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Sodexo: Social media the future for events industry

Jul 14, 2009 | Blog

Food facilities and management company Sodexo has succeeded in bucking the recessionary trend recently, seeing Champagne sales at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show rise by 33 per cent year-on-year.

The firm saw cash sales rise by four per cent at the event, where they served the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh plus 5,000 assembled guests.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for the company, insists Andrew Nicholson, e-commerce manager at Sodexo Prestige.

Christmas parties took a "fairly major hit" last year, as many events businesses found, while middle-level corporate hospitality has also struggled.

However, key premier events such as Royal Ascot and the Chelsea Flower Show have been successful, while the meetings and conference sector has exceeded expectations.

"It's actually quite buoyant at the moment and some of our venues are above budget," Mr Nicholson reveals.

Exploiting online marketing has been the key to Sodexo's success of late, he explains.

The firm recently re-launched three of its websites, Prestige Meetings, Prestige Experience and Prestige Hospitality, achieving improved results in Google through better imagery, content and site design.

"Now that the websites are very content managed it means we're able to update content instantly, enabling us to put on dynamic content. So if we've got a big offer for the next week we can get it on the website and get inquiries coming through straight away," Mr Nicholson says.

"Whilst the industry is in a bit of a state of flux, on the online side of things it's growing and growing."

Return-on-investment is also key, Mr Nicholson insists, echoing the comments of many others within the events industry at the moment.

"In this economic climate it's not what you can do, it's what you can do for how little," he says.

Sodexo has been making the most social media, using Facebook and Twitter as a way of marketing itself for free.

Last year, the firm used Facebook as a promotional tool for its festive party business, the Christmas Company, gaining lots of positive customer feedback.

"We're sending clients this year to the site so they can actually see what people were saying about the parties last year," Mr Nicholson explains.

"People actually trust strangers more than they trust companies these days so they get online and look at the opinions of strangers and their reviews and they put a lot of faith in those, so that's been quite good for us," he says.

Using social media is a device that has served one element of the business well.

Tony Watson, who works for Sodexo Prestige as head of non-matchday sales at Everton Football Club, generates "huge amounts of business" from LinkedIn and Facebook, according to Mr Nicholson.

"I think these days about 20 per cent of his bookings come through social media, which is a remarkable success story, considering he's not paying a penny for it," he explains.

Mr Nicholson waxes lyrical about the advantages of exploiting online marketing. For him, this is the future.

"We're moving away from more traditional media, more traditional marketing channels, purely because its getting harder and harder to justify the spends when there's so much more out there online that is either free or cheap.

"Everything we do online is fully accountable as well because we can see who's read what, who's clicked what, we can see what campaigns are working," he says.

"Now with social media, we've got an online dialogue daily with our customers. They feedback to us, they can see what we're doing, we can see what they're doing. It's an open and honest relationship and I think this is very much the future.

"It's very labour intensive and you need to put in a lot of effort to get the results back but the results, like Tony at Everton has shown, it does pay dividends," he concludes.

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