Integrating Social Media Into Your E-commerce Website

By Elizabeth Pizzinato Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications , Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts | February 26, 2012

Today, it's clear that consumers are not only embracing, but engaging with new technologies in ways that are changing the face of travel. The challenge that comes with digital innovations is deciding which to lev¬erage, and how to leverage them effectively. Instead of launching one-off initiatives, the most successful brands are developing digital media programs that are holistic, integrated and strategic. 'Going digital' really means authentically interacting with an audience through all of the platforms that make sense, in order to reach the consumer in a way that is seam¬less, intuitive, enhances brand identity and adds value to the customer experience.

At Four Seasons, we've been doing a tremendous amount of research to understand the online behaviors of our guests. Through this work, we uncovered invaluable information around how social media factors in to the decision making process of today's luxury consumers. In fact, this thinking has been integral to the redesign of www.fourseasons.com. To support the brand's integrated digital media strategy, the site integrates real-time search, online reviews, blogs, news, Facebook, Twitter and more, that is regionally relevant, multi-lingual and culturally sensitive to appeal to a global audience. In addition, since today's traveler is always connected and using multiple devices, fourseasons.com has been optimized for a smart phone and tablet experience that delivers seamless hotel booking, desti¬nation content and social media integration.

There are strong benefits to brands creating original, shareable content online. Four Seasons launched its Have Family Will Travel blog (www.family.fourseasons.com) featuring real stories from guests travelling with children. The site features kid-friendly recipe and arts and crafts ideas, and links to related blogs. Four Seasons Foodies site (www.fourseasonsfoodies.com) features chefs blogging about everything from how to make a white chocolate carrot cake to how to carve the perfect holiday turkey. These blogs have allowed us to engage with our guests in new and meaningful ways, and the fresh content gives them a reason to visit frequently.

It is also important to examine best practices outside of our industry for integrating social media into e-commerce platforms. Most luxury e-commerce sites have social media share functionality tools on the individual landing pages of the products, as well as on the main pages of their site. The most common "share" functionalities are to Twitter, Facebook and via Email. Other luxury brands like Barney's New York take the Facebook share to another level; in addition to the "Like" or "Share" functionality, Barneys.com users can send an individual item, such as a dress or pair of shoes, via private Facebook message to a "friend" or to a "group."

Social Media & The Luxury Consumer

Digital think tank L2 reported 78 percent of the affluent participate in social networking sites, with more than half using social media to connect with a brand. Sixty-five percent of wealthy consumers believe that brands that have no presence on social networking sites are out of touch. Twitter, first launched in 2006, has grown from three to 100 million users worldwide, quickly becoming the 'conscious¬ness of the planet' and the primary mode of communication in some countries. Facebook now has more than 800 million active users around the world. China's popular social net¬working site, Weibo, now has more than 250 million users, launching just two years ago.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.