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The Future of Social Media is Advertising

Whoever said that advertising is dead is either horribly misinformed or merely drumming up controversy as part of a self-promotions agenda. This article is a rebuttal for all those naysayers and managers who are slashing their advertising budgets in favor of newer and supposedly cheaper methods of building their businesses. The fact is that advertising is thriving – and will continue to thrive – through online platforms, social media included. Yes, traditional mediums have slid from the limelight, but digital channels are more than ready to pick up the slack.

Once we have long passed the initial fervor surrounding these new digital channels, we will come to see that social media is simply another form of ‘media’ and paid advertising is but one tactic for using said media alongside public relations and customer relationship management. The adjective ‘paid’ in that last sentence is an important modifier because the conversational nature of these peer-regulated websites essentially transforms all forms of communication into advertising. Paid advertising – what we now define as traditional insofar as contractual agreements with money changing hands in exchange for services rendered – is what’s directly quantifiable and active in the pursuit of consumer awareness while all other actions are forms of passive marketing.

In the future, all online activities undertaken by a brand will function as advertising, whether direct, passive or somewhere in between.

Now that these social networks have expanded their reach to global and billion-user proportions, we need to take a big collective step back and look at how we interpret our usage of these digital channels. At the present, it’s fashionable to classify or pigeonhole channels by specific purposes; for instance, defining one social platform as a relationship management channel or another as a personalized sales channel. Instead, it is wiser to deem all social media and electronic areas of consumer interaction as capable of handling a spectrum of distinct objectives.

The future of social media is not one of segregation of goals and objectives by individual platform, but rather a holistic integration of all networks where, as we are progressively realizing, content will be king. The back-end programming for blogs and social networks will soon be completely seamless so that posting on one platform automatically forwards and adroitly adapts content to fit all channels. Gone will be the days of social media experts and gurus; all that will matter is what value you give back to your fans and how you sway potential consumers through focused advertising.

Explanations Through Examples
Some examples will help illustrate what is meant by this paradigm shift. And there’s no better place to start than with Facebook.

Many hoteliers mistake this platform as a one-to-many sales channel, against the advice of social marketers who advocate that it is a relationship management channel. They’re both right and they’re both wrong. Facebook can serve as a one-to-many broadcast system if your objective is to rapidly increase the base level of brand awareness. But it can also serve as a passive marketing tool and a concierge adjunctive by having specialized staff members regularly post content and respond to fans.

In this sense, posting content gives continual value to those who have already liked your property, thereby sustaining healthy relationships with fans, reinforcing your brand’s benefits and increasing your depth of sale. On top of any ancillary SEO gains, this tactic also serves as a marketing tool for those who are in the midst of online travel research and want to check for any recent happenings or upcoming events – all part of the modern day vetting process. An active social network with the right type of content demonstrates to consumers that your property is actually all it’s cracked up to be; that there’s congruency between the onsite experience, the impression your website makes and the promises conveyed in your advertisements. Hence, a prompt and courteous reply to an online fan’s comment is more than just a reply; it’s advertising for all other eyeballs reached to indicate that you are a diligent and attentive brand.

While Facebook is the most versatile and multi-functional of all social media, it’s best to look at some of the more singular-purpose websites to flesh out this explanation. Namely, let’s look at YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Instavideo and Snapchat.

Using the former as an example, the content intended for a paid advertising campaign on YouTube should have a completely different tone and appearance than videos destined as supplemental information. Promotional content needs a strong hook and must tell an emotional story that talks in terms of emotional benefits and not necessarily features. The expectation is quality video production with seamless graphics and a clearly structured story. This is in sharp contrast to any videos produced to ‘give the lay of the land’, often recorded by a camcorder or a smartphone in one uncut chunk. These should be candid, matter-of-fact and largely untouched by the editing bay, diving into the desired information without any fluff and held together by the sparkling personality of a hotel spokesperson.

One medium, two completely different approaches. And yet both are ultimately designed to ‘advertise’ your brand. The first is active – either by reminding viewers of a brand’s positive attributes or through a specific and immediate incentive – while the second’s promotional value is indirect, giving value to current or future guests without a direct sales line or call to action.

Online travel agencies and review websites are not exempt from this ‘omnipresent advertising’ model either. With internet travel research as popular as ever, all hoteliers worth their weight know that positive user endorsements on these sites are a significant factor towards the final purchase. While these reviews are excellent resources to help a property affirm its exceptional qualities and refine its service shortcomings, they can also be thought of as a form of passive marketing. Every time a manager replies to a user’s critique, it demonstrates to all others who read the page in the future that the hotel cares about this user’s opinions.

The key here is to be polite and helpful – two characteristics that a guest would expect from staff while talking face to face. In fact, how a hotel approaches and curates its presence on the OTAs is indicative of how it should handle social media in general. Timely, gracious responses to user inquiries – including their comments on your posts, tweets or pictures – are a reflection of how you’ll interact with visitors once onsite.

Fundamentally, your online behavior is a permeable advertisement for what a guest should expect when he or she arrives. In fact, every interaction you have with consumers in the online realm should be thought of as part of the sales process. My suggestion to you: set the tone for an excellent experience by having a great online presence.

Advertising Will Always Be Vital
In this digital age, social media and advertising are two sides of the same coin. The problem with narrowing your gaze to only a social media strategy is that it becomes much harder to breach new social circles.

You need advertising to get your foot in the door and generate that initial excitement for your brand. Yes, social media is integral for managing relationships with your customers as well as for healthy SEO. And I am certainly not recommending you abandon these channels; far from it, these days you need social media to build fans up to the point where they are ready to pounce on your latest promotion or to book a return visit.

However, your reach on social media can only go so far and most of the time – that is, for everything that doesn’t ‘go viral’ – it organically spreads at a snail’s pace. This happens for several reasons. First is white noise; there is such a multitude of data flowing through a social network at any given time that a single update stands a reasonable chance of being lost in cyberspace. Many networks now offer a method to counter this issue – by having you pay! In this sense, social media again resembles two-way advertising channels in that you broadcast to many consumers outside of your immediate social circle, and then allow your fans to speak directly with you.

The second pertains to one’s emotional proximity and shared history with his or her online connections. Suppose a fan interacts with a picture your hotel posted online, thus allowing all of that fan’s friends to likewise see his or her activity. This fan may have hundreds or thousands of personal connections through this social site, but most of those users aren’t primed to listen to what brands this fan finds appealing. Yes, we will listen to what brands our immediate family members and close friends endorse, but not the college dorm friend who we haven’t spoken to in earnest for years, the estranged cousin who lives on another continent or the acquaintance you met at a party without any follow-up communications to progress the relationship. Just as not all of your friends have the same importance in your life, the same goes for the digital world. The activities we see from these pseudo-friends often amount to data points on a list; they barely have any influence on our purchasing behavior.

Advertising in its traditional sense allows you to talk to consumers about your product’s features and benefits, but it also allows you to imbue a strong sense of emotion so that people will at least be ‘emotionally aware’ of your brand’s raison d’être. Whereas the impact of social endorsements are dependent on how close two people are, traditional advertising is relationship agnostic – it relays the same emotionally charged message to everyone. Whether they are receptive to it or not is entirely their choice, not yours.

In the old days, whenever a client would scrutinize me over the efficacy of a particular ad campaign, it would serve me well to sometimes counter with the question: How do you quantity a billboard? If this vector doesn’t work, then why are there are so many of them and why do firms pay exorbitant fees to display their products on them? It can’t all be accounted for by company ego.

Nowadays, we must think about this question in terms of how we quantity the real impact our online social presences are having with consumers. But if you fundamentally change your point of view to think of all social interactions as advertising for your hotel, then it will make you all the more effective at both aspects. You won’t be burdened by a need to inculcate your fans with a direct sales message and you’ll understand the significance of building quality relationships.

Advertising and social media should be equal parts in any comprehensive marketing strategy plan. In reality, the best way to think about it is in terms of experiences – online and offsite, or promotional and tactile respectively. As we become accustomed with social media pervading every part of our daily operations, it will soon be time for use to lose the ‘social’ adjective and instead bring these channels into the more comprehensive ‘media’ fold where advertising is once again a lucrative tactic.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotel Executive on Monday, February 23, 2015)

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