How can Tourism Businesses successfully implement Social Selling?

Have you ever wondered what kind of new ways there are to benefit from social media? Or how tourism businesses could use social networks to engage with their customers even more? The key term in this text will be social selling. Social selling can be defined as a modern way to create and develop relationships with potential customers (Minsky & Quesenberry, 2016). Before getting there, we will familiarize ourselves with social media in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. This way, we can understand the important theoretical aspects of social selling. After that, social selling is utilized as a term and as a tool for tourism businesses to enhance their social media marketing.

B2B Social media marketing in a Nutshell

Social media has become a phenomenon of our time. It is inevitable that the role it has in terms of communication and marketing is increasing all the time. For a while now, the interest in using social media in B2B operations have increased. B2B marketing in social media is a tool for businesses where they can integrate already existing marketing strategies.(Bodnar & Cohen 2012, 3.)

Let us ask, why waste time on implementing already functional marketing strategy to social media? First, statistics show that average daily social media usage was 144 minutes in 2019 and global population usage was 49 percent (Clement 2020, “How much time do people spend on social media?”, para 1). It is clear how strong a platform it really is. Social media marketing can help businesses to do marketing in a smarter way when contributed well. With social media, businesses can reduce expenses, provide a clearer return of investment (ROI) and allow two-way communication between businesses and customers with more positive interactions. (Bodnar & Cohen 2012, 3-4: Agnihotri, Dingus, Hu & Krush 2015.)

Customer satisfaction and Information go Hand In Hand

Agnihotri et al (2015) emphasize the importance of information technology in their article. Using it together with sales technology will positively affect information communication. When a business has effective information communication it will generate responsiveness and customer satisfaction. To demonstrate this to practice, Agnihotri et al (2015) researched this theory by using data reports of sales professionals and implementing structural equation modelling. The key factor to achieve customer satisfaction is sharing information that is important for customers and delivers timely responses. Overall, the study indicates that social media indeed plays a major role when it comes to communicating information. To support this, a survey made by Statista confirms that social media have increased people’s access to information and made communication easier. (Clement 2020, “Global impact of social media”, para 1.)

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According to Leung, Law, van Hoof & Buhalis (2013) tourism industry identifies the opportunity to enhance communication and marketing with social media functions. In practice, this means stimulating demand via travel blogs with links to the company’s web site or booking platforms. TripAdvisor and other online communities are considered as great sources to get to know the customer and what they like and dislike (Leung et al 2013). This goes hand in hand what Agnihotri et al (2015) demonstrated in their research about the importance of communicating the right information and responsive actions from the company at social media platforms. Tourism businesses focusing on communication with people is a way to reach customer satisfaction if we implement findings from Agnihotri et al (2015). This is especially valuable as tourism business is all about companies selling experiences and intangible products. This why customers decision-making process is filled with risks. Creating close relationships with customers plays an important factor to affect decision-making positively.
What is special about social selling?
Now that we have emphasized the important role of social media marketing, we can focus on a different way of implementing it. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, social selling is all about creating relationships with potential customers and one-to-one communication between salesperson and buyer. The key to social selling is to be pro-active, to reach out to customers before they are even thinking of purchasing. This is also where it differentiates with social media marketing. With social media marketing, companies are engaging company brand awareness among bigger audience instead of focusing on deeper one-to-one interactions as in social selling. (Minsky & Quesenberry, 2016.)

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How can tourism businesses succeed in Social Selling?

In order for businesses to succeed on social selling, Minsky and Quesenberry (2016) highlight the importance of co-operation between the marketing and sales team. The marketing department should train sales personnel to use social media effectively in different channels and to use social media software if the business has one. This way, sales personnel understand the social media guidelines and customers’ interest and needs when it comes to online content. The key objective to remember here is how Shanks summarized it: “Social selling is a team sport, not a showcase for great individual contributions”. (Shanks 2016, 1-5.)

Social selling is still unfamiliar phenomena in the tourism industry. This why it is vital to implement social selling studies and theories to help tourism businesses. The following framework is for tourism businesses who are new to social selling. It is created by using Shanks’ (2016, 57) guide for sales personnel. A DMO is used as an example but any tourism business can benefit from it.

Social selling framework

The important question when starting a social selling career is: who are my buyers? It all starts with customer information gathered by the company. A CRM software where all the buyer related information can be found is important. DMOs could use the information from CRM software to find the right audience on social networks. Great tool for this is LinkedIn Sales Navigator where you can easily highlight the potential buyers. (Shanks 2016, 72-75.)

Now we have found our customers. The next step is to provide them with the right kind of insight.  According to Shanks (2016, 87) “buyers are looking for teachers or consultants, not order-takers or caretakers”. The goal is to solve the customer’s problems. This is exactly what a good DMO is all about. They are maintaining and developing destinations. To be successful, DMOs need to “teach” potential buyers about the destination and emphasize the right information to be an attractive destination for them. A great example of sharing educational content is Finnair’s Instagram takeovers by employees. Viewers get a real-life insight into different work positions around the organization.

Engaging is important in social selling. According to Nunan, Sibai, Schivinski & Christodoulides (2018) to understand customers, businesses should monitor social media comments. When approaching customers, they could generate surveys, share information about new product testings and of course, share stories (Nunan et al 2018). In addition, sales personnel should also use personal profiles to communicate and engage with customers in LinkedIn. It is the modern version of business cards after all. Last but not least, developing is required. Businesses need to always set goals. This way it is possible to measure if we are heading in the right direction. Monitoring likes, comments, shares, mentions and retweets is a must.

To sum up

Social selling is still an unknown term in the tourism industry. It has not yet been researched a lot. However, many studies indicate the importance of social media and creating close relationships with customers. This is where social selling comes in. It can be an asset for tourism businesses when used correctly. Businesses can make the most out of social selling by collaborating marketing and sales team together. In addition, they need to be active on their networks. It is vital to know what customers are talking about online. Two-way conversation is the key objective of social selling. Now, more than ever, it is important to engage with potential customers.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

Agnihotri, R., Dingus, R., Hu, M.Y & Krush, M.T. 2015.  Social media: Influencing customer satisfaction in B2B sales, Industrial Marketing Management. 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2015.09.003.

Bodnar, K. & Cohen, J. 2012. The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More. Hoboken, NJ. 3-10.

Clement, J. 2020. Daily social media usage worldwide 2012-2019. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/.

Leung, D., Law, R., van Hoof, H. & Buhalis, D. 2013. Social Media in Tourism and Hospitality. A Literature Review, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing. 30:1-2, 3-22.

Minsky, L. & Quesenberry K.A. 2016. How B2B Sales Can Benefit from Social Selling. Harvard Business Review. 1-6. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/11/84-of-b2b-sales-start-with-a-referral-not-a-salesperson.

Nunan, D., Sibai, O., Schivinski, B. & Christodoulides, G. 2018. Reflections on “social media: Influencing customer satisfaction in B2B sales” on a research agenda. Industrial Marketing Management. 1-7 doi: 10.1016/j.indmarman.2018.03.009

Newberry, C. 2019. Social Selling: What it is, Why You Should Care, and How to Do It Right. Retrieved  October 31, 2020, from https://blog.hootsuite.com/what-is-social-selling/#care.

Shanks, J. 2016. Social Selling Mastery: Scaling up Your Sales and Marketing Machine for the Digital Buyer. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.uef.fi:2443/lib/uef-ebooks/reader.action?docID=4648728.

How to benefit from influencer marketing in destination branding

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How can DMO’s benefit influencer marketing in destination branding? How have the DMO’s used influencers in their branding strategy so far?

In recent years, the rapidly growing use of influencer marketing has caught the attention of researchers and marketers alike. Influencer marketing has also opportunities for the tourism industry, of which destination branding is explored here in detail. Some DMO’s have already had a go of this non-traditional type of marketing, however, limited examples exist in the tourism research literature so far. This post briefly reviews the literature around the topic and gives suggestions on how destinations can harness influencer marketing on their brand management. Case examples from the tourism industry are presented of Greece, Spain and China.

Influencer marketing

The fast evolution of the influencer industry has introduced several definitions around the word influencer. What is common for the majority of these definitions is the influencer having large numbers of followers, active engagement, promotion of brands and skills in certain niche 1;4. Here, the following definition applies by De Veirman et al: “people who built a large network of followers and are regarded as trusted tastemakers in one or several niches” 10. What separates them from traditional celebrities, is influencers being “regular people”, who have achieved influencer status by the creation of content in social platforms such as Instagram 4. Whereas traditional celebrities remain distant for the “regular people”, influencers connect with their followers on a more personal level 11. The more interactive, predictable, and competent the influencers are seen by their followers, the more their followers feel kinship and trust towards them 1. In a nutshell, influencer marketing can be regarded as commercial eWOM: marketers invest in influencers, then influencers create or promote their branded content for their followers 2;4.

Influencer marketing for destinations

Similar to traditional WOM, destinations today can benefit from the effects of influencer generated eWOM has on consumer behaviour. Research of Spanish DMO’s has shown how influencer marketing has already adopted a profitable place in their media 8. Influencers are a natural way to reach customers who throughout the customer journey seek information from social platforms, where influencer generated content is consumed and a growing amount of time is spent 2;4;8. Especially the younger generations and millennials can be reached via influencer marketing, the latter of which is the generation with the most purchasing power 4;7;8.

Picture: Unsplash

The power of influencer marketing is based on the special relationship between the influencer and their followers. The influencer’s followers identify with them and try to imitate them, and the brands influencers use are seen real and attainable by their followers 1. As influencer generated content is seen as more trustworthy and authentic by consumers, influencer marketing is found to be more effective for boosting brand awareness than traditional brand or celebrity generated content 1; 4; 8. This results ultimately the followers to have higher purchase intentions of those brands endorsed by the influencers 1.

Destination branding with using influencers

Regarding brand management, influencer marketing is a powerful way of branding on social platforms for destinations to benefit from 1. Today tourist’s choice of destination is a lifestyle indicator, where the destination image plays an important role 3;6. The destination image is defined by Echtner as: “not only the perceptions of individual destination attributes but also the holistic impression made by the destination” 12. To influence the destination image, brand management is needed. Influencer marketing can be benefited in branding strategy, as it is a way to improve a destination’s image 8. Influencers can act as effective intermediates to create awareness of destination image between potential tourists and destinations. Moreover, destination branding gives a potential tourist an assurance what can be expected, lessens the burden of their search process, and allows destinations to communicate their unique selling proposition 3. Branding contributes also to building local pride and identity 5;6. Together these positive impacts of branding enhance the attractiveness and vitality of a destination.

Picture: Unsplash

Influencer marketing can be of help for destinations in brand management especially in times of refining the brand: influencers can attract more of certain types of tourists and influence the perceptions of the destination image 8. For example in Benidorm, influencer was used to rebrand an older Spanish beach destination appealing to younger people interested in responsible tourism, whereas in Greece influencers were used to revitalize rural quiet destinations by attracting millennials 7;8. Moreover, the findings in Spain demonstrated influencer marketing to help recapture DMO’s control of its brand and promotions, while benefiting the eWOM on social platforms 8. Following chapter moves to instruct how destinations can successfully use influencer marketing for brand building.

4 tips for successful use of influencers in destination branding

1.Congruence between brands

Perhaps the most important factor for influencer marketing is choosing the right influencer. Many studies support that both the brand and the influencer brand must fit each other for positive outcomes 1;2;9;13. The fit affects the perceived expertise and trustworthiness of the influencer, where stronger fit has better results for follower’s brand attitudes and behavioural intentions 3. In addition, the similarity between the influencer and their followers should be congruent 4. Therefore, the research process for finding the best fitting influencers should not be neglected.

The importance of the fit was also supported when researching influencer marketing impacts on Chinese generation Y’s choice of destination 9. In addition to the fit between influencer and brand, it was found that the fit between the influencer and followers’ ideal self-image had a significant positive impact for follower intention to visit a destination endorsed 9. Interestingly, however, the fit between follower’s actual self-image with the influencer did not affect the intention to visit the destination 9. Thus, marketers should not only look into the influencers follower’s actual self-image but also focus on the signals of the ideal self-image of those followers. This is definitely a potential challenge for marketers when planning on influencer marketing campaigns.

Picture: Unsplash

2. Control over content

When doing influencer marketing, both the DMO and the influencer should have control over certain things for successful collaboration. First, DMO should leave room for freedom for the influencers to express them in their own way 2. If certain freedom for content creation is not given, the followers’ attitude can turn negative towards both the influencer and the brand 2. To avoid these negative effects, the content should also avoid too commercial tone and give the followers honest, useful comments of the destination 2. However, the DMO should also have a certain level of control and establish guidelines for influencers to avoid negative effects 2;8.

Research of influencer marketing in Spanish tourism destination of Benidorm, tourism marketers suggest that DMO’s should control the influencer marketing process as much as they can 8. Here, it is recommended that DMO and influencer have a clear control where they are the best at: the DMO provides tools (e.g. accommodation, activities) and messages (e.g. values, image), whereas influencers convey this information through content creation in their own style. This way, collaboration has potential for positive results to both destination and influencer.

3. Data and planning

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As in all marketing decisions, planning on influencer marketing should benefit data for success. When choosing an influencer, DMO’s should pay attention to statistics of the influencer’s trustworthiness, attractiveness and the informative value of the content generated 4. Together with the earlier mentioned fit between brands, these factors are studied to positively affect influencer marketing results 4. Moreover, the influencer marketing campaign should be measured throughout for evaluation and further development 8. DMO’s in Spain suggest influencer marketing to be included in destination strategy and long-term planning 8. Today, long term consistent branding can be a difficulty for destinations as the pandemic disrupts the situation and actions to reach new target markets have to be taken apace.

4. Alternative for traditional marketing

Most destinations find best to compete for niches with branding strategies focusing on certain customer segments 6. For these destinations, influencer marketing facilitates their small marketing budgets to reach those specific target audiences 6;8. Moreover, influencer marketing is relatively affordable, especially when using micro and niche influencers, hence accessible also for destinations with limited budgets 7. Spanish tourism marketing professionals have found micro-influencers to be very effective in marketing 8. In rural destinations of limited resources, where traditional marketing means are found ineffective, influencer marketing is a promising marketing alternative 7. As an example from Greece, influencer marketing was found useful in reaching millennials to visit Greek rural tourism destinations 7. To conclude, influencer marketing can be useful especially for those DMO’s of smaller destinations targeting younger generations with specific interests.

Concluding words

In summary, influencer marketing can be a valuable tool in today’s destination brand strategy. It can help the destination brand to reach those tourists who share their brand values and to whom they appeal as a desired choice. Especially in times of brand refinement, influencer marketing can effectively create awareness of desired destination image for relevant tourists via good influencer fit. It is seen particularly useful for smaller destinations struggling to convey their brand with traditional marketing means.  However, it could also help bigger destinations tired of too large visitor numbers rebranding themselves to attract customers of ‘quality over quantity’. To put simply, influencer marketing can attract new and better tourists for a destination. At its best, influencer marketing introduces benefits for all stakeholders involved from destinations to tourists, thus being a powerful way of value co-creation.

Acknowledgements

This blog post was written as a part of the Information Technology in Tourism Business course at the International Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management (University of Eastern Finland Business School). Read more about the programme at https://www.uef.fi/tmm

References

1Jin, S., Muqaddam, A., & Ryu, E. (2019). Instafamous and social media influencer marketing. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 37(5), 567–579. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/mip-09-2018-0375

2Martínez-López, F. J., Anaya-Sánchez, R., Giordano, M. F., & Lopez-Lopez, D. (2020). Behind influencer marketing: key marketing decisions and their effects on followers’ responses. Journal of Marketing Management, 36(7-8), 579-607. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2020.1738525

3Blain, C., Levy, S., Ritchie, J., & J. R. Brent. (2016). Destination Branding: Insights and Practices from Destination Management Organizations. Journal of travel research, 43(4), 328-338.

4Chen, L., & Shupei, Y. (2019). Influencer Marketing: How Message Value and Credibility Affect Consumer Trust of Branded Content on Social Media. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 19(1), 58-73. doi: 10.1080/15252019.2018.1533501

5Campelo, A., Aitken, R., Thyne, M., & Gnoth, J. (2014). Sense of Place: The Importance for Destination Branding. Journal of Travel Research, 53(2), 154-166. doi:10.1177/0047287513496474

6Morgan, N. J., Pritchard, A., & Piggott, R. (2003). Destination branding and the role of the stakeholders: The case of New Zealand. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 9(3), 285–299. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/135676670300900307

7Chatzigeorgiou, C. (2017). Modelling the impact of social media influencers on behavioural intentions of millennials: The case of tourism in rural areas in Greece. Journal of Tourism, Heritage & Services Marketing, 3(2), 25-29.

8Femenia-Serra F., Gretzel U. (2020) Influencer Marketing for Tourism Destinations: Lessons from a Mature Destination. In: Neidhardt J., Wörndl W. (eds) Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2020. Springer, Cham. doi: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-3-030-36737-4_6

9Xu, X., & Pratt, S. (2018). Social media influencers as endorsers to promote travel destinations: an application of self-congruence theory to the Chinese Generation Y. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 35(7), 958-972. doi: 10.1080/10548408.2018.1468851

10De Veirman, M., Cauberghe, V., & Hudders, L. (2016). Marketing through Instagram influencers: impact of number of followers and product divergence on brand attitude. International Journal of Advertising, 36(5), 798-828.

11Kowalczyk, C.M., & Pounders, K. (2016). Transforming celebrities through social media: the role of authenticity and emotional attachment. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 25(4), 345-356.

12Echtner, C. M., & Brent, R. (1991). The Meaning and Measurement of Destination Image. Journal of Tourism Studies, 2(2), 8.

13Breves, P., Liebers, N., Abt, M., & Kunze, A. (2019). The Perceived Fit between Instagram Influencers and the Endorsed Brand: How Influencer–Brand Fit Affects Source Credibility and Persuasive Effectiveness. Journal of Advertising Research, 59(4), 440–454. doi: https://doi.org/10.2501/JAR-2019-030