INTERNATIONAL. The Moodie Report is delighted to feature a new contributors’ column, sponsored by Diageo Global Travel & Middle East. Dubbed “˜Global Travel Retail – Great Thinking Required’, it allows anyone inside – or outside – travel retail to comment on any aspect of the industry.

Our second column, from Anne Kavanagh, Director of UK Public Relations consultancy Kavanagh Communications, focuses on the burgeoning world of social media and urges travel retail not to miss out on a critical “˜global conversation’.

NOTE: The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of either Diageo Global Travel & Middle East or The Moodie Report.

To get into the minds of the modern consumer, you need to get onto their screens and share a conversation with them.

From Tweets and RSS feeds to YouTube and Facebook, there’s a global conversation going on out there, and it almost certainly includes your brand, your airport, your store – perhaps even you personally.

Social Media is connecting millions of people across the globe via instant communication and, while it’s easy to mock the inanity of many of the 50 miliion Tweets sent out each day – it’s less easy to ignore if the Tweet is savaging your brand, the offer at your store or your airport.

Anne Kavanagh: Being successful in social media requires participation

The credibility allocated instantly and unquestioningly to just about anything that is read online is a new phenomenon. The viral message is spread globally within minutes – and what goes online, stays online.

This month, Facebook usurped Google’s position as the most-visited website in the world and posted growth of +185% in 2009. If Facebook, with 400 million profiles, was a country it would be the third-largest in the world (I think that’s true; it must be, I read it online).

YouTube has over 300 million users watching over 20 million videos per day and around 5% of its content is uploaded by corporate entities. An audience of 400 million on a single website is truly astonishing and has the potential to damage or grow the reputation of any brand, any store, any airport (and any individual) in a matter of hours.

Right now, the online audience is almost certainly actively already engaged with your brand; raving or moaning to their friends (and strangers, of course) about your product and the service, the experience you delivered. You need to know about it.

Word of mouth has always had exceptional capacity to enhance or degrade a reputation, but the difference between a viewpoint being passed verbally to a handful of friends & family to sharing it instantly (live, from the store!) with a global audience is an astonishing expression of the medium’s potential.

Social Media is an important and growing element in the consumer’s lifestyle. A key weakness for travel retail has been that a number of operators have (too often) relied upon the ‘captive audience’, the travellers with time to kill. Well, with the basics of phone, email and internet backed by the huge array of Social Media, apps, games, streams etc, the traveller can now fill that dwell time many times over without stepping inside any airport store.


In the world of travel retail where luxury brands are king, what’s the true relevance of the Social Media phenomenon? Isn’t it an anathema to the luxury industry’s core values of carefully controlled brand DNA, fiercely guarded brand collateral, managed exclusivity, everything on-brand, on-message?

Basically, the conversation is already underway: your choice is whether or not to take part in it. As with any conversation with your audience, you need to have something interesting to say and you better be a good listener. The conversation won’t always go your way but, from within it, you’ll always be in a better position to influence it. Should it take a negative turn, you have the opportunity to limit the damage and, when it’s positive, you can exploit it fully, instantly and globally.

If you’re nervous about stepping into the world of Social Media, think of it as a mixture of potential pleasure and pain for your brand; an opportunity to take consumers to new heights in their experience of your brand.

Here’s a gentle guide for Travel Retail companies thinking of entering the world of Social Media:

First and foremost, be a good listener, ready to respond to what customers have to say and be open to what they want from you. The prize for doing so is a deep and meaningful relationship, with the opportunity to create long-term stand-out for your brand in the minds of your best customers.

Start by seeing what has been said already. There are many experts who will do a sophisticated monitoring job for you but you can easily start by taking advantage of the many free listening tools, such as technorati, Monitter, Trendrr and Blogpulse, to check existing comments.

Next, start talking. Encourage conversation, but don’t expect people to come and find you as they do with your website – Social Media conversation is not about your website. Social Media is joining in with the conversation around you.

You can use the regular consumer-weighted traditional search/decision engines like google and bing and social search engines like dig and to help elevate the sound and the level of conversation you want to have and take it to your audience.

At its most basic level, Social Media can be used as part of Customer Relationship Management to identify and remedy customers who are unhappy and, hopefully, limit the damage of their negative messaging.

Equally, it can also be used to consolidate relationships with consumers who post favourable messaging, providing the response is authentic – the audience is vehemently opposed to any brand that is perceived to be clumsily trying to manipulate them.
It can be useful for retailers/brands to monitor a range of indicators, such as:

Brand image and Insight – monitor the general mood of consumer sentiment to the brand and investigate specific issues.

Campaign effectiveness – assess specific factors in a campaign’s effectiveness, gain insights quickly enough to implement changes to fine-tune the campaign.

Risk & Reputation – identify risks and threats; anything from a consumer who has misunderstood your brand to a malicious ex-employee attacking the brand.

To maintain exclusivity, some brands create their own “˜members only’ sites or choose to join forces with invitation-only sites, such as Qubers and A Small World (ASW), where niche audience members have a secure online community in which to share information with each other.

ASW sponsors include Cartier, Starwood Hotels and Mercedes – although there are many rumblings among members that it’s no longer exclusive enough.

There’s also the blogger opportunity – the opinion leaders and your most active brand advocates/assassins.

It’s interesting to note that top fashion bloggers now get seats on the front row of the main catwalk shows. They got there in less than three years, a journey that most mere mortal journalists never make.

Just like the fashion houses are doing, let these bloggers know how much they mean to you. Give them information and access to content they won’t get anywhere else.

Exclusivity is a key driver for them and, as they’re naturally promiscuous communicators, they will in turn start sharing that bespoke and exclusive content beyond the inner sanctum. And so the positive word of mouth begins, but this time with you at the control.

While it may initially feel like a ride beyond your comfort zone, Social Media may open conversation about your CSR policy – environment, provenance and ethics in particular – but here lies another prize, the opportunity to show how active you are and engage direct with passionate followers of those issues.

Being successful in social media requires participation – remember your role in the conversation; you will need to stay active which could be as much as three or four times a day on Twitter.

These channels need to be treated differently too. Companies who use Twitter simply to replicate what’s on their Facebook page will probably find they have a much larger following on Facebook than on Twitter.

Twitter is a real two-way conversation and is therefore much more instant and alive than Facebook. The phenomenal growth of Twitter and Facebook will inevitably lead to users “˜thinning out’ their contacts and keeping only those whose conversations they really share.

Finally, the start of a Social Media relationship is exactly that, the start. Be ready to change and respond to Social Media and bear in mind that it will continue to evolve, perhaps even maintaining the frantic pace of development seen over the past five years.

One thing is certain; the conversation will always be changing and always interesting.

The dangerous cliché of the “˜captive audience’ in travel retail is further undermined by the pervasiveness of this new media.

The traveller has never had less time to kill in the lounge and has never had so many options as to how to make the best use of their dwell time – connecting with friends, uploading images, sharing links and videos in a global conversation.

Hopefully, the retail experience delivers enough excitement to draw their eyes away from their little screens. If it doesn’t, then don’t be surprised if they just shared their negative thoughts with a global audience.