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How can Social Media benefit a business?

It was one the main questions that dominated The World Travel Market In London this week. Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Linkedin and blogs. The seminars on the subject were packed and yet few seemed to understand what it is all about.

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“Is this the queue for the blogging seminar at North gallery Room 10?” I politely asked the Brazilian at the end of the queue that snaked down a long slightly claustrophobic corridor in an area way above the main conference hall.

“I’m afraid so,” came the reply.  “There are too many people wanting to get in and apparently they are just trying to expand it into the next door room as well so we can all attend.”  Within 10 minutes I was in the middle of the queue rather then end as people kept joining but we hadn’t moved forward a single pace. The official got the extra room and when it got underway twenty minutes late there was standing room only. 

The session was called “Blighter or Wrogger? The new travel content providers.”

Inside a panel of four experts, including travel editors from national newspapers, told us about travel blogging and how bloggers are the new journalists.  “No journalist can continue writing just in print,” said one of the editors, Sally Shalom.

“All the great writers do other things and are multi-tasking,” said Debbie Hindle from Four BGB.

We were told how easy it is to set up a blog and then just start telling the world about whatever takes your fancy. Little mention was made of content or why a person would come to one particular blog as opposed to the other 152 million on the Internet. Very little was made of how a blog is financed and if it can put dinner on the table. The audience seemed to lap it all up though as they planned their future.

It reminded me of the old adage about the Californian gold rush that the people who were successful and made money were not the people that found gold but the ones that sold shovels.  They fed a dream.  It seemed to me that the real winner in much of the blogging world is WordPress that hosts 17.5m of them and web site designers/advisors. Perhaps the people that get paid to talk about it and advise are doing OK as well.

Just setting up a blog and expecting it to be read is a nice idea but somewhat based in the world of fantasy. If people judge a blog’s success by numbers reading it and money made then the odds are highly stacked against coming out on top.

This winter there will be a huge expansion in ski blogs as every company, chalet, bar and ski business seems to be planning a blog to tell the world about their experiences and their products.  The first question is ‘Will they get read?” and the second is “Will they get read by the customer?” and next is “Will that customer then purchase the product?” It will be interesting to see what happens. Most of the blogs are not done for fun, but to drum up business and gain exposure and PR.

“To be honest with you I am not quite sure why we are having a blog this winter but everyone else is so we are too,” was how the managing director of one medium-sized ski tour operator put it to me over a drink at the WTM.

Once the blogging seminar ended I decided not to leave my place as I wanted to stay for the next one and I would probably not get back in again.  The next seminar was entitled “The perfect travel tweet.” It proved almost as popular as the previous one.

Now I should declare an interest immediately as the chairman of the session, Mark Frary, is a good friend of mine and one of the panellists, Iain Martin, from Skipedia is too. I have skied with both of them. Also on the panel were Matt Christensen from On the Go Tours and Pleasance Coddington from Visit Britain. 

“Just going out and blabbing about stuff is not going to cut it,” said Matt Christensen.

“One of the most important things about tweeting is knowing who your audience is. Content is the most important element,” said Iain Martin.

“The number one thing is to add value and reach out to the community. Making people smile and laugh is good too,” said Pleasance Coddington.

As a journalist these are all pretty simple truths but little mention had been made in the previous seminar.  Here at PlanetSKI we have a simple adage “Content is King.” The tweeters seemed to get it.

But for those people at The World Travel Market trying to run a business and make a profit the question remains of why having a big presence on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube or the blogging world can help drive sales. Does it actually work? Everyone is doing it but no one seems to quite know why. Least of all the managing directors, CEO’s and those at the top.

“Our Facebook page has not been a success and though we spent a lot of money on it and have a team of staff it is not read by many people.  I am not sure why we do it as it don’t believe it will increase sales and awareness but we will continue,” was how the head of national tourist board put it to me.

Does this mean Facebook doesn’t work or the organisation has got it wrong?

The World Travel Market had many seminars on the issue raising similar questions and hoping to provide answers.

Many of the seminars were held in the biggest conference room, Platinum Suite 1, and again there were queues outside as people tried to get in to hear the pearls of wisdom being revealed. 

Some were blatant plugs for the speaker’s product. The man from British Airways told us the airline had a great App that would allow you to upgrade you seat.

The App shows a video of the inside of the cabin so the passenger could chose a seat.  Each seat looked pretty much the same to me.

Other mobile developments though are fascinating.  Two thirds of all people in the US now receive their news on a mobile platform; not a TV or fixed computer but a phone, laptop or tablet.  All web sites should therefore be designed for these devices.

There were a multitude of sessions: Search Engine Update, Content Counts, Making the most of Social Media, Mobile Developments and Online Essentials.

It was the talk of the WTM as the travel industry, along with many others, grapples with Social Media.  Perhaps it should not be seen as a way to get direct sales that many people hope but rather brand awareness, PR, exposure and product recognition. Different people and organisations use it for different reasons with varying degrees of success.

One thing is for sure the numbers speak for themselves; 25 billion tweets per year, 14m articles on wikipedia, Lady Gaga has 17.7 million followers on Twitter, 2 billion videos viewed on You Tube each day, Facebook is the biggest web site in the world……… the numbers go on…..and on.

One in every nine people on Earth is on Facebook and they spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. That’s an average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site.

YouTube has 490 million unique users per month and 92 billion page views per month.

Flickr hosts over 5 billion images.

There are 190 million Tweets per day and it is adding nearly 500,000 users a day.

This story on PlanetSKi about social media had well over 2,000 people looking at it on Friday afternoon alone.

As we filed out of North Gallery Room 10 I was trying to weigh up the facts, enthusiasm, excitement and possibilities of the social media world against the spin, hype, disinformation and ignorance.

I was struck by one thought. This is a whole new world and we are only just beginning. Most people do not know how to use it effectively except perhaps the people who do the tweeting for Lady Gaga.

(Posted 11th November/Updated 13th November 2011)

For a few more facts see below.

For the spirit of  the mountains

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