Guest Post: SMEs need more handholding if they’re to exploit Facebook’s potential

by Lee Hayhurst
by Lee Hayhurst
August 22, 2012 01:20 PM GMT

More than two thirds of tour operators aren’t yet taking Facebook serious enough, says Travis Pittman, co-founder and chief executive of TourRadar

In preparation for our Most Amazing Tour competition we analysed 1,500 organised group tour operators from all over the world and discovered some pretty shocking facts.

70% either had no Facebook page or if they did, it had less than 1,000 likes.

Most of the tour operators we analysed have been in business for longer than a year, run many different itineraries and have group sizes between six and 50 people.

To not have over 1,000 likes of their Facebook Page means they are just not taking it seriously enough.

As we dug a bit deeper more issues were revealed.

We found that tour operators just don’t know how, what and when they should be posting to Facebook to successfully engage their audiences.

A typical pattern we saw was a Facebook page being left for long periods of time (one week to one month) without a single update.

All of a sudden, 10 posts are added in a single day – tour discounts, photos, status updates and upcoming events. Then, another week of silence and the cycle repeats.

Don’t get me wrong - the blame does not rest solely on the tour operator’s shoulders here.

I believe Facebook itself needs to be more proactive in helping SMEs understand how, when and what they should be doing to successfully maintain a page about their business and engage their audiences.

Our experience here at TourRadar is that when speaking to many tour operators, the first half of the conversation is spent explaining the basics of social media and Facebook.

So why isn’t Facebook taking Apple’s customer service lead, with their Workshops, and running free online webinars specific to different industries?

Facebook’s presence at the recent Phocuswright conference was a good indication that they do see travel as a key growth industry, but I believe they could be doing a lot more to increase the number of small businesses investing their time and money into social media.

At the moment, the majority of tour operators just don’t see the value and/or return on the investment to warrant the effort of diving head first into Facebook.

In travel, word-of-mouth referrals are generally one of the biggest drivers of new bookings.

The Facebook framework and its integrated app eco-system finally allows operators to bring this traditional offline chatter that occurs in the home, in the pub, in the workplace, to the online environment at the centre of your past customer’s friends and family via their news feeds, ticker and timelines.

Facebook really could be seen as the marketing channel of the future, where sharing and deeper web integration take tour operators’ products and messages beyond their own website or customer databases.

Facebook just needs to provide a bit more handholding to the long tail SMEs to actually make this happen.

Once the SMEs see the benefits and value a Facebook page offers, they will naturally progress to paying for Facebook’s paid services, keeping Facebook shareholders happy.

About TourRadar: The company was created in July 2010 as a cloud based platform for businesses in the tour industry providing search, social messaging and aggregation for 500 plus companies worldwide.

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