Unlock potential with social media

Don’t see social media as a hindrance, as these operators reveal, it can have huge benefits

In the coach and bus industry words matter. You hear from operators frequently that word of mouth helps their business grow thanks to the good word from a regular user.

And it is word of mouth that can make or break a business. This is where social media, a fundamental necessity in this day and age, comes into it.

“With todays ‘smartphone generation’ you simply can’t afford not to be on social media,” says Andy Wing, Transport Manager at Golden Boy Coaches.

“Not having a presence on any sites can damage your business. We all know that sometimes things can go wrong and initially, our biggest fear was receiving any kind of negative feedback in such a public domain.

“In fact, our experience is that it does not happen very often and as long as you deal with it in the correct manner when it does, then you can still retain customer loyalty.”

Getting social

The Confederation of Passenger Transport’s Chief Executive Graham Vidler raised a vital point in his latest column [routeone/Trade Talk/6 November], when he said operators need to speak up about some “great examples of initiatives” they have – and social media is the perfect platform to do so to reach a wider audience.

The industry has really been advancing over the years with the integration of contactless payments, on-board wi-fi and USB charging points. These are all great bonuses to catching the bus or using a coach which operators need to be shouting about online.

“We have long used social media and found it to be very successful for promoting our services, special offers, our community projects and engaging with our customer base and potential clients,” says Richard Bamber, Managing Partner of Anthony’s Travel.

Pros and cons

Three of the biggest social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – but they all get used in very different ways.

“I think each platform has its own purpose and a very different way of communicating information, so therefore they all have strength and weaknesses,” explains Sarah Wallbridge, Marketing Manager at First West of England.

“Instagram is great for storytelling and giving a snapshot of what we are. Facebook allows us to communicate images and information and has a great reach.

“Twitter is great for getting short service updates out quickly. However, the character limit means detailed messages need to be staged on another platform.

“Facebook and Twitter work especially well when we have adverse weather. We can provide up-to-the-minute updates on what’s running.”

Twitter has a character limit of 280, so it needs to be eye-catching and snappy – as Ms Wallbridge says, it’s not the best platform for detailed information. This is where Facebook comes in and they can work hand-in-hand.

Having no limit, Facebook allows its users to post longer and more detailed pieces. That’s particularly good for coach operators who want to share upcoming tour information.

Mr Wing says: “Overall, we find Twitter works best for us, but Facebook is a great way to show off our coaches with pictures at various locations and we are possibly going to start using Instagram for the same reason. The Google Business page helps with SEO which can increase website traffic.”

Setting up

Set up a business page on Facebook and ensure a post is published at least once a day to make sure your page is being seen.

Ask customer’s questions and interact; building relationships is key. A great post would be to ask customers to share pictures on your Facebook page that show them using your service and to rate it.

Social media is also great to promote any offers and run competitions.

With both platforms, be sure to include images or videos with posts as this will enable you to get more visibility.

Says Gemma Hoare, Commercial Manager at Weymouth-based Bluebird Coaches: “We have been using Facebook for the longest and therefore have a larger following on this platform. We are still developing and promoting our presence on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

“Posting pretty photographs of destinations or passengers having a good time always attracts a lot of likes and shares. Whenever possible include a link to your website on similar holidays or events.”

Adds Jenny Cook, Reservations and Sales Manager at Eavesway Travel: “Social media has helped our business. Most of the general public now have at least one type of social media account, therefore it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with offers and encourage bookings when our coaches off a free facility such as on-board wi-fi.”