More than a million reasons to engage with social media
Written by: Sheree Hanna
One of Africa’s leading online travel booking companies, Travelstart, is celebrating a huge social media marketing success after taking its Facebook fan base from just 200,000 to one million in less than a year.
The company hit the milestone million in October 2013 and then proceeded to add another half a million by the end of the year and today boasts more than 1.6 million.
It also has 10,000 twitter followers and around a 50,000 Google+ following thanks to its forward-thinking marketing strategies. It also has a presence on other channels such as YouTube and Pinterest.
Social Media Manager Nick Paul said: “As a travel company which conducts the vast majority of its business online, social media has proved invaluable in providing us a place to present the human face of the company and make our brand more recognisable and approachable.
“Oftentimes, Facebook is the first place that a user will learn about Travelstart and with advertising on Facebook in the developing world still being very cheap in comparison to developed nations, it’s a channel which makes obvious sense to exploit.”
The company which has its global headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, currently has online operations in 10 countries, including Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey (where it trades as Geziko), Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
It also has a generic Africa site for travellers in other African countries to book flights online and offices located in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Lagos, Cairo and Istanbul employing some 150 people.
Paul explained that getting to 1.6 million Facebook fans been no small task and in fact has taken years of dedicated work on the platform to grow its fan base from just 2,000 when he first took it over.
He said: “It required broadening our efforts not just in South Africa, but to numerous African countries where we have a business presence.
“It also required us creating a mix of effective advertising and the generation of useful, interesting content.”
Mobile phone use
The proliferation of mobile phone use in Africa, and the fact it is often the first tool through which many Africans engage with the web and use applications such as Facebook and Twitter, has played a major part in Travelstart’s decision to utilise social media.
Consequently, the company began to focus on growth through advertising, to increase the reach of its content.
“Facebook is not just another email newsletter or a billboard service and we realise that when working on social media, we are effectively guests as somebody else’s party,” said Paul.
“So it’s important to remain social and personable as a brand and refrain from traditional mass marketing messages in favour of generating and engaging in meaningful conversations with customers.
“As such we use Facebook a lot for customer service as well as a tool to gather information to produce useful content for our customers. For example, we identify common questions so as to be able to produce informative content which answers these questions for existing and potential customers.”
Terms of engagement
Travelstart has found Facebook to be its most rewarding channel in terms of engagement, lead generation and booking.
A recent study has indicated that Facebook’s latest changes to its algorithm and post formatting have increased the lead it has on its competitors, in terms of generating website visits, which is something Travelstart has observed with its own business.
In terms of tangible results, Travelstart’s Facebook strategy has worked well to inspire customers to travel and investigate its services, and helped enormously in building trust in the brand.
It has also proved to be an excellent customer service and reputation management tool. Paul said: “For us we have been able to measure the role Facebook has in being a distributor of our content and in being a customer service tool.
“It is probably more helpful to look at Facebook’s business value rather than the traditional marketing metric of direct return on investment.
“This means looking at the number of customer queries handled there or the reach our content has on an audience who has not yet heard of our brand.”
Needless to say, Travelsart’s social media strategy is still evolving and Paul anticipates it will continue to do so and the company will be increasingly open on Facebook and the other sites it uses.
He said; “We are also looking at producing more online video content to maximise the exposure Travelstart has on multiple platforms.”
He also believes that other African companies could equally pull off a similar coup as long as they have their shops in order to start with.
“You have to ask some fundamental questions: Am I prepared to listen and respond positively to every customer? Am I 100 percent confident of my product? Is my existing customer service impeccable?
“If the answer to these three questions is a confident yes then you are ready to get involved with social media.
“That being said your brand is already being discussed on social platforms, every minute you are not facilitating those conversations is a minute lost.”
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”