “In the last few years there has been a massive growth of Gen Xers and baby boomer users on Instagram. Keep these audiences in mind when craft ing messages for your Instagram campaigns,” Jayson Smith says. Some 28 percent of adults who are online use Instagram—55 percent of those aged 18 to 29, 28 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and 11 percent of those 50 to 64. Twitter is more popular among younger adults: 30 percent of adults online under 50 use the platform, compared with 11 percent of those 50 and older. Meanwhile, a quarter of adults online use LinkedIn, and it is the only major social media platform for which usage rates are higher among 30- to 49-year-olds than among 18- to 29-year-olds.
- Consider all channels.
Once your company has mastered its Facebook approach, consider strategically branching into additional channels that heavily attract millennials. YouTube, Twitter and Google+ closely follow Facebook in popularity, and Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Tumblr are not far behind, according to the GlobalWebIndex Social 2014 report, which tracks social media trends. And several social media platforms, including Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, saw a significant increase in daily user engagement, the Pew Research survey found. “Today Facebook is your bread and butter, but Instagram is where you want to prime your audience of future buyers,” Smith says. The takeaway is clear: Consider diversifying to maximize your brand’s impact.
- Customer service is evolving.
Compared with communication channels such as the phone, online chat and email, support centers that reach customers in social networks are poised to be more proactive, flexible and effective. Indeed, airlines, tech and other industries have reported receiving benefits from handling customer service through social media. Customer satisfaction is higher because the responses are quicker than had they gone through traditional channels. (According to Brandwatch, 53 percent of customers who ask a brand a question on Twitter expect a response within one hour.) This approach enables you to gain insights into what people are saying about your brand online, and can help you create more-meaningful relationships with customers. TOLC uses technology to monitor conversations about, and online reviews of, its vacation ownership clients, helping spread positive brand mentions while addressing any customer service problems that arise.
As with any shift in technology, there are downsides: Some information is too sensitive to share openly, for example. But emerging technologies, such as tweet-to-call, which enables a company to tweet back to customers a link to a temporary phone number that works only for that customer, aim to address these concerns.