Social media – good for your travel programme?

Can social media be a positive part of your travel programme?

What is the point of Twitter? What is the return-on-investment (ROI ) of using Facebook? These are questions often levelled at social networks by those who do not use them – particularly business-to-business (B2B) companies and organisations, who see such fripperies as something that should be restricted to the world of consumers.

Yet a growing number of organisations are waking up to the potential of social media for both internal use and for marketing in the B2B world. What’s driving those B2B brands’ interest in social media is that companies are recognising that buying decisions can be influenced in the same way that business-to-consumer (B2C) decisions are. Many companies in the information and communications technology sector, for example, have developed strong presences on social channels to allow them to engage with technology buyers.

Traditional hierarchies within companies are being broken down, too. At the recent Guild of Travel Management Companies conference in Marrakech, Simon Walker, founder of online coaching system My360plus, opened his presentation on the role of social media in business with a story about one of his clients.

A troubled CEO had approached him to say that, following making an email announcement to all staff regarding the disposal of a business unit, a young employee had contacted him directly to tell him why it was a stupid idea. In the old, hierarchical world, the idea of directly communicating with the boss would never have been entertained by the employee. Now that individuals feel empowered by social media to interact with celebrities, politicians and businesses – even if those interactions are not reciprocated – then employees feel no qualms about approaching the top dog with an opinion.

In fact, this point is becoming critical in the recruitment and retention of employees. A recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers into B2B social media said: “Environments that do not provide for genuine employee engagement, and where the opportunities for staff to collaborate to solve common problems do not exist, are leading to dissatisfaction, recruitment challenges and employee attrition.”

Heads in the cloud

Travel is the most commonly shared activity on social networks. One company often reported to be a leader in internal social networking is cloud computing firm As reported at
various travel conferences, Salesforce has embodied the very meaning of ‘cloud’ by creating a corporate environment built around social, mobile and open technologies.

In the past four years there has been a dramatic paradigm shift in the area of workplace technologies. Couple the convergence of technologies with the Millennials, aka Gen Y, and you have the perfect incubator for social networking.

Salesforce’s travel and expense teams are reported to use group communication tool Chatter to create travel communities, not only internally, but also externally for customers.

The Salesforce community is more than just a travel news site – it is said 60 per cent of the postings are now by road warriors and not the travel team. In less than two years, the Salesforce community is believed to amount to some 3,500 road warriors, and now is thought to rank among the company’s top five Chatter sites.

Their recipe for success? The ‘secret sauce’ that keeps the road warrior community coming back for more is providing one-third corporate messaging, one-third travel industry messaging, and one-third fun. It hosts ‘deals of the week’, supplier giveaways and regular competitions to its global travel community.

The travel and expense teams both take advantage of the large audience base to provide guidance and policy compliance.

Salesforce is known as a disruptive innovator in the software industry, and the travel team is part of that, as it is an advocate for corporate direct, or ‘open booking’, as it is often referred to. It has stated at past travel conferences that it views Concur’s Tripit  as the ‘missing link’ in managed corporate travel – it allows for what Salesforce defines as the key tenets of any corporate managed programme to be met: policy compliance; duty-of-care; supplier data; travel analytics; and cost savings. It enables direct deals with suppliers and two-way communication between suppliers and their employees.

At various industry forums, Salesforce has said it has recently eliminated its global hotel website and, instead ‘Chatter-ised’ it, where every hotel in the programme has its own Chatter page. Employees can rate the properties, provide personal reviews, review the property details, review embedded maps of its offices and local hotels, and connect to booking.

But the most radical use of Chatter is enabling what the travel team often describes as its B2T model – that is, business-to-traveller. Salesforce has recently launched its first B2T Chatter Community site with Marriott. Marriott is now engaging in direct dialogue with Salesforce employees, offering special deals, and addressing traveller questions. The possibilities are endless – and Marriott is only the first. It is understood that airlines and car rental companies will soon join this programme.

The next big thing?

It’s virtually impossible to predict the future in such a dynamic field but there has been some high-profile activity in the sector recently. For example, mobile messaging platform Whats App was recently bought by Facebook for an eye-watering US$19 billion. Despite having half-a-billion users, the business model is not immediately obvious, particularly as one of its attractions is that it is ad-free. Yet the potential for a socially joined-up messaging service for business users is enormous.

Linkedin is often seen as the most relevant social network for the B2B space, but it’s worth looking at the ecosphere surrounding its network of 300 million members (15 million of them in the UK). One stand-out is the Here On Biz app, which mashes up your Linkedin profile with geolocation services to show you
who from your network is near you when travelling on business – and potential contacts of interest if you are looking for business leads.

And of course another trend for businesses is the rise of closed-user group networks, or social intranets – as well as the aforementioned Chatter, tools include Noodle and Microsoft’s Yammer.

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