Here, we quiz Chris Davies, digital marketing manager at BA, on the aims behind its soon-to-launch social networking site Metrotwin.com.
We ask about the risks and rewards of user-generated content (UGC) and how its benefits should be measured.
What are your views on UGC and how it can benefit online marketing?
UGC is a fantastic opportunity to connect with existing and potential new customers. It allows a marketeer to ‘fish where the fish are’.
But the risk is that a brand entering this space must have credibility, or else it can be a detrimental move that will alienate people from the brand and the offering.
What were the reasons behind the launch of Metrotwin, and what will it offer?
BA is a company that connects people. UGC is essentially about connecting people.
We fly more people between London and New York then anyone else. Creating a community website about the best of what’s on offer between London and New York felt like a credible and useful tool.
Essentially, it is a community site of the best of both cities; bringing London and New York together in one place.
The unique element of the site, however, is that it twins recommendations in each city (which users recommend). So, if you are looking for the Selfridges of New York, or a NYC version of your favourite Sushi restaurant in London, you’ll find it on metrotwin.com.
What hidden costs and challenges do you have to watch out for when launching a UGC site?
The biggest focus for us is ensuring the site is well-managed from a moderation perspective. There’s a learning curve for any brand in how to manage content from users.
What types of concerns did you have to overcome internally?
Because the idea felt so right for the brand, the buy in was pretty simple. It was more a case of people understanding the concept.
But once we got the beta site live, our management had a play and really engaged with it. Again, it all comes back to credibility. If it makes sense that the brand is connected to the product then it should fly internally, and with customers.
Which departments should feed into site creation and management?
It’s ultimately a marketing tool for us. But I would hope that its benefits are far reaching.
We would really like to be synonomous with London and New York, and that would have an impact across the company.
What are the challenges of measuring UGC? What KPIs should be adopted?
We are investing in tools to help us understand what people are saying about our brand online. Success for us is both about brand perception, as well as clicks and page views.
So we’d be hoping to see positive responses with buzz indexes, but the harder metrics will be unique users, page views and advertising revenue.
As you’ll see with the site, the BA branding is reasonably subtle. The site is not about driving traffic to ba.com as a primary objective.
So whilst we’ll be happy that people visit ba.com after their visit, it’s not what’s driving the concept in any way. I really want poeple to find the site useful and come back to it on a regular basis.
How do agencies differ in terms of their capabilities, costs and approaches to UGC site development?
For us, this was a truly collaborative effort with our agencies. We needed different skills all working together. It’s still a new concept for a lot of agencies, so we found we needed different talents.
BBH led the strategic work, Made By Many led the design and concepting, and Agency.com focused on development and delivery.
Who should you use for social media marketing in general? An SEO agency, a PR agency, your ad agency or none of the above?
Social media marketing cuts across almost all of our agencies remits. Therefore, we are engaging with all them to a lesser or greater extent. Online PR and seeding cuts through SEO and PR, as well as digital for example.
It’s really interesting to see how both digital and traditionally offline agencies are responding to the changing landscape. Some seem to embrace the change more than others (in both directions).
What’s your view on how brands should act within social networks?
It comes back to my earlier point about credibility. Do it if it fits your brand and you think users would find it valuable. Don’t do it to tick a box on a list of new marketing channels.
Most UGC site users are wary of big brands coming into what they consider to be ‘their space’. But if you are giving them something that helps them; some sort of social currency, then they’ll likely thank you for it.
But mess it up, and you can really damage your brand online.
Do you see social networks becoming an online sales channel, or merely an opportunity for branding? And what types of traffic are you seeing from social networks currently?
There’s definitely potential for sales, and we are all looking for opportunities there, but I really still see them as a way of getting your brand across in an engaging way.
Yes, we’ll get ad revenue, but the bigger win for me is seeing a visible increase in brand loyalty, both with existing customers, and getting the brand across to newer audiences.
Hitwise stats tells us that about 2% of traffic to ba.com comes from a community or social networking site.