Business Opinion: Social Media Association for Tourism Brands

There is always confusion about which came first, the chicken or the egg, especially in the sequence of elements that build brand equity. Not just in the tourism industry, but in all sectors of our global economy. All I can say is that the brand association is the result of the branding effort done so far (a composite of all the previously mentioned elements). We can spend more time debating this, but the intervention of social media can certainly lead to a lasting tourism brand association. In our previous editions, we looked at how social media can improve the brand image, brand awareness, perceived brand quality and brand loyalty of our tourism SMEs. Here, we take it a step further by looking at the role of social media in fostering a permanent brand association of these companies.

Sometimes when you talk too much about a sentence, it loses its meaning. I will remind some of our business practitioners that social media is deeply rooted and a thoughtful paradigm. It is rooted as a construct of communication science and sociology. These terminologies may frighten some, it’s like going back to class. But in this discussion, we simplify education in practice (so we are together). Both concepts are based on existence and exchange as interactive social beings. Therefore, they have a strong impact on brand building and market connection by encouraging consumption through wired social exchange. We have seen that the brand awareness of our tourism SMEs can be improved/positively influenced by social media. It’s the same with brand association. In our tourism promotion campaign, we mainly talk and influence the interest of people/tourists to associate with our brand(s). It is through the same lens that we assess social media on its ability to sell/promote tourism brand attributes, expected consumer benefits and positive brand attitude as a reflection. Yes, this is easier said than done, which is why we need to walk through these issues together to simplify the application of social media in brand association by our own local tourism SMEs.

Brand association is a measure of fairness that influences the purchasing decision of an individual or a group of tourists. This can be a personal initiative (when one feels like associating with an appealing brand, then doing a social media search) or induced by others through electronic word of mouth. But at this point, our entrepreneurs need to know that it’s not about brand projection anymore. Now it’s the equity the brand has gained through the existence and fulfillment of the promise. A brand that has succeeded in transforming followers into partners. It goes back to the above, that all the other elements are assimilated and result in a brand association. The moment we have unknown advocates and ambassadors selling our own brand(s), we say done. Most of our SME brands have a habit of creating enemies rather than friends. Although we don’t have much control over who may or may not be our associates, social media has proven to have that power. In this era, what’s on a customer’s mind is mostly driven/influenced by social media. This platform has helped many people to create friends, relatives and even marriages in the world. In the same spirit, it has become a handy fruit for the necessary tourism brand association. Our task is how to connect the tourism brand with the minds and hearts of all our potential associates via social media.

The magic of social media cannot be quantified as it goes beyond our existence, through the wide coverage and storage/sharing of good brand memories (in the form of images and videos). This is done through various private and public networks. This has increased tourism brand awareness, corporate image and made intangible quality tangible. Likewise, social media can add more by increasing consumer traffic as associates when linking to our websites and other internal marketing promotion blogs. Tourism operators can use blogs to showcase their offerings ranging from accommodation to travel and resorts. It’s easy to see who connects with you as a first or repeat buyer and even referrals (and take the opportunity to convert to associates). This is where advocacy and brand ambassadorship are born and nurtured. The entrepreneur should then invite those with higher traffic for a treat and give them a permanent stake in the tourism business (the social networks feeding the associations). They will surely have that sense of brand ownership to invite more future customers than the SME could have done on its own.

There is also social listening as part of improving brand association by adapting to what customers are saying about your brand and its offerings on social media. As noted in the previous edition, customers develop a strong bond with the brand when they see their concerns being heard and addressed as requested (we should not be defensive about their concerns). With social media, you get feedback on what you didn’t ask for. Your answer should be to adjust rather than keep asking why? This is when you mix your brand mix with the real tastes/preferences as the markets expect (without blowing your own horn). This will help you build brand association by giving them what they want.

Most of the time, tourists wonder and make blind travel decisions. Social media also has the power to overcome these obstacles. This means creating supportive communities that help as brand advocates. These can grow naturally anywhere in the world for you. Usually in response to your proven dominance, sharing, likes, following, and advertising on social media (people follow most to create associations). When tourists ask questions about your brand and your offer, they will be a stranger to answer and serve this newcomer on your behalf (power of association via social networks).

Finally, social media also helps to support brand psychology among tourists through blogs like Twitter, Facebook and any other platform available. They talk to each other, share and encourage each other to consume your brand without any fear of the unknown. The task of an entrepreneur is to constantly monitor and create synergies with these associates and social leaders. I let you think beyond branding. Return on Branding Investment (ROBI) is the association created. As Sumeet Singh said, “Before the World Wide Web, brand storytelling was done through word of mouth and other mediums that required dollars to create stories. However, the Internet has changed the face of traditional forms of marketing, expanding a brand’s reach, both globally and hyper-locally.

Dr. Farai Chigora is a businessman and an academic. He is the Director of Business Science at the College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University. His doctoral research focused on business administration (destination marketing and branding, Ukzn, SA). He is in agribusiness and is a consultant for many companies in Zimbabwe and Africa. He writes in a personal capacity and can be contacted for comments and business at [email protected], WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.

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