Keeping a community happy requires clarity and continuity

Online communities have been around for a while and the standards are high but Wego seems to have found the right formula.

In the travel space, any active and engaged community needs to be backed up by several pillars. Moderation is one of them. The practice of moderation calls for setting clear expectations up front as well as self-policing. Then another area where extensive expertise is needed pertains to knowledge of a subject. For instance, most suppliers and intermediaries focus on destination-oriented information. So location–related content is a prime example of what is needed to run travel communities. And lot of effort goes into keeping the integrity of communities intact. For instance, entities verify IP addresses and background of participants to make sure it matches their statements in reviews.

Then there are guidelines in place, and entities have to work around them. Some of these include being transparent with presence of a brand/company, or being straightforward and avoiding sharing of confidential details, bad-mouth community members etc.

As for some pertinent points to remember:

·         Facilitate conversations and don’t always try to lead them

·         Focus on continuity (for example, be creative enough to post content that builds on what you have been doing in the past) in order to nurture a sense of belongingness. For instance, an online community only focuses only on sporting events and commercialises the same via related travel packages. There can be an expert, who talks only about certain sports and provides an insight into the location of stadiums, accommodation around the stadium as well shopping options around that area etc. The expert does it for certain events – let’s say six of them in a year - so the audience engages accordingly.

·         Be clear with your style/voice of content – what should members expect

·         Offer something inspirational or useful in order to stay top of the mind or leaving strong impact time and again

·         What sort of content can be removed by moderator/community owner

Talking of a community that continues to engage and grow, Achmad Alkatiri, senior community strategist and social product manager at travel search engine, says: “It's very much a domino effect once you hit the right formula and make the right connections you need to continue to feed and inspire that community and the engagement will continue to grow and at greater speed.”

EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Alkatiri about sustaining interest in an online community, dealing with challenges such as content from spammers and how to moderate being a global company.

EFT: Can you explain how a travel entity should go about setting up an online community?

AA: The important thing that each travel entity needs to realise is that social media is a platform for two-way communication with your customers, so it’s crucial to actually listen and respond. You can grow your online community very quickly if you share interesting content, that is more likely to go viral, especially if you base content on local trends.

The strength of this content is even more solid if it's being generated from your community (UGC).

EFT: How do you assess the utility of online communities in the travel sector today?

AA: Travel is the leading topic on Facebook at 51% - more than children, pets and food. 42% of Facebook users share their travel stories online and stay connected on social media while they're travelling. Travel is perfectly suited to social media as travellers enjoy keeping friends and families up to date on their adventures.

Establishing an informative and entertaining online community will increase a travel company’s ability to sit at the centre of this vibrant community and deliver your brand directly to those who most associate with it, while also potentially connecting with new customers. Having customers mention and discuss your brand online through social media is possibly one of the most powerful marketing benefits of the online sharing platform. 

EFT: How should a brand balance its commercial objectives, let’s say reflecting its brand’s personality, with offering value to members?

AA: We believe that social media is still social media even it’s used by a commercial brand and the same intentions should remain top of mind. It’s a place for interacting, engaging and building relationships with your potential audience. Brands can use social media as a tool to further inform their audiences to understand and know more about their product and how the product can help them. But the important thing is to feed them with awesome and useful travel related content, so audiences will associate your brand with travel, first to mind when they think about travel.

You will also increase your brand awareness, increase direct site visits, improve CTRs on SEM, advertising, and increase SEO visits.

EFT: How do you create a buzz to get members coming back?

1.    Content is the key.

2.    Two-way communication - listen and respond.

3.    Interactive campaigns (contests and quizzes).

EFT: What are the dos and don’ts for running communities?

·         Don’t pitch too much and try to find the perfect balance to keep the engagement but also increase your awareness.

·         Become your community’s travel friend by sharing content of interest, continue two-way communication and help them share their stories.

EFT: How can you work out realistic expectations from online communities?

AA: Social media should be used as a tool to increase your brand awareness, improve existing channels and increase direct visits, improve CTRs on SEM, advertising, increased SEO visits.

Measuring traditional ROI (sales conversation, revenues) through social media in isolation really undervalues the social channel.

EFT: Can you talk a bit about moderation and self-policing and the challenges?  

AA: One major challenge are actually spammers who jump in the middle between us and the community and post un-related things to our social channels. This is where our community managers take action and remove them. As a global company who has a global social community, we approach and moderate each of our communities in different markets with local sense. We believe being local, is a very important factor in successful community engagement.

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