Semester Project. Master in Tourism. 9 th Semester Aalborg University, Copenhagen

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1 Semester Project Master in Tourism 9 th Semester 2013 Aalborg University, Copenhagen Social Media Marketing: Why tourist companies operating in the MICE sector should include social media in their business strategy? An investigation on the Italian DMC and PCO belonging to Eventing Milan Supervisor: Student: Burcu Karakas Federica Petruccio Hand in date: 02/01/2014

2 Table of Contents 1. Introduction Background to study Problem statement and research question Project structure Literature Review Web Marketing Tourism Case introduction Today s MICE sector Eventing Milan s units Methodology Qualitative approach Semi-structured interviews Netnography Secondary data and Participant observation Reflections and limitations Analysis 6. Conclusions 7. Report on internship experience Duties, competences and inspiration Personal outcome.. 8. Reference list Appendix... 2

3 1. Introduction 1. 1 Background to study The idea behind this research initiated at the beginning of the author s internship at Incoming Partners, Italian DMC specialised in tailor made services for leisure and MICE. During the internship in the marketing department, the author had a confirmation of how important is, for this business, to understand the customers needs in order to propose personalized offers (Kotler et al., 2010). With this goal in mind, Incoming Partners dedicates a great deal of effort to the creation of a database with the management software eagency whose data will be integrated with the CRM 1 system Infinity. In the era of the web 2.0, innovate and digitalise an accurate client profiling become pivotal to improve the customer relation management (ibid., 2010). However, to be competitive in the new scenario, facilitate the dialogue with a new generation of consumers interested in participating and send messages that stimulate curiosity in order to encourage the WOM (Castoldi, 2009), seem unavoidable as well. Being social and integrate social media marketing with the traditional one, seem to be the new must-do for any company that wants to have long life (Parent et al., 2011). The importance of including social media in the corporate strategy is confirmed by all the international fairs in which Incoming Partners participated in the 2013, where numerous seminars were dedicated to innovation and social media in the tourism sector (WTM, 2013). In addition, checking the digital presence of Eventing Milan s DMC/PCO, it was easy to see that all of them own a page at least in one social media, being Incoming Partners the only one that is not following the trend (Eventing Milan, 2013). The preliminary informal interview with the manager revealed that the company has few concerns about the introduction of social media in a forthcoming future. This choice requires time, energy, training, accuracy and rapidity in monitoring the feedbacks as well as a clear strategy (Qualman, 2013). Furthermore, the fact that the company operates in a B2B context raises some more doubts about the efficacy of these instruments in the creation of new business relations or reinforcement of the old ones. Therefore, the adoption of a social media marketing strategy seems unnecessary at present time. These thoughts, completed by numerous readings on the topic, aroused a certain curiosity in relation to social media that, despite have been often emphasized as the main tools for 1 used to satisfy the needs of a customer during any given interaction [ ] CRM involves acquisition, analysis and use of knowledge about customers in order to sell more goods or services and to do it more efficiently (Bose, 2002, p.89). 3

4 success (ibid., 2013), their application on the tourism sector has not been investigated deeply on a B2B perspective. 1.2 Problem statement and research questions The goal of the present study is to shed lights on the benefits that tourist companies can obtain including social media in their marketing strategy and try to understand how and why those companies, more reluctant towards an implementation of these tools, can integrate them with their traditional marketing instruments in order to manage the relation with customers and business partners. Collecting data about contemporary scenario, members of Eventing Milan and social media marketing solutions that can be chosen nowadays, the research aims to define successful tools and derived benefits for enterprises operating in the MICE industry, keeping in mind a precise research question: How can social media marketing improve the business processes in term of marketing, internal organization and customer relationship management of a tourist company specialized in the MICE sector independently from its size? In order to better analyse the subject, the author formulated two sub-questions: how competitors that operate in the same business environment approach and use social media marketing? bound to an analysis of Eventing Milan s members and how can micro companies use social media and benefit from them? focused instead on the impact that social media can have on small businesses. 1.3 Project structure To investigate the aforementioned problem, the first step of the research will be reviewing the academic literature related to the use of social media. In the following chapter, the investigation will be narrowed down in order to delimitate the research to the MICE sector and a specific case study. The next chapter will be dedicated to the methodology and several instruments of a qualitative research will be illustrated. After the presentation of the semi-structured interviews with six Eventing Milan s agencies, a netnography of one of the two that did not grant interviews will be described. Moreover, a participation observation in a training course for operatos that want to become agencies 2.0, supported by secondary data, will be depicted. The chapter will conclude with a brief description of the reflections and limitations encountered during the investigation. 4

5 Thereafter, an attentive analysis will be made to have an overview on the topic and some insights regarding the initial problem formulation. Finally, an internship experience report will be included to summarize the semester with a synthesis of duties, acquired competences and impressions on future career. 5

6 2. Literature review 2.1 Web 2.0 The evolution of the Web into a 2.0 form based on involvement and social interaction through new tools: wiki, social networks, blogs, microblogs, media-sharing sites, review sites, instant messaging and other user generated content platforms (Hvass & Munar, 2012), caused a transformation of production, distribution, communication s processes, purchasing behaviour (Munar & Jacobsen, 2013) and a change of the customers needs previously described by Maslow (Bowen & Clarke, 2009). An evolution of Maslow s theory influenced by the intense use of technology on one s life is the pyramid of COSMA, an Italian acronym used to summarize the modern customer s needs that every business should look at: connection, digital orientation (orientamento digitale), sociality, mediality and self-congratulation (autocelebrazione) (De Felice, 2011). Nowadays, as confirmed by the increase of mobile access, people need to be always connected with the rest of the world wherever they are and through whatever technological device they are in possession of (Caiazzo et al., 2009). They feel it as an unavoidable necessity that becomes therefore physiological. Strictly connected to the first need is the demand of digital orientation filled with the use of devices like Gps or social media (eg. FourSquare) that guarantee a certain security derived from a precise localization (Qualman, 2013). Sociality is the third need ascribable to Maslow s idea of belonging. Social identity, interaction, collaboration and participation are in fact typical aspects a web 2.0 user is looking for (Mainieri, 2013). Furthermore, esteem and consideration evolve into the necessity of mediality. A series of innovations, like DIY media for instance, gives to people the possibility to work autonomously, find the information they need independently, generate contents in ugc platforms, develop discussions on their own initiatives and write reviews on blogs and social networks (Bernoff & Li, 2011). Finally, self-congratulation is expressed through the Real-Time Web and its human broadcaster process where people feel realized sharing their status on different social media (De Felice, 2011). A critical analysis of these needs and the consequent consumers behaviour where firms take into consideration new ideas, monitor the web reputation and adapt their strategies to the modern demand, becomes a crucial aspect to do not underestimate in order to guarantee competitivity. Investing in conversational marketing accepting the technological consumerization and reviewing the traditional marketing strategy and its communication 6

7 tools to create a digital identity recognizable by the users, seems therefore pivotal for any company that wants to assert itself as an enterprise 2.0 (ibid., 2011). In De Felice s opinion, companies should invest in innovation to create new collaboration and communication channels, improve the internal organization and reinforce the customer relations (ibid., 2011). 2.2 Marketing 2.0 In modern times, a competitive marketing strategy needs to integrate traditional instruments with more innovative ones focused on the dialogue with the client to develop and reinforce loyal relations (Kotler at al., 2010). A conversational marketing (De Felice, 2011) or relational marketing (Kotler at al., 2010) directed to the personalization of the services and tailored made with the collection and analysis of specific profiles, should be preferred. In this sense, to digitalize means to implement an attentive customer relationship management process, knowing deeply the single client in order to propose customised solutions aimed to satisfy the expectations and generate confidence in the brand (ibid., 2010). In this scenario, the CRM system is still considered a good instrument to catalogue the different customers in respect to their profile, history, consumer behaviour, preferences and therefore to prepare targeted marketing actions (ibid., 2010), but it definitely requires an adaptation to the new era. For this reason, to encourage its shift to a Social CRM so a strategy that uses Web 2.0 services to create engagement between the customer and the firm, which results in mutually beneficial value (Faase et al., 2011, p.9) seems the right decision to take. Companies should participate on adding value to the conversations anticipating needs that clients are willing to share in this permanent market research as the social media (FIG.1) where with the help of some statistic tools the customer profiling is easily allowed. Consequently, to get new consumers involved and give them the possibility to contribute personally in the construction of the product, it is essential to adjust the traditional marketing mix (Hvass & Munar, 2012) introducing new 3P namely promotion, platform and participation and to include in the company s strategy what has been defined as social media marketing or marketing 2.0 (Caiazzo et al., 2009). In this sense, the definition of a clear communication strategy that has precise objectives is still the first step to understand the best tactics to employ in order to achieve successfully the predetermined goals and assets (FIG.2). 7

8 FIG. 1 The new CRM (Carciofi, 2013) Social media marketing requires as well real time updates, quick feedbacks, a precise language and a plan of actions that can be structured following three types of approach: distributed where each business unit gives its direct contribute independently, centralized followed by an ad-hoc organised group that intervene on the contents and cross-functional where a team constituted by representative of different departments track the media and update the contents (Forrest, n.d.). Involvement, sharing and collaboration need to be guaranteed between more participative employees 2.0 that through the exchange of information and the definition of communication policies overtake fixed processes and internal hierarchy (De Felice, 2011). Training and sharing know-how with the staff following an approach top down, investing on human capital without losing the business focus, introducing new lines of business, integrating the traditional informative system with the 2.0 one and developing new partnerships, but also reinforcing the existing ones with a win-win perspective, are few of the policies the companies should consider in order to respond to the necessity of digitalizing in the new era (De Felice, 2011). 8

9 FIG. 2 Selecting the media (Vaccaro, 2010) Furthermore, once defined also a key performance indicator, it is crucial to analyse the customers behaviour and listen to their feedbacks generating new concept or improving the existing ones and try to lead the innovation working on the company strategy and the digital branding (Qualman, 2013). Finally, monitoring the web reputation, for instance with the use of social marketing platforms that allow a centralized management of different communication channels (Carciofi, 2013), is another fundamental step to avoid a digital suicide. To invest in innovative tools is definitely challenging especially for conservative enterprises often less digitalized, but to look at the content created by the users and turn it into an opportunity seems paramount to become influent in the hyper-technological reality (Munar, 2012). 2.3 Tourism 2.0 Thanks to the web 2.0, that allows independency in the information search, but also engagement and participation in the constitution of ideas, the intermediaries operating in the tourism sector, started to revaluate their position in order to survive. This process, not only defeated the disappearance of the intermediaries previously feared, but actually permitted the multiplication of them (Buhalis and Laws, 2001). Successful intermediaries understood the positive aspect of the information technology and decided to be present in different sales 9

10 channels taking a new shape more interesting from the client s point of view and more competitive from a business perspective (Castoldi, 2009). On this realm, beside offline agencies, the new technological context encouraged a multiplication of e-commerce companies, online travel agencies (OLTA), click and brick operators 2, entirely digital agency, destination portals, home based travel agencies, blogs and community (ibid., 2009). FIG. 3 - The new travel experience (Carciofi, 2013) The tourism sector is moving towards the right direction understanding also the importance of social media marketing and its benefits on a sector based on the creation of loyal and durable relations with the customers. As a matter of fact, several operators are working on their digital identity, spreading their presence on corporate blogs or different social media (FIG.3). Furthermore, a series of educational courses regarding the good use of social media in order to advocate oneself as an agency 2.0 are on the tourist company s agenda. In this realm, the Ente Bilaterale del Turismo proposes the course Agenzia 2.0 in order to train travel operators in the use of social media and web 2.0 instruments (EBRL, 2013). Nowadays a company operating in the B2B sector has a great amount of innovative options to choose from. Through LinkedIn, that gives the possibility to send sponsored mails, create groups and community around the brand and target users based on their profile, a company can promote professionally its products and services and generate lead (Caiazzo et al., 2009). Brand awareness can be generated registering the company on Wikipedia as well as 2 Agencies that can be contacted online with a click, but they also have physical branches or brick. 10

11 uploading a presentation of the activity on the well frequented and social integrated SlideShare. Twitter is a more viral tool that allows engagement and quick diffusion of the messages. A strengthen of the relations based on the dialogue can be permitted with Facebook with its wide reach and sheer size of the users (Conti, 2009). Finally the growing Google+ can help monitoring the performance thanks to the SEO benefits (Qualman 2013). To conclude, an increase on the use of social media for B2B purposes is confirmed by numerous seminars and conferences dedicated to social networks and digital innovation addressed to the tourist operators. The WTM proposing seminars and events dedicated; a Travel tech Show; several social media reports and an app in order to improve networking between attendees, is a great example of how necessary is to create smart events using and understanding social media and innovative technological tools in the new tourist context (WTM, 2013). 11

12 3. Case Introduction 3.1 Today s MICE sector The MICE sector is rapidly growing due to the readjustment of the economy and the requests from various industries, impatient to showcase their new products worldwide (MICE-Trends and its Immediate Future, n.d.) A demand for luxury services supported by a less rigid attitude towards prices; a research for less classical meeting venues that offer recreational and team building activities; a growing interest in new destinations that can provide high quality services, pleasant atmosphere and good value for money and a request of tailor made packages, are few of the emerging trends the sector is currently showing (ibid., n.d.). In order to improve and respond efficiently to these trends and to face successfully the future challenges of an unpredictable scenario, the companies specialised in the MICE sector, start reviewing their internal strategies and quickly adapt them to the external changes (ibid., n.d.). As well as providing high tech devices and equipped conference venues that allow interactivity between participants, a series of apps and platforms are now proposed and used to interact (Conference centres going high-tech, 2013). Innovate, digitalize, train, connect and be social seem to be new unavoidable imperatives (Overall conditions in meetings and events industry improving, says MPI April Business Barometer results, 2013): Meetings and events are getting more tech-savvy than ever before. Apps downloaded on smart phones and ipads, easily accessible mobile sites and meeting-dedicated Facebook pages are assisting planners with the registration process, informing them of programmes and offering an easier method to gather feedback from participants after the events. (MICE-Trends and its Immediate Future, n.d.) Nowadays, the new communication tools are not considered threats, but opportunities to do not underestimate as they give the possibility of exchanging a great amount of information about services and destinations in real time and cost-effectively and networking with more delegates (TrendSpotting 2013 is Here!, 2013). Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have been critical tools to meeting planners [ ]LinkedIn to maintain and create new business contacts, [ ]Facebook to post information or photos after a meeting or event, and [ ] Twitter to tweet live during events. Planners are now also incorporating new visual social media tools such as Pinterest and 12

13 Instagram into their events to showcase event photos or highlight pictures of the event city. (ibid., 2013) The necessity of integrating social media marketing instruments in the company strategies becomes fundamental for any actors that operates in the sector. In this scenario, being considered the most important players for the future of the MICE industry because able to create extraordinary customized experiences, the DMC must find creative and personalized ideas in order to satisfy the modern consumer s needs (10 Predictions for Business Travel, Meetings and Events in 2013, 2013) in all the steps of the event. 3.2 Eventing Milan s units FIG.4 - Eventing Milan s DMC/PCO FIG.5 - Eventing Milan s DMC/PCO Eventing Milan, designed in 2009 by Fiera Milano Congressi, is a project created to promote, especially abroad, Milan as an important destination for the MICE sector. It works in collaboration with numerous stakeholders that operate in different steps of the value chain of the conference and meeting organization in Milan (hotels, conference venues, transfers ) and it is constituted by eight between Destination Management Companies (DMC) and Professional Conference Organisers (PCO): Aim Group International, Ega, Incoming Partners, Italy Destination, Kuoni Destination Management, Promoest, Studio Esse and Triumph Group (FIG.5). 13

14 Aim Group International International group whose branches are distributed in eleven different countries worldwide and specialized in likewise different markets. It proposes a range of services regarding conference, meeting and events management. Its group, Aim DMC is specialized in Milan as a MICE destination (Aim Group International, 2013). Ega PCO operating in numerous Italian cities and partner of the international network INCO Ltd. It is also a DMC specialized in incoming and top-quality and eco-sustainable services (Ega, 2013). Incoming Partners Italian DMC that proposes tailor made business, fit and groups travel, incentives and MICE services. It is specialized in the incoming tourism and theme proposals directed to the foreigner market (Incoming Partners, 2013). Italy Destination Professional DMC focused on the MICE sector and incoming division of the Incentive Power and Events, that offers, all over Italy, customized services based on the five senses (Italy Destination, 2013). Kuoni Destination Management Business unit of the Kuoni Group, this DMC and PCO with its two Italian offices in Rome and Milan, is specialized on the MICE industry in the whole Italian territory (Kuoni, 2013). Promoest DMC specialized in the development of personalized events, conferences, translations and interpreting services, exhibitions, incentive travels. Its division I Like Italy proposes packages and itineraries based on the Italian excellence (Promoest, 2013). Studio Esse Expert in the events management, marketing and PR activities and incentive trips. It won in 2008 the IFE AWARD organised by Italia for Events for its professionalism in the events organization (Studio Esse, 2013). Triumph Group Events and Congress company specialized in the management of events, congresses, exhibitions, meeting and incentive travels. It operates nationally and internationally through seven offices located in different cities (Triumph Group, 2013) 14

15 4. Methodology 4.1 Qualitative approach As shown in the literature review, the theories about social media are several and likewise several are the methods could be used for an investigation of the phenomenon. However, considering that the present research has been narrowed down to the few Italian DMC/PCO that belong to the project Eventing Milan, through a precise purposive sampling process (Jennings, 2010), apply a quantitative approach to such a small sample, could not be effective as the positivist paradigm confirmed (Easterby-Smith, 1991). Moreover, despite the similarity of the services offered by these actors, on reading their profiles it was noticeable that both their internal organisation and marketing strategy could be very dissimilar. In this sense, the researcher expressed a preference towards a qualitative approach based on a constructivist paradigm able to capture the multiple explanations of different realities that people construct (Burr, 2004) and to allow a better understanding and interpretation of the subjective meanings attributed to a social phenomenon (Bryman, 2012) like the one of social media. Besides, it was necessary to use a methodology that could allow a direct participation of the researcher (ibid., 2012) and a certain personalization in each contact with the chosen sample. A standardized process as the survey for instance, could not be used to understand holistically such a complex phenomenon (Kozinets, 2010) and a possibility of miss out some important subjective insights and meanings possibly conveyed during a conversation (Johnson et al., 2007) could unfold. What is important for the research purpose is in fact the collection and analysis of thoughts, words, reasons behind some choices (Jennings, 2010) in order to understand deeply the peculiarities of the topic. In this regard, using some cost-effective, flexible and efficient methods such as the qualitative ones (ibid., 2010) seems to be a good solution to investigate and map an erratic and changeable context (Kozinets, 2010) such as the one of social media. In order to gather the data with text writings and audio recordings instead than numerical data (Cassell et al., 2006) three different qualitative tools of investigation have been used: semistructured interviews, secondary data collection and participant observation and netnography through social network analysis. 15

16 4.2 Semi-structured Interviews The choice of conducting semi-structured interviews, could guarantee a particular flexibility and adaptability to the natural flow of the conversation (Jennings, 2010). Therefore, a certain freedom in the asking sequence and a possibility to introduce more questions when interesting causes for further reflections emerged (McKechnie, 2008), were permitted. Starting from the literature review and contextually to the collection of secondary data, a series of main topics and related questions have been chosen before to conduct the interviews with specific people working in the different companies in order to investigate the research question How can social media marketing improve the business processes in term of marketing, internal organization and customer relationship management of a tourist agency specialized in the MICE sector independently from its size? Immediately after sending an to the representative of each DMC/PCO (App.1), some of the selected companies sent their availability to be interviewed and a total of twenty eight questions and connected follow up questions, were elaborated as guidelines (App.2). The review of different theories allowed a coherent formulation of the questions based on a deductive approach (Bryman, 2012). The questions were divided in six parts in order to connect the answer to the aforementioned theories and in some cases adapted or expanded with new emerging topics. The first part constituted by four questions had the aim of collecting information about the company. Questions regarding the market segment, the type of activity, the dimension, the organization and characteristic of the staff were asked to have an overview about the company and possibly to underline similarities or difference between the organisations. The four questions of the second part were proposed in order to investigate promotional activities, traditional communication instruments and innovative aspects of their marketing strategy. The third part constituted by ten questions was the core of the interview that aimed to analyse the use of social media or innovative tools by the company. In this sense understanding way of communicating, style, contents, customer relation, performances were the main goals to trace the digital identity of the company. In the last part, the focus was on the impact of the use of social media on the internal organization. With five questions, the researcher tried to investigate if implementing social media could improve the relations between colleagues and between staff and management and if a certain cross-functional collaboration unfolds. The following questions were focused on the benefits or disadvantages of using social media in the MICE sector and the differences between a B2B approach and a B2C one. This part of the interview was supported by a figure representing some statistics about the success of social 16

17 media for the US B2B sector (App.2). Finally the interviews ended with a general reflection about the future of the meetings and their digitalization. The guideline illustrated has been used for all the interviews, however in one case, whereas the interviewee was not using social media, some questions were replaced and adapted (App. 3). A total of six semi-structured interviews were conducted in English or Italian respecting the desire of the interviewees. The majority of the appointments were face to face and they lasted between 30 and 50 minutes according to the time at disposal. A shorter interview was conducted via phone and another one has been done via Skype being the department for social media of the analysed company, located in a foreigner office. All interviews were recorded and transcribed with the consensus of the interviewees and at the beginning of each interview a brief presentation of the project, its purpose and use were illustrated (Jennings, 2010). The last two companies chose to do not collaborate, but being one of them more similar to Incoming Partners in term of activity and size, the decision of using an alternative method to explore its social presence, aroused. As a matter of fact, the researcher conducted a netnography based on its Facebook page with the goal of discovering its digital and social identity as well. 4.3 Netnography As a communication medium, a global network of connection, and as a scene of social construction, the Internet provides new tools for conducting research, new venues for social research, and new means for understanding the way social realities get constructed and reproduced through discursive behaviors. (Markham, 2003) Following this idea, the researcher of the present study decided to adopt, as a further research instrument, a netnography defined as a specialised form of ethnography adapted to the computer-mediated contingencies of today s social worlds (Kozinets, 2010, p.1). As any ethnography, this method is adaptable, cost-effective and resource intensive, but without physically involving the researcher in the conversation, gives also the possibility to study the phenomenon following in an unobtrusive manner, the easily accessible natural interactions and discussions that can occur (ibid., 2010). 17

18 Through a social network analysis based on the study of the relationships and exchange happening on the social media in real time, a netnography can give an overview of the subject of study being an application of cultural anthropology to online cyber culture (Hvass & Munar, 2012, p.96). Actors or nodes and relationships or ties can be studied in order to understand behavioural patterns and communication exchange based on audio-visual, textual, photographic sources, their effects on the interactions and the position that every member occupy within the network (Kozinets, 2010). In addition, netnographies differently from ethnographies give the possibility as well to check each conversation over and over because its contents are stored by the digital platform (Hvass & Munar, 2012). As previously mentioned, in order to have a general overview about the use of social media by the company more similar to Incoming Partners, that could not be interviewed, a social network analysis focused on its Facebook page was conducted simultaneously with the semistructured interviews, the participant observation to an educational course and other events and the collection of secondary data. Following a certain design, the researcher after selecting the sampling unit, began to identify relational contents and forms (Knoke & Yang, 2008) using as a starting point some theoretical hypothesis (Prell, 2012) and some of the guidelines of the semi-structured interviews previously conducted (App. 10). As a matter of fact, few hours a day were spent to monitor the contents posted and the consequent comments, the style of communications used, the type of followers and the general interactions happening in the social network (Hvass, & Munar, 2012) in order to understand what kind of strategy this company decided to implement to state its digital identity. 4.4 Secondary data and Participant observation Secondary data were collected from documentary sources like online articles, slides or video (Jennings, 2010) and with a participant observation of the researcher in some events in order to reinforce and integrate the academic theories illustrated in the first chapter of the present study. In this sense, the author decided to follow a principle of explorative integration, so not only the previously mentioned deductive approach, but actually a continuous dialogue and adaptation between theories, secondary data and new empirical data where necessary (Maaløe, 2004). Regarding the documentary sources, a series of articles published online and included in travel blogs and specialized websites were reviewed an integrated to the literature to 18

19 understand holistically the phenomenon. Besides, the researcher watched several videos and conferences in streaming about the study topic and connected speeches by key influencers. Finally the participation in the course Agenzia 2.0 was necessary to acquire more competences on using social media for business purposes and also to understand how to implement effectively social media and the most important performance indicators. 4.5 Reflections and Limitations It is important to mention that the investigation of the present study was challenging for different reasons. First of all, the decision of narrowing down the research to the units belonging to Eventing Milan was risky considering that they are competitors. Some of the organisations could be reluctant regarding the idea of transmitting private information and actually sometimes the researcher felt that few themes were not completed free for the asking. In addition, the key themes and opinions collected during the study of a specific case cannot always have a universal application and validity and, being a qualitative research, the interpretation of some expressed ideas could be influenced by the researcher s opinion (Jennings, 2010). Moreover, the depth of the subject was definitely difficult to organise in a short time and with limited keystrokes. Numerous articles, books and secondary data were analysed and the topic could be investigated from several perspectives. Finally the decision of adding a netnography for the micro company considered more similar to Incoming Partners that was not interviewed, can be a questionable choice considering that not all the questions could be answered and that an even more subjective interpretation of the researcher could unfold. 19

20 5. Analysis Firstly through the analysis of the findings, the researcher had the possibility to investigate the use that different companies made of social media. On this realm, while the majority of the companies are using similar social networks (the most popular being LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter), the way of use, the objectives and the perception about their utility, are definitely different. Before dive into the core of the research, it is important to point out that not all the interviewed PCO are also DMC and vice versa and that Milan is not the only destination promoted. Furthermore, the size and the target market vary as well for each company. As a matter of fact, while someone operates on a long haul perspective due also to its spread over the territory, someone else is addressed to the European market. However, all the companies operate in the MICE sector, as also confirmed by their Eventing Milan membership, and offer high standard tailor made proposals avoiding the generic tourism. General changes As illustrated in the literature review and confirmed by the interviewees, nowadays companies need to re-valuate their strategies and adapt them to the changeable context in order to survive (Qualman, 2013). In line with this thought, everybody s activity underwent some necessary changes, the latest ones caused by the diffusion of technology. Due to the disintermediation, one DMC needed to cut few activities: when we started we also spent energy in creating systems and software for the individual business that we had to cut due to the evolution of online travel agencies (I6). However, thanks to the acquisition of more competences and experience, specializing on a different target, gave the opportunity to survive to the disintermediation phenomenon (Castoldi, 2009). Regarding the introduction of social networks, it was clear that the reasons for starting to use them are various. While not everyone fully appreciate their potential yet, other companies consider them a necessary instrument to be competitive. Of course if you wanna stay quite big in the industry, you cannot afford to don t stay on top of the trends, so we follow what the market is doing. Social media is something that is really important for the MICE industry, so we cannot afford to don t do it. You have to have a presence online (I5). 20

21 The above mentioned quote is expressed by a company that believes in the importance of having a digital identity especially in the MICE sector and underlines the general necessity of following the trends to pursue a winning policy. A couple of examples testify that in order to manage social media, a new line of business needs to be developed. I mean companies have to improve and innovate etc, but the main part of the company didn t know how to approach, how to help in improving. It s for this reason that we took from outside [ ] our chief of digital unit. He s so good also in explaining to other persons inside the company how everyone can add his value in improving and growing the activities. [ ] We really need someone specialized with a high expertise in this. (I1) This statement shows the necessity to invest on human capital and to share know-how when implementing social media as a necessary condition to be an enterprise 2.0 (De Felice, 2011) that often is connected to the idea of creating new lines of business exclusively dedicated to social media development. Almost all the investigated companies pursue a pretty centralized approach to manage social media (Forrester, n.d) where normally one person or a team of people is in charge of posting, monitoring and choosing the content to upload, in some cases, after the approval of top managers. A centralized approach is preferred to a distributed one in almost all the cases. In some situations the excuse is that the company is too big and it would be difficult to align the communication: the project manager [ ] send to one person the main features of something [ ] because if everyone should post alone by himself, we would have only in Italy 120 different ways of writing so it s not possible (I1). In a different scenario described by smaller entities, where there is a great amount of work, limited time at disposal and not a clear departments division, it is impossible to think to involve the whole staff in the management of social media or create a precise unit constituted by people from different departments as the cross-sectional approach dictates (Forrester, n.d.). One person [ ] as well as doing the rest, dedicates a part of the day to it (I4). Therefore, just one person is assigned with this duty besides carrying the ordinary activity. Internal Organisation When asked about the impact of social media on the internal organization in term of extra collaboration and ease on sharing the information between employees (De Felice, 2011), 21

22 few interesting opinions emerged. It brings everybody together because we are so widespread. Sometimes we cannot always know what s happening in another office and when you sit on Facebook [ ] you get the chance to be there, [..] also knowing the people because not always you know everyone. (I5) While the previous statement shows confidence in the fact that social media permit a certain vicinity between people working in different offices, smaller companies believe that considering the proximity between employees, social media don t add any value to the internal communication with such a small company I don t think that we need an internet platform to improve relations between offices (I6). It is also interesting to see that in a couple of situations, even if social media didn t have impact on the internal relations, definitely created a sort of community at least for occasional workers. [Our] Facebook page gets its own direction by itself. [ ] It became actually the place [ ] where every people that have been working with us, [ ], cooperated with us share information about the activities they have shared with [us]. (I2) As shown, hostesses, stewards and in general temporary staff recruited only for specific events, use the company Facebook page to exchange information, write comments and as a job search platform as well. CRM Talking about the customer relation improvement, few people affirmed that they did not perceive any particular change or immediate benefit provoked by social media. However, a more positive view suggests that these tools became an essential part of the service able to respond to the needs of the new clients: we are more confident to approach new clients because clients are more innovative, [ ] ask companies for new proposals, new ideas [ ] (I1). In this sense the company considers social media as an additional value that modern customers appreciate and look for (Mainieri, 2013). We started to provide our clients with a more complete offer [ ] so we also offer an in-house digital unit dedicated to you that follows you every day, every moment on different profiles (I1). 22

23 One particular company is very enthusiast as well about using social media as a platform to dialogue with numerous stakeholders. [We have] people that wanna work for us [ ], for example new venues that wanna work with us and show us what they can offer, we have partners, clients, we have people that have [ ] events. It s a mixture (I5). Exchange proposals, send requests or strengthen partnerships are few actions made possible on these platforms (Qualman, 2013). Someone else asserted that the participation depends on type of client, age and activity proposed, In this sense, social media are not really used to exchange information about particular events or as a platform where to send requests, comments or ideas. It s not a business place. I would never go on [ ] a MCI page and ask for a proposal over there. It is not professional (I2). Especially when the clients are institutional figures, sometimes hard to get in contact with, or high personalities that do not have time, the , the phone calls and the meetings are still the preferred method to make collaborations or partnerships or even to send a complain. Performance The interviewee 2 explains also that in reality social media are just an additional way to communicate. We are just talking about communication. [ ] I don t think social media is social media marketing, I think that social media is social media communication. This is the right word (I2). In this sense they are considered just communication tools rather than a real marketing weapon able to generate ROI (Qualman, 2013). However, when asking how the company measures the performances through social media, there is a bit of confusion. In relation to this last point, it was astonishing to see that the majority of the people do not have any key performance indicator to measure the actual results of using social media and one company even uses a personal page rather than a fan page. Only a single person mentioned the importance of using statistics offered by the fan page as KPI to analyse the performances (Carciofi, 2013). Everywhere you can get analytics and they tell you what s your demographics, what are the people that come to your page, what they do, how often. In case, for example in Twitter you don t find those analytics, but you can get tools that do that (I5). 23

24 This example expressed clearly the importance of managing social networks with all the tools they provide in order to use them effectively and as social CRM that gives the possibility to profile clients, improve relations and customize offers (Carciofi, 2013). On this last matter, an opposite view is expressed by who is not confident about the potential of social media as a modern CRM. I don t agree so much because then we need to match it a bit with the history of really our relation with that client [ ] There is a big amount of information that are not in the profile of every single person or a company and more the CRM is also in between companies and there is mainly in between persons (I6). In this sense, while social media analytics definitely can give important information about the client, it cannot tell the company the exact links and history of the relation with him as a well-organised traditional CRM (Bose, 2002) does. Integration As suggested by Parent, it is also pivotal to underline that social media marketing should not replace the traditional one, but rather an integration of the two should be guaranteed as part of a general strategy (Parent et al., 2011). The majority of the interviewees agreed with the idea of using a strategy that involves different marketing instruments we have specialized magazines [ ], media as well [ ] we try to go to exhibitions to promote ourselves. We have each year something called a gadget [ ] and of course social media which is something considered more innovative (I5). Furthermore in front of an imaginary scenario where face to face meetings will be replaced by virtual ones, everyone stated that the MICE industry is based on the personal contact, so PR activities, networking, phone calls and appointments will never disappear. Consequently, despite the innovation should be part of the business strategy, the most relevant traditional communication instruments will always exist (Parent et al., 2011). The event is based on the relationship between the clients and the agency. The most important thing is the personal contact, then you can have social activity [ ] maybe to catch a new client also a post and the digital activity is for sure useful, but I mean to retain the client and let him grow in the time, I think it s still better the personal relationship. (I1) 24

25 As shown, social media are considered branches of a tree that help to spread virally the message, create brand awareness and acquire new clients (Qualman, 2013), but they still need to be connected to the roots (Carciofi, 2013). Objectives Before choosing particular social media, a clear definition of the goals the enterprise is aiming to achieve and a preparation of specific actions are unavoidable steps (Vaccaro, 2012). In accordance with this assumption, all the players were conscious about the chosen social media s functions defined mainly informative and promotional. I think that communicate doesn t necessarily mean talk about what you do, because you can also follow a transversal approach. Now for example we are working a lot on Expo and in Italy few people know what is it, so first of all we need to explain this event in order to communicate also our projects. So basically we use social media to communicate [ ] (I3). The contents posted are sectorial articles, updated news, songs, videos and pictures rather than advertising banners and the tone, especially for social media like Facebook, is informal and conversational. We post general news on the sector or news to make the thing more engaging like for example the exhibition at Palazzo Reale. [ ] We try to search for cultural or social news to involve (I4). The communication is not interruptive or pushy, but engaging and often educational as relational marketing (Kotler et al., 2010) requires. In other cases, seems also important to generate brand awareness promoting the company digital identity and attracting new clients the main goal for the whole social network is both to catch new clients and to raise the base around our activities. [ ] We have to communicate how flexible we are and how complete we are (I1). In general, LinkedIn and Twitter are considered by everyone as the most professional tools that allow the acquisition of new contacts, while Facebook being more informal and relaxed is used for pictures and video as the increasing Pinterest and Instagram. Micro enterprises Matching the knowledge acquired during the course and the illustrated data, the author could analyse through a netnography, the Facebook page of a small DMC that was not interviewed, 25

26 in order to suggest successful tools to consider for a future investment on social media by any micro enterprise. The analysed DMC fan page counts 411 fans at the end of the 2013 and reached a significant peek at the end of November. This number is constituted not only by friends and staff, but also partners, suppliers and clients both Italian and international. Even if there is not a direct dialogue (Kotler at al., 2010), between the admin of the page and the fans, almost every link or comment are shared or liked. This behaviour shows that, despite the fans are not critics or particularly collaborative on the creation of the contents (Munar & Jacobsen, 2013), they are spectators that appreciate and contribute often to spread virally the message (Castoldi, 2009). The page seems to pursue an informative and promotional action as the other interviewees. In this sense, the majority of the posts include pictures (the items that are more appreciated and often shared by the fans), videos or links dedicated to news and activities taking place in Italy and recently connected to the Expo 2015 rather than a promotion of the DMC activity. The majority of the links come from Expo and newspapers, as well as company s corporate blog, Pinterest and Instagram page, showing that the message is made viral and a connection between all the social media is guaranteed (Carciofi, 2013). Finally, the researcher could notice that the posts were elaborated in a very organized manner, probably with the use of a calendar tool provided by the social media to schedule the activity. This choice confutes the idea that social media are too time-consuming for a small company considering that with some specific tools, the actions can be precisely organized and therefore require little effort (Carciofi, 2013). In addition as shown in the interviews, even if big companies create new lines of business or choose expert of social media to lead them, small companies cover few social media assigning this duty to one briefly trained person that dedicates a couple of hours a day to the contents upload and the monitoring of the page. It s more difficult for the micros because they don t have the resources to build like us a digital unit but, I mean with the effort of anyone inside you can build and follow your social media profile without any problem (I1) 6. Conclusions Through the above analysis, the researcher shows that when using correctly social media and the several tools connected to them, a great amount of benefits can be generate in term of performances, customer profiling and relations management. In addition, the small DMC 26

27 analysed with the netnography represents a great example of a micro enterprise that invest in social media for the B2B and apparently use them properly with very little effort and great results. 27

28 7. Report on experience 7.1. Duties, competences and inspiration Being an intern in the marketing department of Incoming Partners, gave to the researcher the possibility to acquire useful practical insights and knowledge about how a small Italian incoming company operates and promotes its activity in an international scenario, in particular in the European and Brazilian market. Benefiting from the size of the agency, the proximity between employees and the great amount of work, the assigned duties followed in reality a transversal approach that allowed a general understanding of the activity not only from a marketing perspective, but also from a more operational one. Since the beginning of the experience, the whole company and therefore the intern were involved in the compilation of a database with the records of the clients, suppliers and resources uploaded in the management software e-agency. The program was implemented in order to guarantee a more punctual financial administration, a better integration between departments sharing the same data flow and a preparation of well formulated quotations of the offers tailor made on the clients requests. This process, already started in the semester previous to the internship s beginning, continued during the whole semester, being the database of the company very rich, differentiated and always updated with new data. As explained in the project, the implementation of this management software used to organise the data, aimed as well at a precise analysis of those collected data and an accurate profiling of the clients based on them, made possible with a CRM system called Infinity. Unfortunately the preparation of the database was not completed during the semester due to some emerging issues that were waiting to be solved by the supplier of the software. Consequently, even if the intern was supposed to use it during the internship period, the program will be introduced just at a later stage. It is important to add that with these two systems, the company is aiming to start a digitalization process considered necessary in order to provide customized and quick services based on a more specific customer profiling. In this sense, the intern was involved in all the meetings about the present and future of these applications and also in the preparation of all the documents required for the candidacy to the tender notice launched by the Chamber of Commerce of Milan that with numerous initiatives is trying to encourage enterprises to innovate and digitalize their internal processes. 28

29 Regarding the marketing activities, the intern learned how to prepare, edit and publish sport and opera packages, photo galleries, reviews and news on the websites using the content management system WordPress and how to modify pictures to include in boxes, pages and templates with two images editing software: IrfanView and Gimp. The packages were elaborated by the operational department, but the intern collaborated in the revision of them especially regarding the language (English and Portuguese) and in the alteration of them when they were proposed in conjunction with important fairs that could influence their prices (eg. hotel rooms). Beside the management of the website, always updated by the intern and the tutor, also the e- mail marketing was an important job to take care of. The update of the database with new contacts and the preparation of new templates to include in the newsletter sent with the marketing software Benchmark or as follow up to particular clients or suppliers met during international events such as WTM London and EIBTM Barcelona, were additional pivotal assignments the intern was in charge of. For the aforementioned events, the intern was also directly involved in the preparation of the director s agenda through specific apps that the events elaborated to facilitate networking and speed in the meetings arrangement. The intern in complete autonomy had the possibility to study the apps, their potential and their limitations and to schedule appointments with the events attendees through them. Before arranging any meeting, the intern was appointed to do some researches about the events visitors for the purpose of selecting the best buyers or sellers to meet. During this investigation often, especially for some specific country like India, it was easier to find a LinkedIn or Twitter profile of the representative rather than a corporate website. These findings together with a comprehension that the majority of the seminars proposed during the events were focused on the importance of social media, encouraged the desire of conducting a research about the relation between them and the tourist sector and in particular the impact of social media marketing in the MICE part of it. Furthermore, during the semester, the researcher could participate as well to a meeting organized by Eventing Milan that guaranteed the possibility of understanding how this network works, what are the trends in the MICE sector and to know personally some of its members that became future interviewees. Since the beginning of the experience, the director of Incoming Partners underlined its willingness to improve the competitivity of the company with new form of communication and with a more creative marketing approach. However, despite an attractive and well-made website, a properly scheduled and organised newsletter and an almost finished database 29

30 waiting to be analysed with a CRM system, there was not a defined marketing plan or anyway not a general strategy that integrated traditional marketing tools with social media or other innovative communication instruments. This choice, as well as a personal interest for this kind of topic, stimulated even more the researcher s curiosity and the desire to investigate the reasons behind this decision. Once defined the research subject and structured a problem formulation, Incoming Partners gave to the intern the possibility to follow an educational training course for travel operators in which Alessio Carciofi, an expert in social media marketing, taught how to use the most common social media for business purposes, giving even more cues and insights about the importance of social media marketing in the tourism sector. Finally, in the last month of the internship, the marketing department was involved in the collection of information about Expo 2015 that will be organised in Milan. Being the company specialized in incoming, this event represents for it a great opportunity to promote Milan and its excellence and to generate strong brand awareness as well. In this sense, be prepared and start studying possible tours and original ideas to propose to the numerous future attendees and promote them with more innovative communication tools was the recurrent theme of the last month of internship. As a matter of fact a preparation of an marketing plan consisting of templates addressed to the Expo countries representatives and the related Chambers of Commerce was one of the last duties assigned Personal outcomes The opportunity to explore directly a previously unknown reality has definitely been a formative experience for the intern for different reasons. First of all, working for an incoming agency that promotes Italy and Milan in particular, gave the intern the possibility to discover new aspects of the destination and to better appreciate the cultural, historical, gastronomical and environmental richness of it. Furthermore, the target of Incoming Partners is the international market therefore the intern had the possibility to understand way of working and needs of other countries as well. In this sense, precision, patience and attentive analysis of the different customer s needs made the company a winner in satisfying the expectations of the clients that more than once expressed their gratitude for the efficient services provided both via or telephone. 30

31 Besides the collaborative work atmosphere, the feeling with the coetaneous tutor and the pleasant international context, the intern enjoyed as well doing research on new marketing strategies in particular social media marketing. Investigating this subject, aroused the curiosity and the interest towards a very complex and fascinating topic as the one of social media of which the implementation in a tourist context is still an emerging phenomenon in Italy. The researcher enjoyed reading books, articles, online trends and follow conferences about the topic in streaming as well as conducting interviews and participating to the training course organised by the EBRL. As a matter of fact, the decision of extending the topic focusing on different aspects of it for the master thesis, the desire of continuing the studies with a Phd in a related field, the opening of personal profiles in new social media not previously used (eg. Twitter and LinkedIn) to explore their potentials and the willingness of building a personal travel blog or maybe in future being adopted by a company as a corporate travel blogger, are possibility the researcher is taking into consideration for the future. In conclusion, the experience has definitely been important because as well as teaching technical skills and providing practical knowledge in facing pragmatically particular situations, gave the opportunity to understand what kind of career the researcher would and would not like to embark on. 31

32 Reference List Bernoff, J. & Li, C. (2011). Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social media technologies. Harvard Business Press. Bose, R. (2002). Customer relationship management: key components for IT success. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 102 (2), Bowen, D. & Clarke, J., (2009). Contemporary Tourist Behaviour. Yourself and Others as Tourists. Wallingford: Cabi Tourism Texts Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Buhalis, D. & Laws, E. (2001). Tourism Distribution Channels. Practices, Issues and Transformation. London: Continuum. Burr, V. (2004). Constructivism. In M.S. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T.F.Liao (Eds). Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods (p ). London: SAGE Publications Inc. Caiazzo D., Colaianni, A., Febbraio, A. and Lisiero, U. (2009). Buzz Marketing nei Social Media. Come scatenare il passaparola on-line. Fausto Lupetti Editore Cassell, C., Buehring, A., Symon, G. and Johnson, P. (2006). Qualitative methods in management research: an introduction to the themed issue. Management Decision Vol. 44 No. 2, 2006 pp Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Castoldi, G. (2009). Marketing per il Turismo: dai bisogni dei turisti al prodotto turistico. Ed. Ulrico Hoepli Conti, L. (2009). Fare business con Facebook. Comunicare e promuovere con il social networking. Milano: Ulrico Hoepli Editore. De Felice, L. (2011). Marketing Conversazionale: Dialogare con i clienti attraverso i social media e il Real-Time Web di Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, Foursquare. Ed: Il sole 24ore s.p.a. Easterby-Smith, M. (1991). Management Research: An Introduction. Sage Publications London. Faase, R., Helms, R. and Spruit, M. (2011). Web 2.0 in the CRM domain: definining social CRM. Int. J. Electronic Customer Relationship Management, 5 (11). Forrester Research, Inc. (n.d.). Global social media planning online survey. Retrieved from Hvass, K. A. & Munar, A. (2012). The takeoff of social media in tourism. Journal of Vacation Marketing 18:93. 32

33 Jennings, G. (2010), Tourism Research, Wiley Australia Tourism Series, 2 nd edition. Johnson, P., Buehring, A., Cassell, C. and Symon, G., (2007). Defining qualitative management research: an empirical investigation. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal Vol. 2 No. 1, 2007 pp Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Knoke D. & Yang, S. (2008). Social Network Analysis - 2 nd Ed. California: Sage Publications, Inc. Kotler, P., Bowen, J.T. & Makens, J.C. (2010). Marketing del Turismo 5th edition. Italian edition by Mauri G.A. Ed: Pearson Italia. Kozinets, R. V., (2010). Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. London: SAGE Publications Inc. Maaløe, E.(2004). In case of case research. Different approaches within social research to generalization, self-awareness and nearness to field of study. Working Paper. Retrieved from Mainieri, M. (2013). Collaboriamo! Come i social media ci aiutano a lavorare e vivere bene in tempo di crisi. Milano: Ulrico Hoepli Editore. Markham, A. N., (2003). Internet communication as a tool for qualitative research. Retrieved from McKechnie, L. E. F. (2008). Participant Observation, The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Munar, A.M. & Jacobsen, J.K.S. (2013). Trust and Involvement in Tourism Social Media and Web-Based Travel Information Sources, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 13:1, Munar, A.M.(2012). Social Media Strategies and Destination Management. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 12:2, Publications Ltd. Parent, M., Plangger K. and Bal, A. (2011). The new WTP: Willingness to participate. Business Horizons (2011) 54, Prell, C. (2012). Social Network Analysis history, methods and methodology. London: Sage Publications Ltd. Qualman, E. (2013). Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. 33

34 Internet sources Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, 2013 Carciofi, A. (2013). Retrieved from Vaccaro, C. (2013) Retrieved from Retrieved October, 2013 MICE-Trends and its Immediate Future. (n.d.). Retrieved in October, 2013 from Conference centres going high-tech. (2013). Retrieved from Overall conditions in meetings and events industry improving, says MPI April Business Barometer results. (2013). Retrieved from TrendSpotting 2013 is Here! (2013). Retrieved from 10 Predictions for Business Travel, Meetings and Events in 2013 (2013) Retrieved from Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October, Retrieved in October,

35 Appendix Appendix 1 This appendix includes the English translation of the that the researcher sent in Italian to the eight potential interviewees belonging to Eventing Milan. 35

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