Andrew Youssef/OC WeeklyLast Saturday, I watched as French pop/rock band Phoenix dazzled the crowd at a sold-out Hollywood Bowl show (check out the slideshow here, btw). It was a glorious spectacle of the band’s more than decade-long career, wherein they played almost all their hit songs, one after another.The audience lapped it up; most were transfixed by the light show (which utilized not only the stage but the shape of the Hollywood Bowl), the setlist (most of the songs were from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their most accessible album yet), and the dramatic gimmicks.Which brings us to how the age of social media has changed the live concert experience. These days, it’s not enough that Phoenix gave an unforgettable performance—for most big bands, that’s just to be expected. (And they did, don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing show.)But because everyone will be Twittering/Facebooking and YouTubing video and footage of concerts, bands (much like reality TV stars) have to play up to the audience so much more.Does this mean that the live experience is more calculated? Yes. Does it mean it’s better? Usually.Does it spoil the concert experience to have 10,000 people holding their phones up to record the whole experience so they can’t just tell their friends about it, they can SHOW THE WHOLE WORLD THEY WERE THERE? Er, yes.
TSO tour dates on facebook.com
Are you Going to see a TSO show this year? Get tickets for an upcoming event and tell all your friends that you are going via Facebook!
TSO tour dates on facebook.com
Booking a flight? Go on Facebook. Running late to the hotel? Send a tweet.
Hotels, airlines and other segments of the multibillion-dollar travel industry are aggressively tapping into social media, ramping up their use of online sites such as Facebook and Twitter to build loyalty to their brands.
Airlines are maintaining a presence on YouTube and offering deals through social-mapping networks such as Loopt. Hotels are promoting their properties through bloggers, and they’re using social-networking sites to gather feedback, monitor trends and provide concierge services.
"I definitely think that social media is about to change the way we do things entirely," says Jill Fletcher, social media and communications manager for Virgin America. “We’re able to admit over social media if we’ve made a mistake or if there’s a weather delay. So we’re able to communicate much faster and more effectively.”
Social media are being incorporated at a rapid rate into every part of a journey, from making the reservation to finding out where to eat. For instance:
•As of August, Delta passengers can buy tickets on Delta’s Facebook page.
•Southwest has three staffers dedicated to monitoring and responding to queries made through social-media channels.
•Marriott is launching its Marriott Courtyard Facebook page Tuesday to issue messages about the chain and related information that might interest customers.
•Hyatt Hotels launched a Twitter account last year to serve as a virtual concierge. Staffers, based in Omaha, Australia and Mumbai, are instructed to respond to requests and questions within an hour, and are fielding queries ranging from where to find good sushi to alerts that a guest will be checking in late. The account has 12,000 followers. Hilton has a similar Twitter account.
Compared with other industries, the travel and hospitality sector is ahead of the curve in engaging social media, says Carl Howe, a director with the Yankee Group, a telecommunication market research firm.
It’s “mainly because there is so much concern about consumer perception,” he says. “There are a lot more choices for hotels than there are for cable providers, and the same is true for airlines.”
Seeking return visitors
A key goal of staking a claim in the social-media space is to build a base of devoted followers who will keep coming back.
"Most travel organizations are actually looking for something more than a transaction," Howe says. "They’re looking for loyalty, and that means a long-term engagement."
Still, deals, incentives and freebies offered on social-media channels are a way airlines and hotels cultivate new customers.
United, for instance, has “twares,” fare specials offered exclusively through Twitter, the micro-messaging channel. In July, AirTran introduced its “Facebook Friday Fares,” which give its Facebook fans unique deals.
Joe Palma, a chef at Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., uses Twitter to send messages about specials, restaurant news and holiday hours, and to ask fans what they would like to see on the seasonal menu. Last year, he held a contest to select a new fall dessert menu item, and the winner received dinner for two.
LuxuryLink.com and FamilyGetaway.com, which sell hotel packages, have launched “mystery auctions,” in which customers bid for hotel packages at discounted rates without knowing the property’s identity. To increase followers, the sites began issuing clues about the hotels only through their Facebook and Twitter pages.
Travel businesses are seeking out social-media mavens and bloggers to sing their praises.
As Country Inns & Suites By Carlson prepared to open its 500th hotel in College Station, Texas, earlier this year, it offered free seven-day trips to three bloggers active in social-media sites.
Aurora Toth, vice president of marketing for Carlson Hotels, says the bloggers and their families were assigned to drive to College Station in vehicles with Country Inn decals, stop in seven states, blog and post messages on Facebook and Twitter along the way. Country Inn received local news coverage, and the bloggers helped spread word of the new hotel to their followers. “We learned the power of what we can do,” Toth says.
Marriott is launching a campaign in October that will invite loyalty program members with large Facebook and Twitter followings to help spread the word about its SpringHill Suites chain. They’ll get free stays and other incentives in return for positive messages sent to followers.
To replace convention business that shrank during the recession, Westin St. Maarten is contacting wedding bloggers and offering their readers a sweepstakes drawing for a ceremony or honeymoon at the resort. “We couldn’t have found those people any other simpler way,” says Karen Gee-McAuley, whose public relations firm Blaze helped the hotel develop the strategy.
Social networking and mobile technology are a new advertising frontier, and it makes sense for the travel industry to jump on board, some say.
"We’re a traditional advertising company, and looking at venturing out into social media and mobile phone applications wasn’t really something that we were considering," says Toby Sturek, president of Clear Channel Airports. “But with the needs of the traveler, we felt we needed to continue to innovate.”
Airlines are using the tools and channels to try to ease travel, enabling passengers to book trips and find out if there is a delay without picking up a phone.
Instead of going to Delta.com, where 19 million domestic tickets are booked a year, passengers can make reservations on the airline’s Facebook page. The carrier will also let passengers peruse other websites and still be able to buy tickets by clicking on a Delta banner ad.
"Our strategy is, in channels where our customers are engaging, we want to be there for them and with them," says Bob Kupbens, Delta’s vice president of e-commerce.
The airline’s website and traditional e-mail continue to be key, he says. But, he says, “these other channels are opportunities to be where the site isn’t. You’re not standing in line in security with your laptop open. But you are there with your mobile phone.”
A social-media presence has become essential for any company that wants to bond with a younger generation that will hopefully remain loyal for years.
"For most of the people in that 18-to-24 (year-old) demographic, e-mail is old school," says Howe. "That’s something that their parents do. If you want to reach them, you have to communicate in the ways they feel most comfortable, and that’s mostly Facebook and texting."
AirTran’s “AirTran U” program, which allows 18-to-24-year-olds to fly standby for a discounted fare, has its own Facebook page. One of its promotions, “AirTran U Creeper,” flashes photos submitted by users at midnight. The first person to spot his or her picture and alert the airline wins a prize.
"It does help build the brand," says AirTran spokesman Christopher White. "We know some people will read our website. Some people will read the newspaper. But this is a unique channel. And the 18-to-24 crowd really is not tuning into the radio ad. They’re living their lives via social media, and if you’re not in that space getting your message out where they can hear it, they’re simply not hearing it."
Last week, some mobile users who downloaded an iPhone app from the social-mapping network Loopt found out about a special offer from Virgin America promoting its new service to Mexico. If they made their way to the airport in San Francisco or Los Angeles, or to a local taco truck, they had the chance to get two tickets for the price of one to Los Cabos or Cancun.
Jamie Swartz, 29, who is getting married in Cancun in February, says that it’s been tough for some of her guests to find direct flights. When she heard about the Loopt Star download, she sent a message to everyone she knew and headed to a taco truck on Hollywood Boulevard. She and a bridesmaid each snagged the two-for-one deal.
"I totally missed the big Twitter boom," says Swartz, a marketing associate in West Hollywood. "I was late to join Facebook."
But she says she was impressed enough by the creativity of the Loopt promotion to keep Virgin America in mind for future trips. “I think it (was) a great idea,” she said.
Where are you?
Hotels are seeking ways to take advantage of the latest twist in the social-media sphere: location-based service software which uses the GPS in smartphones to provide hotels information about their customers’ whereabouts.
InterContinental is working with start-up company Topguest. People who sign up at Topguest’s website can walk into any hotel, restaurant or bar operated by InterContinental and receive a small allowance of the hotel company’s loyalty points. To receive the points, they must alert their “friends” on Foursquare or Facebook Places, two of the most popular location-based social-networking tools.
For hotels, it’s a way to promote their loyalty programs, increase sales during off hours and learn more about which of their customers are the “most influential” members in social-media circles, says Geoff Lewis, CEO of Topguest.
Virgin America’s Loopt promotion helped the airline see its fifth-highest-grossing sales day this year. Hotel executives say it’s too early to tell if their social-media efforts are beefing up the bottom line. But some report encouraging signs.
Vero Beach Hotel & Spa, run by Kimpton, began occasionally issuing codes last summer for a 15% discount on its best available rates. In measuring their redemptions, the hotel learned that the codes generated 270 more room nights this year. “It’s still too early for return-on-investment (analysis). But we’ve seen some benefits here and there,” says Niki Leondakis, president of Kimpton Hotels.
For all the merits of social media, some industry watchers warn that the industry shouldn’t forget about the older generations that aren’t tech savvy and still need to be engaged.
"The Boomer generation … we’re the ones that are going to travel and will have the money to travel, and we’re probably not going to be the ones on Twitter and Facebook," says Terry Trippler, founder of airline information website RulesToKnow.com.
Jim Black, 58, a data network engineer in Ventura, Calif., who’s on the road about 30 weeks a year, says technology can never replace another person’s input.
"Twitter creates the appearance of human contact but it lacks the actual human touch," says Black, who barely updates his Facebook page and isn’t interested in any special deals offered via Twitter. "To substitute social media for human contact is incrementally a step down in customer service."
Google to Launch iTunes Competitor this Winter
According to Reuters; Google will be launching an iTunes competitor this Christmas in the form of Google Music.
Apparently Google are in talks with major record labels, attempting to secure deals that would see labels on Google’s upcoming music service. This would allow customers to digitally download their music or stream them from a Internet connected mobile device, known as the digital song locker.
Currently Google haven’t secured any record deals as of yet. I’m sure though as time passes, Google will begin to start securing major deals, as the music industry looks to make the market more competitive.
According to sources, Andy Rubin; Google Vice President of Engineering has been holding talks with record labels detailing Google’s proposed service.
Apple are currently the titans of the digital music industry as the iTunes store is responsible for 70 percent of digital music sales within the United States.
Google have done a fine job at battling Apple on the mobile front, so it’s expected that Google could mimic its success with their music service.
Google is still trying to hammer out deals with labels so it can start selling music, Reuters reports.
Google wants to have a “digital locker” for people’s music. That just means consumers can buy their music once and use it on every device. Apple was reportedly working on a similar plan, but it has nothing to show for it so far.
We’ll see if Google gets any further. One thing it has working in its favor is that some music execs think Google could provide a balance to Apple’s heavy influence in the digital music world.
Here’s one exec quote by Reuters:
"Finally here’s an entity with the reach, resources and wherewithal to take on iTunes as a formidable competitor by tying it into search and Android mobile platform," said a label executive who asked not to be identified. "What you’ll have is a very powerful player in the market that’s good for the music business."
Other executives are more cautious. One notes, "We’re cautiously optimistic because Google has great scale and reach but doesn’t have a track record in selling stuff." (As in movies on YouTube, or even apps through the Android Market.)
Reuters also points out Amazon is selling digital music but it hasn’t hurt iTunes.
If you’re a singer, you should be following Claudia Friedlander’s blog. The classically-trained, New York-based voice teacher provides sage advice not only for singers for all types, but also for musicians and people in general.
Although at least one of her students sings metal, Friedlander knows virtually nothing about it. I wondered what she would think of some of metal’s most classic male singers – the foundation of the artform. It’s rare to find someone who isn’t familiar with any of these singers. Her perspective would be a fresh one, free of cultural baggage. I sent her five completely unidentified songs. Her comments are below. I have also included initial reactions she sent me immediately upon hearing the singers.
Even Apple, which lives in a bubble of its own device-centered success, can’t resist the lure of social networking. Today, CEO Steve Jobs formally thrust the company into the social-media fray with an iTunes-based network, Ping.—> Why would Apple want to get into social networking? It’s where consumers are spending most of their internet time, and Apple has millions of iTunes customers as an instant revenue stream. “We think this will be really popular very fast because 160 million people can switch it on today,” Mr. Jobs said during his keynote, where he also announced a version of iOS 4 for the iPad and a new $99 version of AppleTV, with 99-cent TV and $4.99 movie rentals.
But the creation of Ping thrusts Apple into an entirely new market, one dominated today by Facebook, with Google on the outside and peering in eagerly. Mr. Jobs said Ping will have all the social-networking features we have come to expect, such as friends, photo and video sharing, and of course privacy gradations. But the biggest angle for Ping is the way it’s centered around sharing and shopping for music. With the latest software update, every single user of iTunes — those 160 million customers — could turn on Ping today.
“The ambition for Ping is not to compete with Twitter and Facebook; they just want you to buy more,” said Forrester analyst James McQuivey. “Even if the existing customers buy just one or two more tracks a month because their friends recommended them, Ping is a huge success for Apple.”
Because customers are buying, and Apple isn’t dependent on ad revenue, the tech company is not as concerned as Facebook and Google with how much time consumers spend on the service. “Because Facebook’s revenue stream is based on advertising, the measure of success is the length of time users remain in Facebook,” Mr. McQuivey said. “But Ping’s revenue stream is iTunes, not advertising.”
Built into Ping’s features — among them what you would expect, such as what your friends are listening to, where your favorite musicians are performing — are many “Buy” buttons. This purchase feature is already at least one step ahead of Facebook, which has a fledgling Facebook Marketplace that has not shown much movement. Facebook sells Facebook credits for use in the Marketplace and games, but compared with iTunes, that revenue is spare change.
MySpace has used music discovery and its network of music fans and artists as its last bulwark against obsolescence. If, as Mr. Jobs hopes, artists begin congregating on Ping, it could accelerate MySpace’s decline. Mr. McQuivey says he sees new artist discovery beginning on YouTube, then going on to iTunes or Amazon, bypassing MySpace altogether. For artists that don’t have music videos, they or their fans tend to upload songs to YouTube along with static images. In this sequence of discovery, Ping is more of a competitor to YouTube.
Privacy could also be an issue for Ping, given that Apple has some pretty sensitive information on iTunes customers, including credit-card information, past purchases and, well, what’s on their iPods and iPhones.