What’s the Reward for Getting Social?

By Lisa Farrar Wellman

Earn points for money I was spending anyway? Yes, please.

We all like a good rewards program and according to Chute’s 2017 Traveler Social Media Preferences Report, the number one reason people follow a travel brand on social media is because they are already loyal, rewards members. In that same report, though, we learn that “50% of people say they don’t follow airlines, hotels or other travel brands because the content shared is too promotional.” This means that while rewards members are more likely to follow a brand out of loyalty, they still aren’t following in the huge numbers that truly reflect how many Americans participate in rewards programs.

Interacting with followers is key to rising above the loud distractions vying for your customers’ attention. How can your destination brand increase customer engagement and put those rewards members’ dollars to work for you?

Everybody’s Doing It

Reward programs are extremely popular in the U.S. Whether it’s a grocery store, coffee shop, makeup company, airline or hotel chain, Americans connect with their favorite brands via loyalty programs. They’re increasingly easy to join, usually only requiring a name and email address. Rewards vary and many people don’t even cash in their rewards but everyone likes the idea of being rewarded for spending money and they definitely want to tell their friends about it.

Just read Bond Brand Loyalty’s 2017 Loyalty Report. For the last seven years, Bond has queried customers all over North America. This year 28,000 people answered their online survey. Seventy-three percent say they are more likely to recommend a brand with a rewards program and 81% say loyalty programs make them more likely to stick with the brand for future business. Everybody wins in the rewards game, especially brands willing to go the extra mile to keep members.

Brands recognize that it is much less expensive to retain customers than it is to entice new ones so they try to respond to the market accordingly. This is good news for customers looking for deals, so one might think those same customers would jump at the chance to follow their rewards programs online. Think again.

But Not on Social Media

Despite the dominance of social media in our daily lives and the fact that so many Americans belong to loyalty programs, few travel rewards members actually follow their brand’s loyalty program on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The ones that do have high expectations and in order to succeed, brands have to meet them.

“The Hilton Honors social channels aim to inspire, entertain and inform our audiences,” says Lauren Skrincosky, Portfolio Communications Manager for Hilton Honors. “Social media also allows us to have direct conversations with our members to collect experiences and feedback, which can directly impact program changes and improvements.”

Brands measure fans’ responses to campaigns very quickly on social media. Marketers know what followers like almost immediately and can better plan for the next program or offer.

What customers often don’t realize is that by following a brand’s rewards program, they set themselves apart. It is much easier for a company to engage with individuals when they belong to a small, select group. Rewards members’ comments are actually read and very often responded to because the company’s social media team can easily keep up with the smaller amount of interactions.

The trick is getting current rewards members to follow their loyalty programs on social media in the first place. According to Bond’s survey, 57% of Americans want to interact with loyalty programs on their mobile devices. That number does not translate to following brands on social media, however. Many people are reluctant to do so because they fear opening themselves up to mostly advertisements.

“I don’t follow my loyalty programs on Facebook because I don't care to give them even more access into my life” says David Root, 40, a warehouse manager from Kansas City, Mo. “Plus who wants even more ads cluttering up my feed?”

“I use a certain credit card from one of the airlines to earn miles,” says Dana Dorsey, 68, retired small business owner from Austin, Texas. “I don't follow them because they bombard me with emails so following them on Facebook would be overkill. I do love the fact they are footing most of the airline bill for our Disney trip!”

Brands approach this problem with various solutions. Marriott hands out points to rewards members who engage with the hotel chain on social media-up to 45,000 a year. Hilton includes information about property benefits and the Hilton Honors app but also new incentives like the ability to shop Amazon with hotel points. The idea, of course, as with all marketing, is to give followers value-added content so they view it as worthwhile. How can marketers accomplish this?

Get Social with Customers

In order to promote social media connections, start with what you already have: customer email addresses. Hold a contest and make the prize large enough so members follow your brand on social media platforms. Not only does this increase the likelihood they will engage with your brand but it also gives you insight into which platforms customers favor so you can better engage with them there.

Ask for social media preferences and encourage new members to follow you right as they are setting up their loyalty accounts. Give them the choice between receiving emails or receiving program news via social media instead. That way your brand does not risk overwhelming its most loyal fans with too much information. Ask followers to recommend you to a friend and reward them with points when they do. Social media word-of-mouth cannot be overemphasized. It is free to you and works wonders. Don’t forget to create a hashtag for consumers to use when they’re engaging with you directly, just on the road snapping fun shots or recommending your destination to friends.

Invite different voices to the conversation. Customers respond to guest posts so have your CEO share her favorite items on your restaurant’s menu or ask the concierge at your most popular hotel to recommend a nearby club for a girls’ night out.

Remember to encourage goal setting with your followers. The points are only valuable if customers set their sights on that Alaskan cruise or a special weekend getaway to Boston. Help your members keep an eye on the prize by sharing member success stories or offer more incentives for those who save points for a large purchase. Doing this will create a relationship of trust with your followers and counter their knee-jerk reaction that everything put out by company rewards programs is spam.

The Pay Off

Hilton Honors Facebook page boasts over one million followers. “Hilton Honors social plays a vital part in various overarching Hilton campaigns and promotions,” says Skrincosky. “This year, social ads have driven more than 266,200 link clicks to Hilton websites and over 4,000 Hilton Honors app downloads, as well as driving new Hilton Honors membership enrollments in our growing community of over 66 million members.”

Your members are on social media but getting (and keeping) their attention in an already-crowded newsfeed is not easy. Create posts that engage, educate and motivate. Users are simply not interested in yet another advertisement and they’ll spot yours from a mile away. Just as people recognize and relate to user generated content over staged photography, they shy away from obvious commercials and lean toward posts that are genuine, humorous or informative. Find out what your consumers want to know and give it to them. They’ll reward you with the loyalty your brand needs for success.