Today’s New York Times featured two articles, one in the Arts section and one in the Business section, about how word-of-mouth reliant businesses were having different results employing social media to advance their goals.
The two industries mentioned were hotels and Broadway theaters, but honestly what struck me the most was how tough it must be to edit a newspaper. The thrust of the Broadway-focused article was that social media has not resulted in an uptick in sales because only human ticket brokers were adept at “aggregating details about the 39 Broadway shows this spring and then differentiating them for longtime customers whose preferences are reflected in databases listing their past purchases.”
Meanwhile, the hotel piece talked about how successful some hotels have been using social and web-based apps because “Facebook offers analytics showing the aggregate demographic information of the people who “Like” a particular page.”
So, to recap: social media doesn’t work because it can’t aggregate details about its users, except when it does a bang up job of aggregating details about its users.
Moving past this basic contradiction in both fact and substance, let me offer a couple of my thoughts, slightly off the topic of whether social works or not.
The Broadway article talked about how “50-year old white female tourists, the average Broadway ticket buyers” were not taking their buying cues from twitter or Facebook. Fair enough. But I am reminded of an anecdote I heard at a convention way back in 2007 during the frontier days of what we still call “new media,” particularly podcasting. The Los Angeles Opera realized that in order to continue to filling seats in its shiny new facility, it would need to reach out to a new audience to get them to sample opera. One of the ways it did this, and continues to this day, is via a regularly produced behind-the-scenes podcast http://podcast.laopera.com/pr/laopera/default.aspx While it’s debatable whether this outreach reaches its older demographic (I have no data either way), the LA Opera wisely went to where a potential NEW stream of customers might emerge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but their audience was, quite literally, dying off.
Broadway tickets are still largely sold via group sales, repeat sales and old fashioned telephone work. Adding social to that mix not only makes sense, but might be the only way that Broadway can survive.
Of course, the travel business lives and dies by word of mouth, never more so than in this age of search marketing. As we noted in this space about the evolution of search online, trusted recommendations about where to stay and what to do has never been easier for the shopper or more critical for the destination. David Godsman, the VP for global web services for the Starwood chain is quoted in the Times saying, “We want to be there when someone transforms the recommendations of their friends into booking a reservation. If they press the ‘Like’ button, we want to start a conversation.”
What both of these articles are saying is that social must be a part of both of these very human businesses, but it does not mean putting your business on auto pilot and letting social solve everything. Social works when you work social.