Social Media for SMB Slides

I recently was invited to speak with a group of business owners in Richland, Washington about social media and how it can help their businesses.

Below are the slides from that presentation:

How Social Media has changed Travel Writing

I was invited to speak at Travel Massive San Diego about my experience with travel writing and social media.

What a Carnival Cruise Taught me about Marketing and Social Commerce


Recently I had the pleasure to take my second cruise with the fantastic folks over at Carnival. While laying back on my lounge chair, sipping Bahama Mamas and BBC cocktails it dawned on me that Carnival has not just mastered "digital" social media, but in fact the entire cruise was essentially a giant exercise in social commerce. This was evident from the moment sent in my final payment all the way down to the waiters walking around with drinks.

That isn't to say that it was bad - frankly I LOVE the fact that cruises on Carnival are so incredibly cheap and that they still somehow manage to delivery an extraordinary experience for that price. That being said, it doesn't take a genius to realize that with a ticket price (per person) of under $300 for a five day cruise that they are hoping to make up extra revenue somewhere.

So, the trick is - how do you make the social commerce experience fun, engaging, and effective - without completely turning off your customer?


Create Fun "Educational" Events!

From "art auctions" to "alcohol tastings" and "blackjack classes" there was always an opportunity to try something new - and while fun, it often ended up in learning how to buy something. One key example was that before arriving in each port there was a "Shopping Seminar" to help eager shoppers learn about the "best deals" and "special products to look for". Typically, this centered around making sure you used the shopping map provided by the shopping expert and "make sure you give the shop owner your VIP shopping pass". At each session, there was a questions and answers period as well as prizes to help get the crowd excited about what wonderful treasures awaited them in the next port ... don't miss the Tanzanite!!!

Another similar example was the "Past Guest Appreciation Party" where free drinks were used to draw people into the room and then conversation topics were flashed on the screen while guests chatted about their past cruise experiences and guests asked each other questions about other destinations and ships in the Carnival fleet. The Cruise Director then played a video - encouraging people to cheer when ships they had sailed on were shown - followed by "don't forget to book your future cruise while on-board and get up to $200 in on-board credit!"

Lesson Learned: You can drive retail sales by gathering a group of people together and empowering them with information that they want to share, while making it entertaining and also exclusive. Also, because time is limited these events drove strong urgancy demand.

How to Replicate on Social Media: Google+ Hangouts and Twitter parties can help gather people together where the marketer can educate the crowd about new products, how to find the best deals etc, and then offer prizes, incentives, exclusive coupons to generate excitement, engagement, and maintain the crowd's attention till the end.


Knowing and Engaging with Your Customers is Key!

Essentially drinks are a commodity with a fixed price - they come from the same bar and cost the same price, regardless of where you are on the ship or who carries them. While not every member of the crew is outgoing and extraordinary, we did notice (personal and observation of others) that crew members who were fun and had a shtick tended to be carrying more drinks and I was more likely to buy from a guy that I knew ... even if I didn't really need another drink. For example, one particular waiter referred to me jokingly as "Mr Heather" - because I typically grabbed my wife's "Sail & Sign" card. He also wore a very distinct pair of white sun glasses. I bought drinks from him - just because he was fun and engaging.

Lesson Learned: You can drive retail sales by hiring superior talent willing to engage with customers. Additionally, from a corporate perspective, having a strong brand that makes customers comfortable to buy from you vs your competitor, will attract customers to buy from YOU - even if that means driving by your competitor.

Additionally, by being engaging, the successful waiters developed a relationship with customers. The less successful ones simply walked by holding their tray and either waited for someone to flag them down or said non-personalized pitches that almost never resonated - unless I truly did need something.

How to Replicate on Social Media: While "social media" tends to be focused on digital media, it is equally important to ensure that the store experience matches that experience you are trying to create online. From a purely digital perspective though, imagine your tweets and Facebook posts as the waiter. Each one needs to have an objective and make the customer excited and comfortable buying from YOU and not the "other guys".


Create a Superior Product and Empower Customers to Share!

Cruises aren't for everyone, and for everyone who loves Carnival, there are people who love Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. However, it is critical that you have a superior product and that marketing efforts match expectations. Carnival's brand is very clear - they are The Fun Ships. They are also the best VALUE and that is abundantly clear with large rooms, fewer "upcharges" for dining/room service, a leniant alcohol policy (bottle of wine per person may be brought on board and liquor bottles may be purchased for those who prefer to mix their own drinks or make them stronger.).

Across the entire cruise experience Carnival and its crew worked hard to ensure that the experience was fabulous and worked to make sure that customers were in a position to share that experience with others.

This sharing was encouraged from little things like free postcards of the ship that you could send, all the way to perks like if you reserved a cruise on-board you could get (up to) $200 in on-board credit AND that same deal for three other friends. Back on land of course, Carnival also has an extremely adept social media team that has integrated sharing into the website effectively as well as a Facebook and twitter community of customers and future customers that they continuously engage with. (I wish though that they would enable complimentary access to twitter and Facebook via the onboard internet - but 3,000 people uploading  vacation photos would probably kill the network's bandwidth too quickly.)

Even during the cruise, every night you have dinner together. Unless you are in a large group, you will typically sit at an eight-person table and people will share their experiences that day, what they are looking forward to doing tomorrow (sell those shore excursions!), and what ships / destinations you are looking forward to trying next.

Lesson Learned: If you give people a great experience, they will tend to be repeat customers. When you give them an opportunity to share the experience they will tend to do so and they know their social circles FAR better than your marketing department EVER will.

How to Replicate on Social Media: The first part is obvious and frankly "good brands" have the advantage here, but even brands with problems still have an opportunity but they will need to listen to the customers and not just "marketing experts". The second part is that via social tactics such as viral coupons and "bring a friend" offers, brands can reach new customers by leveraging existing customer's social graphs. Thirdly, it is essentially to gather these customers together - both to encourage them to buy again, but also to share their experiences with their friends.

Driving Revenue with Social Media is More than Just "Cool"

A series of events recently forced me to re-evaluate the activities that both I and the team I am on are working on. We had been focused on "increasing engagement" "building our follower base" and other legitimate efforts.

We had done some really "cool" things - we were even cited in an industry report.

Despite this however, when a new president took over our division I was presented with the question, "So how much revenue have you generated using social media?".

Such an incredibly simple question, but one that is often forgotten about.

However, if there is no legitimate answer, that can be used to cut budgets, staff, and activities. Realistically, social media can't survive as a respected marketing medium if it is just "cool". I suspect that more and more corporate social media folks are going to start hearing that question over the next year.

So how can "Social Media drive revenue?"

Convert Researchers into Buyers:

Especially for large or complicated items, people increasingly research online. Social Media offers us an opportunity to reach these people, listen to their conversations, and help our advocates create content that these researchers can use to make a decision. For instance, if I was going to buy a $300 vacuum cleaner, I would certainly google the brand / model before making the purchase to see what others were saying about it!


Sometimes people need that little extra push to make a buying decision. You have already engaged them in a conversation or at least brought them to your promotion page where they registered to win something. Now try offering them a little incentive to complete the sale.

Driving People to your Website / Store with Deals:

Coupons aren't the only way to drive shopping patterns but certainly it can be among the easiest to track since you know where it came from and when it was redeemed. Unfortunately someone who reads a blog post, sees a tweet, or comments on a Facebook post and then goes to your website to buy something is really hard to track. Large scale social media activities are great at driving people towards your website - if you structure it right!

By using some of the latest mobile / social apps like SCVGR, you can make a fun in-store activity, or maybe use Foursquare to give a "special deal" to someone who checks in. Either way, mobile / social apps provide a great opportunity to do some fun stuff that can lead to building revenue.

Don't forget Though: It's about more than just Revenue!

That's right, while Social Media is commonly lumped in with print / radio / tv, in practice it is also a little bit of customer service, tech support, the bartender who people think they can just bitch about stuff with, and I am also the focus (or is that lack of focus?) group leader who has to relay what people are saying to the rest of the team.

Often we are also the cruise director - who's real job is to keep everyone happy, having a good time, but ultimately buying drinks, booking shore excursions, and visiting the duty free shop!

James Hills Loves Social Media

The other day, one of my friends asked me, "James, why do you love social media so much?" It struck me as a sort of obvious question - after all, I love to communicate and share ideas. It got me thinking though about the aspects of my live that I enjoy and how "social media" fit into those.


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