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Five take-outs from Eye for Travel

The Eye For Travel European Distribution conference was packed and buzzing yesterday. Five take-outs and a summary of my speech is below

Groupon scepticism Accor reported that it won't let any of its hotels use Groupon. Susan Black (@susantravels), executive vice president of American Express Vacations and ebulliant moderator of my panel said she'd she'd been told by a senior person at Forrester Research that he'd not met a single company that had made a dollar out of Groupon. It works for very small local businesses, but not on scale for lager organisations.

It's worth noting that @simplifying is promising a session this afternoon for "groupon sceptics" to demonstrate how airlines can make dollars from Groupon. You can follow the debate live, or see what was said during the day by searching #tds2011 on Twitter.

The personalisation of search - Susan Black asked delegates whether they valued Twitter as a business driver? There was a very small show of hands. She then proceeded to show us how, in the States, her Google search returns are already becoming more personalised and influenced by whom she follows socially. Because she follows a particular family travel agency in Florida on Twitter  - now,  when she types a broad search term into Google like  "family travel" that travel agency appears in the top five search ressults. So in future the results shown to different people for the same search term will be vastly different. The impact of social media connections on natural search will become increasingly important.

The biggest mistake made in social media and ecommerce according to a senior panel of delegates was not spending sufficient time and resource. Social media needs time.  It's not about push, but about hearing and joining conversations slowly. Don't just tip social media someone's job description as an add-on. Make sure they have sufficient time and skills to handle the role.

Social commerce is just beginning Very few people in the sessions I attended appear to have started offering booking reservation capabaility via Facebook (or "Fcommerce" as the Facebook presenter on Day Two of EyeforTravel would like us to call it). One small hotelier said he'd included the new Facebook "share" button at the point of booking confirmation and he'd found that was incredibly powerful in driving engagement and new traffic. Delegates also said they were finding the "send" option in Facebook helpful when users can send information about a particular holiday or property to just a small group of their own social network. The reports in the room about actual bookings on Facebook were very low. I wonder what we'll all be saying in the same conference room this time next year?

How can ecommerce managers get PR departments  to engage with SEO? I joined a panel at Eye for Travel to discuss whether to outsource PR and social media. The full summary of my speech is below, but what was particularly interesting was the questions I was asked once the session had closed. A tourist board and the ecommerce manager for a large hotel group both came up to ask how they could bring PR teams and PR agencies into ecommerce activity. The problem of putting certain roles and budgets into silos means that some ecommerce managers don't have responsibility or control over PR activity. I'm always champing at the bit to ensure my clients integrate all ecommerce and PR teams and agencies.  So it was really interesting to hear from businesses about their own internal struggles to get internal PR departments, or their PR agencies to understand the opportunity to work together. My answer? If you're an ecommerce manager then give your PR department or PR agency some SEO project budgets or resources.  Give them different search terms to your SEO agency.  Train them, or mentor them  if they dont have the skill set and see what they can do.

The presentation which sparked this final debate and conversations is below

Good afternoon. I'm Debbie Hindle (@bgbcomms) the managing director of Four bgb representing the view from agencies today. With delicious irony, the other panelists and I have decided that I should be the person to talk about how, and when, not to outsource social media and PR.

At an industry event I once attended I was having a discussion with a group of people about the worst mistake they'd ever made in travel. One chap I'd never met before and didn't know who I was turned to me and said -quite angrily - that the biggest mistake he'd ever made was appointing a PR company. Outsourcing PR and social media gives your voice, your hard-earned brand to someone else to articulate. If that voice lets you down it can be bitterly frustrating. So my ten minutes today is to look at problems of outsourcing and some tips for avoiding problems.

First let me suggest reasons why or when you shouldn't you outsource

1. When you have the skillset time and ability and want to own your own voice

First  - about personality - If you want to have a personal relationship with your customers and industry contacts. @Happy Hotelier is famed in travel. Hotel in Brussels  1,700 followers on Twitter. Only 6 rooms. But his voice is heard far and wide. When I'm next in Brussells I'll stay in his hotel.

Second reason owning your own voice  is context - Also heard a Caribbean hotelier talk about power of his social media relationships with guests. He woke up and posted something on his Facebook page about the beautiful weather that morning and three guests around the pool at the time agreed with him. That personal relationship can be articulated (and observed by others) in social media. If that hotelier had outsourced his social media to an agency in another part of the country they simply couldn't speak from the heart like that.

Always exceptions to these rules of course - Im finding a lot of organizations running their own Facebook and Twitter feeds - so they own their own voice and can speak from the heart about what's happening in their country, just as they would their own web site - but wanting agencies to then reach out on their behalf to drive traffic or responses back to their platforms. Just as a PR reaches out via etc

 I'm also seeing organizations that run their own central social media platforms needing support on an international basis. For example these Facebook stats are from a Social Media Travel Insights report that we've just published which shows the growth of Facebook in some international key source outbound travel markets. (email us at info@fourbgb .com if you'd like a copy of our report) I can't think of any of my clients who has the in-house resources to currently tackle the opportunity that this growth represents

 Facebook users in outbound travel source markets

Ranking                             Facebook Users April 1 2011                   12 month growth


1 USA                                      154.2 million                       35%


3. UK                                         29.6 million                       22%


8. France                                  21.7 million                         26%


9. Italy                                     19.1 million                         24%


11 Germany                              17.5 million                         107%


12. Spain                                  13.5 million                         46%


25. Russia                                 4.3 million                          382%


27. Sweden                               4.2 million                           23%


28 Netherlands                          4.1 million                           79%


29 Belgium                                4.0 million                         26%


 2 Second reason you shouldn't outsource is when you haven't got a  clear social media policy or objectives  If you don't know what you want your voice to do or say - then an agency can't deliver that. Common phrase don't give social media to an intern - make sure your agency is similarly clear on your objectives and brand values before giving them your voice. I've seen companies say "we need social media" but not integrating it into marketing. Always start with business objectives, marketing objectives, social media objectives Let me give you an example  - Example of bar in UAE during a period of national mourning.  Social media was run by an expat wasn't aware of cultural sensitivity and tweeted "don't worry we're still open come and party" which caused great offense

Now let me run through some common outsourcing problems.

First - Putting social media into a departmental or agency silo

I'm sure every organization in the room has had the debate about who owns social media - is it marketing, finance HR or PR? Whomever owns it - my plea is don't be protectionist about it. Lead it but let it develop naturally in other departments. Curate ideas rather than dictate. Set a company-wide social media policy and let other departments or agencies suggest ways they can get involved as well. There are too many in-house PR teams I speak to who say they can't do social media because it's "owned" by marketing, or the IT team. Or there are clients who tell us we can't do social media because its done by another agency in their roster. We have clients who assume we can't do SEO despite the fact that PR generates highly valuable links. So set your agencies together understand who can do what best, let them discuss their roles and let them free.

Second - overlap

If you don't get your agencies together there's a danger of overlap and duplication. There aren't clear walls in social media activity. As PRs we are used to having individual conversations with bloggers and journalists. A couple of years ago we discovered that the SEO agency of one of our clients' was spamming bloggers with press material in a way we knew the content wouldn't be used. It was a complete waste of time. If the client had got us together sooner we'd have split out who spoke to whom so they weren't wasting their time. Similarly the world of blogging has very few walls. I was looking at a multiple agency proposal for social media in Europe last week and discovered the German agency was planning to talk to some of the same bloggers and upload materials to the same video sharing websites as us.

Third - missing opportunities

If you're not clear on what what outsourced activity you want done by whom you may find something may be being missed. If you've got a European campaign be clear which office is responsible for looking for pan-European opportunities like CNN international and Sky News? If you're running a global campaign which office is responsible for keeping in touch with a blogger like Gadling?

Fourth - not being clear about what success will look like so you can honestly say "my agency delivered" "my agency is proactive"

The joy of having an external resource means some clients think the agency can do everything. You've had a pitch process, you've chosen the agency you like. Some of their ideas are workable and others aren't. But as a client you throw everything at them, wanting to see what they can do. The eager agency will try to handle them, but can quickly drown and lose sight of the actual results you wanted in the first place. So as soon as the campaigns starts, agree with your agency exactly what success looks like. Is it a certain number of features in a key title, an interview with the CEO, three broadcast features, winning an award, link building or an increase in positive sentiment.  Review that target regularly, and focus on results not processes. If you're outsourcing an agency then you're buying ideas, creative thinking, new ways of working. You should expect a proactive service. If your agency isn't on the phone with new ideas you need to find out why. Tell them what you expect and ask them why they aren't delivering to that. Are they spending too much time on other things you've asked them to do instead?

 Fifth - don't abdicate when you outsource

Taking on an agency takes time. Allow time to mentor rather than abdicate activity to the agency so you can honestly say "my agency understands my brand" A good agency will also demand your time, so be prepared to invest time in briefing and training them. Clients and agencies always say they want to work together as a team - it takes time to build that team. Once you've built that team your agency should be able to charge off and deliver to your brief just as you would expect a team member to take on responsibility as they develop. 

At the beginning of my session I mentioned that a marketer had turned to me at an event and said the  worst mistake was appointing a PR agency. It turned out he'd encountered some of the problems I've just run through. I felt obliged to argue that he couldn't condem all agencies on that basis. In romantic novels I think the expression when problems have been overcome is "reader I married him". In this instance - "audience he is now my client"

 So  -these are my top tips

o Don't outsource if you should own your own voice

o Don't outsource without clear policy and objectives

o Don't keep social media in departmental or agency silos- let your internal teams and agencies free. Curate rather than dictate

o Avoid duplication and overlap

o Don't miss an opportunity - European or global basis

o Be clear about what success looks like - focus on that not processes

o Mentor rather than abdicate

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