Social and travel fit together like sunshine and beaches. They were made for each other; consumers ask for recommendations on social, they share their booking choices on social and they most definitely post their holiday snaps on social. In fact, last year there were almost 60m open web conversations about travel on social media.
The challenge for travel brands though, is in cutting through the noise to gain attention in that sea of chatter. In truth, the industry does not fare well. A look at travel posts from brands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there is a sea of blue skies, white beaches, city skylines and beautiful destination photos. Unfortunately, the consumer is almost blind to them. Instead, they look to bloggers, Instagrammers, reviewers and their friends to supply them with inspiration.
The answer for brands wanting to stand-out from the crowd is twofold: First, listen to the social signals; the data guides your planning, identifies motivations and clears a path to more relevant and personal communications. Second, take a steer from the travel influencers.
The content that attracts attention is authentic, local and experience based. When it comes to social, success is found in combining a strong data-driven strategy with imagery that is evocative, differentiates and adds depth to your propositions.
Sometimes social behaviours buck the travel trend
The usual rush for January bookings is reflected in social activity from December onwards, with increased noise. However, while travel brands often dial down their social activity outside of peak periods, consumers don’t.
The data shows that people dream about going on holiday in April, June and September (according to an Adweek survey, 52% of Facebook users dream about vacations when on the channel). They plan destinations in July and August and although the masses talk about booking holidays in January, many also plan for April. Know when and where consumers are in their customer journey and identify the trends, and you’ll tap into the opportunity.
Saying that, you can't blindly follow trends either. Real-time moments need to be considered carefully, especially when it comes to moments, memes and trending topics. For instance, last year several brands jumped on the ‘hot dog legs’ trend, setting-up competitions and driving UGC. Yet, among the 60m travel conversations, less than 1% of posts mentioned ‘hot dog legs’. It was a blip, not a campaign opportunity.
It’s all about the experience
Increasingly, consumers want to see more of the travel experience rather than the promotion of prestige locations or glossy images – social allows you to add flavour and depth to destinations, venues and the whole travel experience. An Expedia survey says 76% of baby boomers and 62% of Gen X rate experiencing authentic local culture as “the most important” aspect of their decision making. Over 60% of UK millennials want authenticity in travel experiences, but they also want shareability too – they want others to know about it!
This last point is increasingly important. Travel brands need to focus on shareability this year. Why? Because of the rise of dark social: the messenger apps. Membership of these platforms are rapidly rising and according to GlobalWebIndex, Facebook Messenger is already 56% and WhatsApp at 55%. And WeChat dominates all of them. Creating posts that inspire sharing allows your content to jump from the open social channels into dark messaging apps as your customers share with friends and family. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.
The brand that offers insights and local colour ensures they cut through the noise with originality.
From brands like Airbnb, Booking.com and Virgin Hotels to top social influencers, there is one common approach: they are different. Content is driven by a clear goal with a defined vision of the proposition. Stories are told that evoke memories and inspire dreams. But so too is a sharing of the detail that makes each brand stand for something. Visually the leaders in travel have distinctive social styles. They move beyond lifestyle pictures and reveal colours, passion and insider knowledge.
So many influencers and growing
From airlines and destinations to hotels and car hire, there are influencers from every category in travel – social celebrities (talent) with followings that will extend your reach and micro-influencers that cover every niche – the list is ever expanding.
However, brands need to understand the purpose of a travel influencer. If it is reach you’re after then the talent will be a first port of call (although managing a plethora of micro-influencers is fast becoming more common). It will cost, and usually more than just the trip or holiday you offer. There may be better ways in paid social media to achieve the same result without the risk (some social talent can go quickly off message).
Influencers’ greatest role is in changing behaviours. And here the influencer is just as likely to be family and friends of your customer. According to Sprout Social, social channels have a significant impact on travel purchases. Only 48% of consumers follow through with their original plans after researching on social, with 33% switching hotel, 10% changing resorts, and so on.
Tapping into the family and friend influencer is more challenging. Sure, UGC campaigns can drive posts, but taking your social offline can also drive great results. Consider your consumers at the point of travel or in destination. While on holiday, 60% of travellers, and 97% of millennial travellers share their trip photos. Look offline to how you can encourage them to post more, make recommendations and share original, authentic communications. Post trip, think about how you can encourage people to share their memories. Collating these together in social channels can make an impact given that above half of Facebook users said friends’ photos inspired travel plans.
Cutting through the noise on social should be the goal for every travel brand. Collate the social data, interpret and combine with authentic, local content. It’s a perfect mix, like sand, sea and sun.
Katy Howell is CEO of social media consultancy Immediate Future.