Apply marketing basics to social media to sell timeshare31 Aug, 2010 By: Stephanie Ricca Hotel and Motel Management
National Report–The timeshare industry is known for its marketing savvy, so it makes sense that this segment hit the ground running when it came to adopting social media strategies. And while timeshare brands and associations have different approaches for their varying customers (current owners, potential owners, even property developers), most are using social media outlets to strengthen the bond with their most critical mass—current timeshare owners.
If that goal seems like a contradiction—after all, isn’t the ultimate strategy of any timeshare company to sell more timeshare?—it shouldn’t be, said executives at some of the leading timeshare brands and associations.
“We’re trying to educate our members that viral and word-of-mouth marketing now has a huge megaphone,” said Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the American Resort Development Association (On Twitter: @ARDAorg; on Facebook: American Resort Development Association). “This is an opportunity every day to ensure you’re igniting your fans and answering your detractors. It’s almost as if comment cards are now in the public domain.”
That concept of “igniting fans” has plenty of marketing clout, according to Ed Kinney, VP of corporate affairs and brand awareness for Marriott Vacation Club.
“We found that [social media] really isn’t a transactional marketing channel,” he said. “So we should back off from that and use it for other means, like service and awareness.”
Kinney said the Marriott team was keen to not turn people off with its social media strategies, which include Twitter and Facebook primarily (On Twitter: @MarriottVacClub; on Facebook: Marriott Vacation Club International).
“If we could focus on getting people excited about going to an area, then there’s less of a need to focus on the pure property/product message, because that turns people off,” he said. “This is where people can get information in a very candid forum. If you start to pepper it with self-serving marketing messages, you can turn people away.”
Defining the social media space also is different for different companies. Some use established channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to monitor how owners perceive their properties and spread the word that way. Others, like Interval International, have created proprietary members-only sites to corral all forms of shareable online media.
Interval launched Interval Community in May, with the goal of “going sideways,” said Interval’s SVP of consumer marketing, Sharon Freed.
“We did explore Twitter and all of that, but they’re relatively one-sided, with us communicating out,” she said. “We wanted communication to go out, go in and go sideways.”
The password-protected site is based on Interval’s main website and is limited to timeshare owners who already are members of Interval International. Freed bills it as a “one-stop shop,” where members can access discussion forums on various topics, access reference documents, FAQs and eventually share photo albums, videos, blogs and more.
Sharing is key, Freed said, and it’s a built-in benefit of social media platforms.
“We’ve always talked to our members to let them know the products and services and how we can support them. And they always have talked to us, with questions, customer service needs, etc. What we haven’t done before now is find an opportunity for them to talk to each other,” she said.
Two months in, Freed said the site has been successful in creating a space where the true subject experts, the members, can share information.
“These people know what they’re talking about,” she said. “They’re asking for information from each other; they’re not asking for it from Interval.”
But Freed said the company will step in where it makes sense, but definitely not in selling mode.
“What I want to avoid is for our community to be an ‘Ask Interval’ section,” she said. “It’s not for me to sell my products. People trust other people and their responses.”
And that builds membership affinity, Freed said. “The more you can connect to the customer and allow the customer to see value in what you’ve provided, it strengthens the relationship all around.”
Freed, Kinney and Nusbaum all stressed that the success of these platforms lies in members sharing with members in an environment that is friendly to all types of user feedback, good and bad.
“Think of yourself as a gardener,” Nusbaum said. “You want things to be organic. You have to water [the garden], make sure you have the right tools, the space in the garden.”
“If we can adapt as quickly as the consumer are adapting, it makes the relationship that much better,” Kinney said. “They’ll continue to rely on us.”