Recap of Elaine Kubik: The Voice of Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome
Occasionally SMCFW brings in speakers who wield a certain degree of social media celebrity. Our recent event at Four Day Weekend was definitely one of those times, as it was hard to tell who people were more excited to see: our actual speaker, Elaine Kubrik, or her counterpart, a small plaster character who was all beard, blue shirt, and pointy red hat — affectionately known to all as Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome.
But the fact of the matter is that Elaine Kubrik, her team at Travelocity, and the Roaming Gnome are all one in the same.
Elaine has been working for Travelocity for two years, and is the only person whose sole responsibility is social media. She originally started as a social media analyst, and over the course of her career, she’s seen the industry evolve to allow for more sophisticated online conversations and actual travel dialogue. Elaine explained that Travelocity’s social media strategy can be summed up in three parts: 1) Proactively engage, 2) reactively manage, 3) social media on-site.
“Our brand’s purpose is to be a trusted guide, and this is the foundation for a social strategy that encourages people to roam every day,” Elaine said, right before walking us through the Travelocity Travel Timeline. This timeline basically encompasses all the stages an individual goes through when taking a trip: the dreaming stage (what do I want to do? / where do I want to go?), the planning stage (how do I get there? and when?), the booking stage, the
Of all these stages, Elaine says, the ones that are targeted the most through social media are the dreaming stage and the sharing stage. This is because people behave differently on different social media channels during the trip-planning process. For example, people are on Facebook to talk to their friends, not book travel reservations. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to try and “sell” people on booking travel reservations through Facebook. Instead, Travelocity’s Facebook strategy is to have optimized content and encourage travel-related dialogue. On Facebook, at least, they just want to remain part of your travel discussions.wait/countdown stage, the actual travel stage, and the sharing stage.
Elaine was very specific on the difference between the Travelocity “brand voice” and the Travelocity Gnome voice. Travelocity remains the authority, the “trusted travel guide”. By contrast, the Gnome is Travelocity’s #1 Fan / Brand Supporter, but he never directly sells the brand. Nor does the Gnome respond to complaints: when a dissatisfied customer complains on the Gnome’s Facebook page, the response is always addressed through the Travelocity profile.
So since Travelocity already has their own account, why create an additional “voice” for the Gnome? Elaine explained that the Gnome is a character, much like the GEICO Gecko, and that he becomes a fun, identifiable peronality that customers can relate to. The Gnome is meant to inspire everyone to get out and see the world…and potentially use Travelocity to do it. His backstory is that someone kidnapped him from a lawn in England, took him all over the world, and sent pictures back to the original owner…and the Gnome enjoyed it so much that he just kept traveling.
Since Elaine started working with Travelocity, the customer service industry has evolved a lot. Their social media used to be managed in-house, by the director of travel search. Then it moved to an in-house PR/social media manager, before it was managed externally via an overseas customer service team for about nine months. While efficient, the overseas team didn’t offer the level of service that Travelocity wanted to provide to their followers, so they now manage it stateside, internally via an exclusive resolutions team (the same group that handles Travelocity’s VIP customers).
The Travelocity social media team monitors all social media channels and responds to each and every complaint with pre-approved messages, the majority of which asks the customer to follow up with them via email rather than hashing it out on public forums and/or platforms with character limits (such as Twitter). These emails then get assigned to specific representatives, who respond and resolve the issue within 48 hours.
On the topic of Twitter, Elaine notes that Twitter isn’t treated by Travelocity as a customer service channel: it is considered customer service support. If people want to complain, she said, they’d be better off going through traditional customer support channels like call centers. However, Elaine is pushing for Travelocity’s social media to evolve into a legitimate customer service platform in the near future.
Other fun / interesting facts that we learned from Elaine:
– When it comes to optimizing content, Elaine says that Travelocity fans are most active on weekends. Thus, the Travelocity social media accounts post more frequently on the weekends than during the week.
– Elaine trains her employees in Gnome-speak. All those little British-isms that make the Gnome’s personality so quirky? They actually have a dictionary for that.
– Each user tends to adapt to the voice of the Gnome a little differently. For example, Elaine generally uses the word “pickles” randomly throughout her posts as the Gnome.
– There are 2-3 Gnomes who exist exclusively for TV commercials and photoshoots, but there is only one who goes out and actually travels around in public. He is hand-painted and hand-sculpted, and when he’s not traveling with Elaine, he’s cruising in style in a special red gnome-sized suitcase.
– Travelocity’s policy is to treat the Gnome as a real person. Therefore, when sitting at a restaurant or bar, the Gnome should be sitting in a chair next to you (and not, for example, perching on the bar). People really enjoy seeing the Gnome and taking pictures with him, particularly at airports, which we think is indicative of how much people enjoy the character that Elaine and her staff have created.