“Social media is neither a guarantee for increased revenue nor a temporary trend”

Dieses Interview gibt es hier auch auf Deutsch

Last week we published an interview with the Twingly co-founder Björn Milton who after years in the startup business decided to do something totally different: That was to open a hotel on the Swedish island of Gotland.

We stay with the tourism industry even in today’s interview with Tobias Görgen, one of the two co-founders of Toocan, a social media monitoring company from the German speaking region that uses the Twingly API to gather data about the blogosphere.

The startup has offices in Berlin and Vienna and focuses on providing monitoring services for medium-sized tourism companies. We talked with Tobias about the specific challenges the tourism sector is confronted with in the ear of social media.

Please give our readers a short introduction about Toocan.
About a year ago I met Alexander Löbbecke who has many years of experience with software development in the media sector. At that time I had many ideas surrounding social media and it’s effect on medium-sized companies. So within weeks we started to built Toocan: an intuitive tool which enables not only big brands but also medium-sized firms to monitor what consumers say online about companies, products and trends.

Since we wanted to have a clear focus we decided to target the tourism industry. That market is highly depending on guest reviews and if you think about your own travel planing, often recommendations by others are decision-making factors. Our client base consists of many hoteliers, travel destinations and tour operators.

What is the difference between a broad social media monitoring service and one like yours which focuses on the tourism sector?
The main difference are the sources: Besides the major social web platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the main media outlets, we collect data from travel and review websites as well as from travel blogs and travel news sites.

What is the typical problem that your clients want to be solved?
Most medium-sized companies lack resources to get themselves a thorough overview about what’s been written on the web. Thus they appreciate our automated monitoring. Many clients not only want to monitor their own products and services but also those of competitors.

Do you have an example for a specific case where you could help a client?
Yes: The leading hotel chain Best Western used Toocan to monitor the social media buzz about all their 200 hotels in Germany. While it’s already hard to manually stay up do date about the social web chatter regarding a single hotel, it’s impossible to do that for 200, so we could really help them. Another example is the family-run travel organizer Corfelios which has specialized in trips to the Greek island of Corfu. They use Toocan to monitor who plans a trip to Greece (e.g. through tweets) in order to approach those users with travel offers.

How do you use Twingly?
Twingly is a great way for us to monitor all those blogs out there, since we can’t keep track on all of them manually. Thanks to Twingly we were able to perform a quick and successful launch.

What challenges do you see for the tourism industry in the era of social media? What has gotten better, what more difficult?
Tourism has become much more transparent. All guests now can rate and describe their experience on one of the many travel websites, often including visual “evidence” like photos or videos. That sometimes creates a contrast to the high quality photos published by some travel operators and hotels. I expect this to become even more common with the rise of smart phones and tablets. For the industry this is both good and bad: Potential flaws are exposed, but companies can also react and use this chance to improve. That of course requires that they get to know about the feedback and criticism posted on the web.

Which advise can you give tourism companies on how to adapt to the changing landscape?
Social media is neither a guarantee for increased revenue nor a temporary trend. Companies and hotels should have realistic expectations. But social media definitely is a new kind of communication. You can either participate in that communication or not, but the latter means that you miss out on a lot potential. At Toocan we offer a basic service that allows companies to simply listen, which is the basis of communication.

Where can companies meet you?
We have offices in Berlin and Vienna, but we meet a lot of clients on fairs like the ITB Berlin, the Travel Expo Cologne or the CMT Stuttgart. Or we can meet where the companies are located.

“Social Media ist weder Umsatzgarant noch ein vorübergehender Trend”

You can read this interview also in English.

In der vergangenen Woche berichteten wir im Twingly Blog über Twingly-Mitgründer Björn Milton, der sich nach vielen Jahren in der Startup-Welt entschloss, ein Hotel auf der schwedischen Insel Gotland zu öffnen. Auch heute bleiben wir beim Thema Tourismus: Toocan ist ein Social-Media-Monitoring-Dienst für den deutschsprachigen Raum, der sich besonders mittelständischen Tourismusunternehmen empfiehlt. Das junge Unternehmen mit Büros in Berlin und Wien nutzt Twinglys API, um Daten über die Aktivität der Blogosphäre abzurufen. Wir haben uns mit Gründer und Geschäftsführer Tobias Görgen über die speziellen Problemstellungen der Tourismusindustrie im Social-Media-Zeitalter unterhalten.

Bitte stelle Toocan kurz und kompakt vor.
Ich habe vor genau einem Jahr meinen jetzigen Geschäftspartner Alexander Löbbecke kennen gelernt. Er verfügt über viele Jahre Erfahrung in der Software-Entwicklung im Medienbereich. Ich hatte recht viele Ideen angesammelt, die sich vor allem rund um das Thema Social Media im Mittelstand drehten. So entstand binnen weniger Wochen Toocan: Eine intuitives Tool, das es nicht nur den großen Marken erlaubt, zu beobachten, was Konsumenten im Internet über Unternehmen, Produkte und Trends sagen.

Da wir uns beim Markteintritt fokussieren wollten, entschieden wir uns für die Tourismusindustrie. Dieser Markt ist extrem bewertungsabhängig und wenn man an seine eigene Reiseplanung denkt, dann sind Empfehlungen oft ausschlaggebend. Somit sind viele Hoteliers, Destinationen und Reiseveranstalter sowie deren Agenturen unter unseren Kunden zu finden.

Ihr fokussiert euch auf die Tourismusindustrie – welche Unterschiede zu herkömmlichen Social-Media-Monitoring-Tools gibt es?
Vor allem sind die Quellen andere: Neben den wichtigen Social-Web-Plattformen wie Facebook, Twitter und YouTube erheben wir auch Daten von Bewertungsportalen, die vor allem in der Reiseindustrie von großer Bedeutung sind. Darüber hinaus finden sich viele Reiseblogs und Newsseiten neben allen anderen gängigen Medien bei uns wieder.

Was sind die konkreten Problemstellungen, mit denen sich eure Kunden an euch wenden?
Die meisten Mittelständler tun sich schwer dabei, sich überhaupt einen Überblick zu verschaffen, weil personelle aber budgetäre Ressourcen meist knapp sind. Da kommt vielen eine automatisierte Beobachtung gerade recht. Da wir nicht nur das eigene Unternehmen für den Kunden monitoren können, sind viele auch z.B. an einem Vergleich zum Wettbewerber interessiert und wollen ihren “Nachbarn” etwas unter die Lupe nehmen.

Hast du ein Beispiel für einen speziellen Case, bei dem ihr einem Kunden besonders helfen konntet?
Best Western, die mit uns alle ihre 200 Hotels im Deutschland beobachten. Schon eigenhändig und manuell ein einziges Hotel zu verfolgen, ist in den Weiten des Webs kaum machbar. Mit mehreren Häusern bzw. Produkten und Themen ist ein Monitoring-Tool unabdingbar. Auch interessant ist der kleine Reiseveranstalter Corfelios. Das Familienunternehmen hat sich auf die Nische Korfu-Reisen spezialisiert und beobachtet über Toocan, wann jemand einen Urlaub nach Griechenland plant und sich entsprechend im Netz äußert, um dann proaktiv ein Angebot zu machen.

Auf welche Weise nutzt ihr Twingly für eure Produkte?
Twingly ist eine tolle Ergänzung für die Vielzahl an Blogs da draußen. Man kann nicht immer und überall wissen, wann es wieder einen neuen, interessanten Blog gibt. Twinglys Expertise hat uns in diesem Bereich somit einen schnellen Start ermöglicht.

Welche Herausforderungen siehst du für die Tourismusbranche im Zeitalter von Social Media? Was hat sich für Hotels und andere touristische Einrichtungen zum Besseren entwickelt, was zum Schlechteren?
Touristische Anbieter sind sehr transparent geworden. Jeder kann seinen Gastgeber nun auf diversen Portalen öffentlich bewerten und sogar Foto- und Filmmaterial bereitstellen. Dies relativiert dann die Hochglanzbilder mancher Anbieter und wird sich durch den Trend von Smartphones und Tablets künftig noch stärker entwickeln. Für die Branche ist dies Fluch und Segen zugleich: Potentielle Mängel werden aufgedeckt, jedoch können die Unternehmen auch darauf reagieren und sich verbessern. Dies setzt natürlich voraus, dass sie überhaupt von Kritiken und Anregungen im Internet mitbekommen.

Welche Tipps würdest du Hotels und anderen Anbietern der Tourismusindustrie geben, um sich an die veränderten Rahmenbedingungen durch Social Media anzupassen?
Social Media ist weder Umsatzgarant noch ein vorübergehender Trend und man sollte einen realistischen Anspruch haben. Aber es ist definitiv eine neue Art der Kommunikation. An dieser Kommunikation kann man sich beteiligen oder auch nicht, würde aber dann viele Chancen ungenützt lassen. Toocan bietet unter anderem an, dass man zumindest “Zuhören” kann, was die Grundlage einer jeden gesunden Kommunikation ist.

Wo können Interessierte euch persönlich treffen?
Wir haben zwar Standorte in Berlin und Wien, treffen unsere Kunden aber meist auf Messen wie der ITB Berlin, der Kölner Reisemesse und der CMT Stuttgart, oder auch gerne bei ihnen vor Ort.

“Because of social media, hotels are forced to deliver real value”

Björn Milton is one of the co-founders of Twingly. In summer 2010, he left the team to do something totally different: Open a hotel with his wife. We had a little chat with Björn about his exciting project and the changes to the turism industry caused by social media.

Hi Björn. You are one of the founders of Twingly. Now you are running a hotel on the Swedish Island Gotland together with your wife. How did that happen?
By accident really. In the summer of 2010 me and my wife Karin planned our wedding that was due to be held in the beginning of August. In July we found out that a property right next to where we have our house was up for sale. We went to have a look and decided that it had potential. We didn’t really know exactly what we wanted to do with it, but we decided to go ahead and ended up buying the property 1 day before our wedding. So there we were, owning a rather substantial piece of property, not really sure what to do with it.

Quite quickly we decided to build some kind of accommodation, and during the process the ambitions rose (as they tend to do) and we ended up with a hotel and a restaurant that we named Hotel Stelor. We completed the construction in 6 months and opened up for business in June 2011. Neither me nor my wife have any prior experience in the hotel or restaurant business so we have spent this first summer working really hard and learning loads of stuff. We’ve tried to share some of our experiences in our blog, Stelor Towers (only in Swedish unfortunately).

Do you miss working at an Internet startup?
When we decided to start the hotel business, I was really excited about doing something hands on, building physical stuff and connect with people in person and I still am today. Our hotel business is in fact run very much like a startup, building stuff in a short period of time, experimenting a lot and then rebuild the stuff that didn’t work out. We try to be very open with what we do and how we think and strive to surround us with people that know the things we don’t. I do miss the tech part of an Internet startup though and will hopefully get a chance to work more with technology soon again.

Your hotel is Sweden’s first that offers guests an iPad instead of a TV. What kind of feedback do you get regarding this?
The idea is that we want to offer our guests the best possibilities to take part in the the informational landscape. Hotel Stelor is very much about facilitating social interactions, both physical and digital. And the iPad plays an important role in that. The feedback from our guests has been overwhelmingly great. Most people like laying their hands on an iPad and our guests are not different. Sure, occasionaly guest have asked for the reason why we don’t have TVs in the rooms. But the most common reaction we get about actually not having TVs are positive ones.

What plans do you and your wife have for your hotel business? Any more ideas on how to combine today’s digital lifestyle with the tatmosphere of a 18th century building housing your hotel?
We have lots of ideas about how to develop our hotel business. Our focus is about building a place where meetings between people and sharing of information is the the main thing and we’re constantly trying to come up with ways that make that as easy as possible. We strive to use and develop technology that integrates deeply into the experience of staying at our hotel in a way that enhances it rather than automates it.

During your years at Twingly you saw the social web unfold and evolve. How can you use this kind of knowledge for your hotel business?
We make use of the social web a lot, communicating and getting feedback through a number of different channels. We work a lot with Facebook (http://facebook.com/hotelstelor) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/hotelstelor) and actively encourage our guests to share their experience through sites like Tripadvisor or Facebook Places. From having been part of Twingly and learning from how we’ve used the social web there, I feel I have a rather good sense of what works when communicating through those channels.

In what ways will social media change the hotel and turism landscape? Or won’t it?
I already think it has. The traveling business, being one of the world’s largest consumer industries, can’t ignore the power of the social web, although it has tried for along time. I think the industry as a whole has woken up at last. There are lots of tech driven startups popping up around this field and the big players are spending more and more money trying to harness the power of the social web. Some successfully and others less so, but the interest is there and it is there to stay. The biggest change we’ve seen so far is that people, in recent years, have started to share their experiences with each other on a big scale. This forces the hotels to deliver real value to their guests if they want to survive.

The technology landscape in the traveling industry has been very conservative for along time and is just now beginning to move. I think there are lots of opportunities in this field right now, both with regards to the social web and with technology in large.

What web trends do you think are the most exciting ones right now?
The cloud is truly becoming a reality. People have talked about it for years, but it is now at first that the concept of the cloud is being leveraged for real into both consumer and business products. Your services and your data can be accessed through any device at any time, freeing you of the need of having to worry about whether you have the right device with you or if you’re going to loose it. The only thing you have to worry about is having access to a good Internet connection. Which is of course provided free of charge at any reasonably forward thinking hotel : )