Building a meaningful community of Twitter followers
Wednesday 10, March 2010
Online travel shopping service Yapta.com has made judicial use of social media applications to engage its customers.
The company, which was launched in May 2007 and has alerted hundreds-of-thousands of travellers to more than $150 million in travel savings, introduced a social feature that allows travellers to flaunt their airfare or hotel savings on Facebook. In February 2009, Yapta began to issue airfare savings alerts via Twitter.
As far as Twitter is concerned, the company believes its utility is assessed in a manner that’s consistent with all of its other online communications.
“We gauge the viral awareness Twitter generates, the actual traffic it drives, and the behaviour of the visitors that come to Yapta through the Twitter channel,” says Yapta’s CEO Tom Romary, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2010 Conference.
He added, “We also assess Twitter as part of our overall CRM strategy, looking at how efficient and effective it is at addressing questions from users. Our current use of Twitter for CRM is similar to how we use our site or email to communicate to members where they can find answers to FAQs, or share feedback.”
In an interview with EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta, Romary spoke in detail about Twitter and its usage. Excerpts:
How is your company using Twitter and made it part of your social media strategy?
Tom Romary: Yapta uses Twitter as an extension of its product, as a CRM tool, and as a traffic driver. In February 2009, Yapta began to issue airfare savings alerts via Twitter. Because airfare prices fluctuate quite frequently, giving Yapta users the option to receive alerts via Twitter (in addition to email) only enhances their ability to capture perishable savings.
We also use Twitter as a CRM tool to help answer commonly asked questions and to cultivate user feedback. We also tweet about important company / product news, and valuable traveller information /updates.
Lastly, we use Twitter to drive awareness and visits to our blog – which is a key portal for the adoption of Yapta. 60% of the visitors coming from our blog are new; they spend more than 5 minutes on our site; and generate an average of 6.6 pageviews per visit. Very solid metrics.
Through this combined social media strategy, we’ve been able to build a community of thousands of Twitter followers and we’ve been included on hundreds of “lists”.
A US study has indicated that younger Internet users are losing interest in blogging. The number of 12 to 17-year olds in the US who blog has halved to 14% since 2006. What does this denote as far as the usage of Twitter is concerned?
Tom Romary: For Yapta, reaching the 12-17 year-old audience isn’t a key objective as they don’t conduct a lot of online travel planning. Our core audience (and Twitter followers) consists largely of frequent leisure travellers, small business travellers, travel bloggers / reporters, and online bargain hunters.
That said, the research does underscore that Twitter is the perfect forum for exposing Yapta.com to future frequent travellers. After all, they’ll be off to college soon and may be shopping for affordable flights home or to spring break.
There are two clear sides to the use of Twitter for airlines: reputation management and promotions. Hotels are using the same to interact with their customers and inform them of new offers, hotel openings and job opportunities. What new trends have you witnessed?
Tom Romary: United Airlines and JetBlue recently began using Twitter to clear distressed inventory. United launched “Twares” where it clears off seats for the upcoming weekend every Wednesday and Thursday. JetBlue’s “Cheeps” programme works along similar lines. Alaska Airlines is also implementing some innovative uses of Twitter.
From a relationship building perspective, another unique use of Twitter is Lufthansa’s “MySkyStatus.” While you’re flying, MySkyStatus automatically updates to your Twitter account with your departure, location and arrival information. Right now, it’s not generating any revenue for Lufthansa, but if they integrate a field to input a passenger’s frequent flyer number, they might be able to mine the data for some unique insights. However, right now, they’re concentrating on building a relationship with passengers through Twitter, not hammering them with ads.
How do you think Twitter can be used to drive audience to other social media platforms such as blogs and networking sites for engagement?
Tom Romary: We link to our blog via Twitter every time we post something new. We track the click performance by using bit.ly as our URL shortener. Thus far, Twitter has proven to be an effective traffic driver for the blog – and we can actually measure (by clicks) which type of blog content is of most compelling to our Twitter followers. For instance, we know that when we “blog n’ tweet” about new airfare sales or baggage fees, we’ll get more visits than if we blogged / tweeted about airport parking or potential weather delays.
Additionally, Google has started to index the URLs that appear within Twitter updates. By linking to your site or blog via Twitter (in a compelling way so that it’s “re-tweeted”) and leveraging select keywords, you can actually give your SEO efforts a lift – meaning you’ll be more visible in Google’s organic search results.
Last year, it emerged that Twitter is planning to launch paid-for commercial accounts, which would provide corporate users with additional services to those that are freely available on the microblogging service. How do you assess this development?
Tom Romary: Twitter currently views @yaptaalerts - our Twitter alert feed - as a free corporate account. It works very well as a free service and we have no intention of adding any bells or whistles that would require us to upgrade to Twitter’s paid service.
How should companies go about setting up a team or structure for usage of Twitter? How can the usage be optimised or made part of an integrated communication plan?
Tom Romary: Yapta’s Communications Director is responsible for managing all the discussions on Twitter and other social media platforms. While it’s only a portion of his overall responsibilities, it’s not overwhelming for one person to manage. From a communications standpoint, we feel it’s important to have a presence on Twitter, but it doesn’t take an army of people and to manage it or to leverage its reach.
What does the future hold for this medium and how can one prepare their travel business?
Tom Romary: Twitter will continue to be a key piece of Yapta’s overall communications strategy. A number of travel businesses are already leveraging Twitter for a myriad of uses and – depending on their success – may be looking to grow their efforts with the medium. They sky is the limit for Twitter’s application in travel. I would guess that in the coming months most travel companies will be examining where Twitter (or social media in general) fits within their product / service and how it can benefit their customers – if they haven’t already.
Tom Romary is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Social Media Strategies for Travel USA 2010 Conference. The two-day conference will take place in San Francisco (March 24-25).
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