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Influence at the Crossroads of Tech, Context, and Mobile

Everything we knew about tourism marketing has changed, or is about to. New travel industry marketing theories are an advanced rubric for understanding the convergence and integration of influence, social media, context, and mobile customer conversion.

While detractors of social based marketing claim limitations, such innovations as "context-aware" tech, and influence based selling,will rule futuristic tourism. Better understanding the  "consumption stage" of customer acquisition and retention will allow the reader to move forward investigating the potential of new technologies, reinforced by social media and mobile reach, and enhanced with new influence marketing concepts.

SoCoMo - Moving With the Times, With the Customer

Dimitrios Buhalis

A paper just released entitled;  "SoCoMo Marketing for Traveland Tourism"(PDF), by noted authority, Dimitrios Buhalis (with assistance from Marie-Kristin Foerste), discusses a new concept called "social-context-mobile", or SoCoMo for short. Buhalis, is a director at  Bournemouth University, and Strategic Management and Marketing expert who specializes in information communication technology applications in the tourism, travel, hospitality and leisure industries. In this most recent work of research, he discusses refocuses the tourism professionals on the original aims of marketing.

For many people in travel, social media has morphed marketing into an ad and sales pitch profession, one that has seen some ups and downs credibility since the onset of Web 2.0. Buhalis and others remind us the goal is to provide consumers the right product, in the right place, and at the right time . The broken  marketing funnel is not the purpose of this post though, movement toward better conversions in social is. Professor Buhalis' paper leads us through the development of "Web 2.0" and into the present day "contextual" relationships of the B2C relationship. With a focus on tech that has contextual data sensing at its heart, a new cog in the wheel of relationship marketing strategies is discussed. We're talking about how your future hotel guests will find, make the decision to purchase, purchase, and then discuss your goods and services. What's more, in this new age of sending smart devices, the hardware becomes a more important part of the whole "guest experience" too.

You don't have to be a Darwin to understand, the processor speeds, phone functionalities, and incremental techno-social steps Dimitrios Buhalis outlines perfectly. "Tech" and "social" have progressed to the point where push and pull conversion occur almost simultaneously, where the "moments of truth" in the customer journey are truly a circular path. What's not described so completely in the SoCoMo paper, is that "influence" is a major component of contextual advertising and marketing. I'll get into this in a minute, but for now it's crucial that hotel owners and travel professionals all understand where we are industry development wise. In effect, mobility has made the travel experience not only shareable, but interactive between hotel and guest. You are no longer selling hotel rooms, you're sharing the whole travel experience, and sharing it more correctly.

A Dash of Influence

Influence, as defined by Buhalis is:

"An entity is a person,place, or object that is considered relevant to the interaction between a user and an application, including the user and applications themselves."

Not only has technology driven us to the point where interconnectedness super-empowers us, the technology itself has become part of the context. At the independent hotel owner level, Twitter AND that Sony Xperia are important symbols, they're often context to the consumer. What I mean here is, the  "coolness" influence factor, or a hotel guest choosing NOT to book because of NOT being approached on Facebook, via Twitter, or with the message; "Sent from my iPhone, ,"  this is a real subliminal message starting now. As far fetched as this may seem, in our own PR and social efforts, we see this all the time. Matthew Barker

Another component of influence, celebrity has always been a core ad recipe for success. In the old days, the so-called "Ad Men" created an entire industry from using celebrity to sell such things as cigarettes, soap, cars, you name it. The soap operas of the 50's and 60's progressed into TV ads that cluttered the airwaves, shortened the shows, and hit the consumer public from every conceivable angle. Now we have Facebook marketers doing the same ad nauseum, hammering away and SPAMMING us in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong products. However fumble footed social media marketing has been, one aspect has held value, celebrity endorsements. But true celebrity has given way to what I would call "social fame" - after all most businesses cannot afford Lady Gaga as their brand evangelist.

In the truly social business model, everybody is an influencer, only by degrees. This is where SoCoMo gets really interesting. There are two schools of thought as to "where" the industry is with influence and other marketing schemes. This post at Tnooz by guest author Matthew Barker (above right) , managing partner at I&I Travel Media, it professes some necessary constraints on influencer engagement and the scope of useful expectations from influencers. Some of the key takeaways there are, extremely valid, while others are subjective:

  • Reach is not influence
  • Data on influence strength is unreliable
  • Most influencers don't measure up
  • Business' goals for influence marketing are unreasonable
  • The real influencers are often ignored

Everybody's Right, and Wrong On Influence Marketing

While the majority of Barker's contentions hold water, reach and the measure of influence are addressed improperly. Yes "contextually perfect" influencers are often ignored, as he contends. This is usually a result of bad marketing or PR hype to promote the "wrong" expert or social celebrity. However, what Barker says about "numbers" and the kinds of "followers" an influencer has is off a bit. 12,000 Twitter followers are as much about a form of social credibility as they are a targeting a niche conversion tool. Put simply, I can talk to anybody on the planet and be listened to, however briefly, because of a certain "weight" of social influence. A list of 100,000 non-touristic followers (for instance) will contain varying percentages and degrees of "context" for any given hotel or other localized entity. This aspect gets complicated, but considering what Barker says alone, does not equal a full picture of a feasible marketing plan, let alone an extended PR one. Sebastien Felix

As a correlative to Barker's piece, a paper by World Independent Hotels Marketing group (WIHP) and their Snap Traveller runs a bit counter to what the recent Tnooz piece contends. Influential bloggers, focused on the hospitality industry, can be considered for their relevance regardless of any one of the major social Klout features. The "value" of even the mildly popular blogger, can be extremely useful for ANY hotel. We're into semantics, but let's just say (10) up and coming social blog posts equal (1) high profile one.

To Barker's credit, he discusses targeting influencers in this way. The point is though, bloggers are not just blog post writers, they're Tweeters and lunch table talkers too. I asked Snap Traveler's Founder and Director, Sebastien Felix (at left), to comment on how his platform deals within this "value" proposition:

"The whole idea for us has been to efficiently connect the right influence or visibility, with the right travel experience. In most cases, this is a hotel stay. The key for influencers, hoteliers, and for us is to correctly gauge expectations and reveal expectations for each. As for degrees of influence, each blogger or media person has their own voice, their own resonance. There must be no hidden agenda."

The broad impact of ANY Snap Traveller encapsulates concepts like reach, resonance, and relevance, essentially as abilities to spread a message, the amplification thereof, and the contextual value applied by the influencer. However, "impact" is the result of these variables and many more. This amounts to what I call "basic communication physics", or the overall "force" of the message. While Baxter and many others minimize marginal influence, in public relations theory we act on an overall branding and resonance effect. Yes, these perceptual and long running variables of resonance are difficult and sometimes impossible to accurately measure. Nevertheless, long term marketing effects do apply.

Sum of SoCoMo +

Professor Buhalis and his associate Marie-Kristin Foerste proof with their paper a combination of variables connected with the irrefutable potential of  SoCoMo. Combining social media marketing, context-aware technologies, and influence marketing principles, a far more effective and modern digital marketing comes into being. Clearly, a great many elements and sub-elements of digital strategy play roles in this new paradigm. Who would have thought 10 years ago, the iPhone or iPad hardware itself, might be part of the physical and symbolic equation of adoption? As technology empowers us and brings us in contact with more information and ideas, so too our "connectedness" becomes a type of influence all its own too. Buhalis argues:

"SoCoMo marketing as an advanced form of contextual marketing on mobile phones that facilitates the creation of  social media empowered context-aware offers and information."

These concepts, added to Mathew Barker's admonition to set realistic (and ethical) goals for influencers, and direct connect mediums like Snap Traveller, reveal a loose framework for enhancing channel visibility for any hotel, any restaurant, any destination, and business. The key is optimizing the mix. The average hotel revenue manager will end up balking at the cost of running  social media campaign run ineffectively, or paying untold thousands for a platform to transform smart-phone sensor data. What directors and managers will not balk at, will be a 5% increase in Winter bookings for a beach-front hotel. And I assure you, we're already doing some of that on our own.

Finally, the forward motion of these concepts depends on enhancing the relationships of new marketing components. Success also depends on the integration of public relations, advertising, and marketing within the mobile social frameworks. Behavioral marketing, and push influence social-content marketing, aligned with the latest mobile technologies, these are all now part of the travel ecosystem, part of the traveler experience, and part of the "influence" initiative. I encourage you to read the papers and articles cited, and to further explore all these minute elements that make up SoCoMo Marketing.

Additional image credits: Dimitrios Buhalis - courtesy his Facebook, Matthew Barker - coutesy his G+, Sebastien Felix - courtesy his Twitter profile. 

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