With the growth of social media it’s increasingly common for rates and booking enquiries to come through social media channels like Facebook.

People want an immediate and accurate response to their enquiries and social media channels like Facebook excel at providing a simple and rapid method of communication.

Research has shown that businesses that actively engage with their clients and answer queries have more satisfied clients, boosting loyalty which it turns drives sales.

How can you use social media as part of your customer service and sales strategy?

Respond as Rapidly as Possible

When clients reach out to a business over social media they expect a rapid reply. If they have a problem or complaint and you leave them waiting then you’ll aggravate them, making a bad situation worse.

Ideally you should respond to any direct message within and hour or, better yet, in real time. To do that we find it useful to have prepared responses for common queries so we can provide prompt and accurate answers. Keep the address of key website pages handy so you can direct people to the information they are looking for.

If you’ve not engaged a social media manager then a team member should be made responsible for the page and monitor it for activity. Turn on browser desktop notifications so you’ll get an instant prompt when there’s activity or you receive a message. Those with smartphones and tablets can also use the Facebook Page app to fields any comments and queries whilst on the move.

Be Personal

We all want to be treated like individuals. We want to feel like you care about us and that were not just a number.

Personalise each of your messages. Use your name and address the client by theirs or by their social handle to help build rapport.

Be friendly and informal to put them at ease. Even add a little humour if it’s appropriate. Let the personality of your business shone through. Don’t forget basic grammar and spelling though as you still need to be professional.

Like Makes Like

We tend to like and trust those people who are similar to us.

If you can echo the language and tone of your clients they will be more likely to accept and emphasise with your messages.

Be Honest and Upfront

We’re all human and we all make mistakes. If you do make a mistake it’s best to just own up to it.

Be open and clear on what went wrong and what you’re doing to rectify the problem. If you do, clients are much more likely to be forgiving.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

It’s inevitable that you will occasionally be visited by trolls, people who enjoy being disruptive and causing trouble online.

How do you deal with them?

TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, is an important marketing resource for any safari lodge or camp and one that can’t be ignored.

Recent TripAdvisor research has shown that:

How TripAdvisor Ranks Your Lodge or Camp

TripAdvisor doesn’t reveal the exact method for ranking properties but a careful study of area rankings reveals the main influencers are a combination of:

Review Quantity

All things being equal, the more reviews you have, the higher you will rank on TripAdvisor.

Even though Nkwali Camp‘s five stars is more than Thornicroft Lodge‘s 4 1/2 stars, Thornicroft has more reviews and ranks more highly.

Review Quality

The better the reviews you have, the higher you will rank on TripAdvisor.

If two lodges have the same number of reviews then the lodge with the better reviews will rank more highly. An analysis or reviews indicates that lower reviews have an increasingly negative impact on a lodge’s rating. So, for example, a 2 star review will have a much greater negative effect that a 3 star review.

Even though Mfuwe Lodge has a lot more reviews than Bilimungwe Bushcamp all of camps reviews are 5 stars giving it a higher rating than the lodge.

Review Recency

The more recent your reviews, the higher you will rank on TripAdvisor.

The value of a review degrades over time. As a review ages it starts to count for less in the overall lodge or camp rating.

Both Lufupa Bush Camp and Bongwe Kafue Camp have the same number of reviews and stars. The latest review for Bongwe Kafue Camp is over a year older than the latest for Lufupa Bush Camp leading to its lower ranking.

How to Improve your Lodge or Camp’s Rating

1. Provide Great Service

The best way to make sure you stay at the top of TripAdvisor is to consistently provide great service.

Make sure you provide your guests with a great safari experience. Try and exceed their expectations so when they return home they will sing your praises.

What you and your team do to make sure your guest’s stay is a remarkable one will directly influence the reviews you will receive.

Monitor your reviews to see what you’re doing right. Can you do it even better? These are the things that are making you stand out from your competitors so make sure you keep at it.

If any of staff are mentioned in a review, let them know. Positive feedback goes a long way and you want to encourage the right behaviour.

2. Be Proactive in Encouraging Reviews

The majority of your reviews will come from only a small portion of your guests. People forget, think it doesn’t matter or it’s too much effort.

If you’re proactive and encourage guests you will see an increase in valuable reviews.

Each lodge or camp has their fans who act as ambassadors for you. As fans, they will be only too happy to share their great experiences with their friends, family and community. Keep talking to them and let them know you appreciate their support.

Publicise your TripAdvisor listing on all of your communications. Add a widget to your website. Include a link in the footer of your emails. Place a TripAdvisor sign prominently in your reception area. If you provide any handouts make sure it includes your listing details.

Talk to your guests whilst they are still with you. They are more likely to leave a review when they are having a great time and before the return home with all its distractions. If your staff hear a guest compliment the lodge, let them know reviews are always appreciated. If there’s a problem, address it immediately, hopefully transforming the guest’s experience and stopping a potential bad review.

3. Respond to All Reviews (Especially the Bad Ones)

Every property will get a bad review from time to time. No one like criticism but they are an opportunity for you to display your customer service.

84% of travellers say that an appropriate response to a bad review will improve people’s impression of the property.

Demonstrate that you care about your guests.

Outline what you have done to correct the problem so that future guests can see you’re on top of things. Be sincere, don’t get defensive and never, ever be aggressive.

Monitor your reviews and see where you can improve. Is there an operational issue that can be addressed? Sometimes we are too close to the operation and might miss something that a new guest would not.

What can be improved? Could the staff benefit from some extra training? Could you communicate with guests more effectively? Is it time for some maintenance on the chalets or vehicles?

Which of these tweets captures your eye?

The tweet from Rhino River Lodge stands out and grabs your attention. A relevant hashtag has been added so that the tweet can be found.

Entumoto Safari Camp has linked their Facebook Page to their Twitter account so Facebook posts are automatically shared on Twitter. As a result their tweets look spammy and, annoyingly, you can’t see the photos without clicking on a link. Worse, one of the tweets is abruptly cut off as it exceeded the 140 character limit.

Sure, auto-sharing may save you some time, but it’s a dangerous short-cut that may cost you in the long run. You can’t just create a quick post then auto-post it to your other social sites and think your work is done. It’s not.

If you want to reach your clients and actually engage with them in a meaningful way your social media marketing needs have a consistent strategy with content tailored for each platform.

Twitter and Facebook are very different networks. The people you’re connected to on Twitter expect different things than those you’re connected to on Facebook. The format is different, the language is different as are the conventions.

There are several tools that can help you manage your Twitter account. The tool we use when handling social media marketing for our clients is TweetDeck. TweetDeck is customisable and lets you manage multiple accounts, schedule tweets and track your activity, mentions, lists and much more.

Twitter has become the marketing, networking, information, and advertising platform for many business professionals.

Twitter can help you:

Boutique Safaris

One safari tour operator that is using Twitter to effectively market its tours is Boutique Safaris.

Boutique Safaris is a Maasai-owned safari company based in Arusha that offers customised safaris tours in Tanzania and Kenya.

Boutique Safaris also offer a unique women’s safari program dedicated to women travelling alone or in groups.

These safaris are guided by professional and experienced female safari guides.

A Clear and Concise Profile

The profile is set up well. An eye-catching banner has been chosen and the avatar conveys the essence of Boutique Safaris persona.

The description is well written, conveying exactly what they offer and what separates them from the competition.

Regular, Relevant Tweets

Boutique Safaris are sharing regularly with their own tweets and retweets of items that are interesting and relevant to their followers.

Hashtags have been used strategically to highlight the topic and increase visibility. They have avoided the #mistake of #overusing #hashtags so it #looks #spammy and #meaningless.

They Actually Engage With Their Followers

Like a boring guest at a party, many operators just churn out tweet after tweet without bothering to listen or look around. Worse yet, many just auto-share their Facebook posts. It might save some time but won’t get results.

Boutique Safaris actually talk to those they follow and their followers. They build rapport with retweets, replies and favourites.

They let their personality shine through, talking in an approachable and friendly manner without being too formal.

They Have Fun With It

Boutique Safaris come across as cool, fun guys who know what they’re doing. Just the type of people I’d like to go on safari with.

You know what your guests want to experience on their safaris. Or do you?

The key to guest satisfaction is meeting or exceeding their expectations. Guests needs and wants are continually evolving and if you don’t have a complete understanding of your guests your safaris (and marketing) may be off target.

TripAdvisor Review Express and Private Surveys

TripAdvisor have just announced an addition to Review Express, available to Business Listing subscribers.

Review Express is a free tool provided by TripAdvisor where you can request guests to provide a review. As the number and recency of reviews are strong facts for your TripAdvisor ranking it is useful way to drive your safari lodge or camp to the top of the rankings.

The private surveys extension adds a customisable guest satisfaction survey. The Review Express + private surveys emails you send allow you to get public TripAdvisor reviews and private guest feedback at the same time.

The feedback from these surveys are private and viewable only by you from your Business Listing dashboard.

Twitter can be confusing. As each tweet is restricted to 140 characters abbreviations are common making it difficult for new users to understand.

To help you come to grips with Twitter lingo, I have compiled this short guide to the common terms and acronyms.

Bio: A short (up to 160 characters) personal description that appears in your Twitter profile.

Direct Message (or DM): A private message sent from one Twitter user to another. You can only send direct messages to someone who has followed you.

Favourite: Favouriting a Tweet indicates that you liked a specific Tweet. Favoured tweets can be viewed again later from the Favourites link on your profile.

FF: Follow Friday. A way to acknowledge other Twitter users by suggesting that people follow them.

Follow: To subscribe to someone’s updates on Twitter. You do this by clicking the “Follow” button on a Twitter page. When you follow someone, their updates will be displayed on your Twitter page so you can read what they are tweeting.

Follow Back: To follow someone who has recently started following you.

Whenever a new person follows you, you will receive an alert from Twitter. By looking at their profile you can check out who they are and decide to follow them back or not. You’re not required to follow back but it is common practice.

Follower: A person or company who has subscribed to your Twitter feed. Followers will receive your tweets on their home feed. Followers are able to send you direct messages.

You can see your total number of followers on your Twitter profile.

Handle: See username.

Hashtag: The # symbol followed by a word or phrase (without spaces) eg. #kenya, #kenyaSafari. Hashtags are used in tweets to help categorise tweets on particular topics.

Home: Home is the real-time stream of tweets from those you follow.

ICYMI: In case you missed it. Used when retweeting your own content from earlier.

List: People you follow can be grouped into lists by topic e.g. travel agents, tourism bureaus. You can then view tweets from only those people on a certain list. Twitter lists make it much easier to make sense of the stream of tweets you receive.

Mention: Mentioning other users in your Tweet by including the @ sign followed directly by their username. Those users will be notified that you have mentioned them.

Reply: A public message sent from one Twitter user to another by adding their username to the beginning of the tweet. For example: @intergise Interesting article. Thanks for the share.

Retweet (or RT): To repeat and share what someone has already tweeted. People retweet if someone has said something especially interesting and they want to share the tweet with their own followers.

Tweet: A short public message on Twitter. Tweets are restricted to a maximum of 140‐characters.

Tweet‐up: An event specifically organised for Twitter‐users to meet up and network, usually informal.

Trending Topics: The most discussed topics on Twitter at the moment. A list of trending topics will show up as a list of your Twitter page.

Username or Handle: The name you select to represent yourself on Twitter. Usernames are always preceded by @ e.g. @intergise.

Don’t miss part one of the Twitter for safaris series: How to Set Up a Twitter Profile for Your Safari Business.

Twitter is an important social media platform for safari operators. Not only is it easier to gain followers on Twitter than it is on Facebook, it’s an excellent communication and relationship building tool.

Twitter can be used to help your business in a number of ways including:

Choose Your Username Wisely

The first thing you need to do is choose your username. Your username is how you’re identified on Twitter, and is always preceded by the @ symbol. For example Intergise’s username is @intergise.

Choose a username as close to your or your business’ name as possible. That makes it much easier to remember and identify and reinforces your branding.

In the above example Simbavati River Lodge has chosen a good username that encapsulates their brand. Kiboko Safaris, on the other hand has not chosen a good username. Not only does their username not include the company name but references a park in Zambia, an odd choice for a Malawian tour operator.

Your username can be a maximum of 15 characters.

Catch Their Eye With the Banner

The banner is the main image across the top of the screen. The banner is a great opportunity to catch people’s eye with a beautiful photo of your lodge or wildlife.

Twitter recommends you use an image that is 1,500 pixels wide by 500 pixels high. The image can be up to 5Mb.

The banner is responsive so will often get cropped depending on how the user is viewing your Twitter profile. This cropping occurs from the edges so try and have the central element of your banner in the centre of the image.

Don’t forget that your avatar will cover a section of your banner so make sure it doesn’t obscure anything important.

The Avatar: Your Twitter Face

Select an image that represents the account: a professional head and shoulders shot of you for a person or the logo for a company account. If there’s a primary face of your company, try a profile photo instead.

Twitter recommends an image with a minimum size of 400×400 pixels although it will often only display at 200×200 pixels. The image should be square so that is fits nicely.

It’s not always possible to use your full logo as an avatar. The small, square dimensions don’t lend themselves to wide logos. The best solution is to be a little creative and use a recognisable part of the logo instead.

Impodimo Game Lodge has tried to use their full logo but the far left and right have been cut off. Shumbalala Lodge, who have an even wider logo, have used only the icon from their logo so their avatar displays beautifully.

Grab Their Attention With the Bio

Your bio is a short description that appears on your profile that summarises what you are about. Make sure your bio is engaging. This is your ‘elevator pitch’ – your opportunity to connect with people and have them follow you.

Whilst the bio can be up to 160 characters keep it to around 145 to make sure it’s all visible at a glance.

Mavela Game Lodge’s bio is excellent – a succinct description of the lodge, its location and activities on offer. Campi Ya Kanziwastes space on flowery copy and is too long so the description gets cut off.Odzala Discovery has no description at all so you can’t tell where they are or what they offer.

Include a link to your website so your followers can learn more about you.

How to Use Twitter Effectively

I’ll cover some tips on how to use Twitter to market your lodge and safari tours in a forthcoming post so stay tuned.

Facebook has added a new feature to Facebook Pages designed to support businesses using Facebook to help achieve their business goals. The new feature is a call to action button that can link to any destination including your website.

The call to action can be added to the banner, right next to the Like button.

A call to action is a banner or button that is designed to prompt a user to click it and continue down a conversion funnel. The goal is to convert a user into a lead and then into a customer.

Type of Calls to Action

There are seven calls to action available, the first two of which are of primary interest to safari operators:

Book Now

Link to a safari tour that you want to push or to the booking form on your website. The Book Now button can also be used to promote an upcoming safari tour which still has spaces available.

Contact Us

Add a link to your “Contact Us” page on your website where visitors can send you an email, or call your business.

How to Use the Call to Action

The Administrator of your facebook Page can easily add or update the call to action. Experiment with the buttons to see what works best for you. Perhaps link to a promotional video from time to time to mix it up and generate interest.

One way to draw attention to your call to action is to design a custom banner that integrates with the button.

Facebook will show you how many people click on your call-to-action button under the weekly metrics on the right side of your Facebook Page.

For the button to be effective people will need to visit your Facebook Page so it’s important to promote your Page in your other marketing material.

The call to action feature has already rolled out in the US and will be available for the rest of us this year.

A recent Cornell study, Online Customer Reviews of Hotels: As Participation Increases, Better Evaluation is Obtained, has underlined the relationship between review quantity and rating.

Key findings from the study are:

  1. Reviews for new listings tend to slant negative
  2. Reviews get more positive as the quantity increases
  3. More reviews means a more accurate rating
  4. Positive reviews are more common negative reviews

Reviews for New Listings Tend to Slant Negative

The researchers suggest that the negative reviews result from their expectations not being met. Often these expectations may have been unreasonable due to a lack of information on what to expect at the property.

Takeaway: Encourage more reviews to even out the ratings. Take the opportunity to review this early feedback and address these concerns to improve service. Update your website and other marketing material to ensure it provides suitable information.

Reviews Get More Positive as the Quantity Increases

As a property gets more listing the average rating steadily increases. Negative reviews drop sharply ( by half) and excellent review increase dramatically (by half).

Takeaway: Encourage more reviews to increase you TripAdvisor rating. Where appropriate, approach guests and ask them if they can review you on TripAdvisor. Try Review Express, a free TripAdvisor tool that sends recent guests a link to review the property.

More Reviews Means a More Accurate Rating

As more reviews are gained, not only do they tend to be more positive but they become a more accurate indication on how guests view the property.

Takeaway: We can’t say it enough, encourage more reviews. The recency of reviews has an impact on your TripAdvisor rating. What this means is the rating value of reviews degrade over time so it’s important to keep reviews rolling in.

Positive Reviews are More Common Negative Reviews

Research has shown that 70% of reviews have a rating of 4 0r 5, that is good or excellent, with only 15% of reviews having a rating of 1 or 2.

Takeaway: Share your TripAdvisor rating and reviews on your website and social media. Advertise your TripAdvisor listing on your website and other online marketing.

TripAdvisor Reputation Management

Intergise offers a TripAdvisor Reputation Management service to help your safari lodge or camp get the most out of TripAdvisor.

Our Safari Social Essentials online marketing package bundles the social media sites that all safari operators should be using.

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