Since the days of the first dot.com boom the travel industry has been at the forefront of social and digital media. Despite this there are still travel companies out there who believe that online booking won’t work for them, or organisations who have failed to enter the social marketing space.
There are some persuasive arguments as to why the tourism & travel industry should embrace social media and content marketing as strategies to promote their services, raise brand awareness and generate bookings and a positive reputation. The key to success is finding the right strategy and implementation for your organization.
Let me see it through your eyes
Customer expectation of travel websites has evolved from the transactional to experiential. As well as being able to research a holiday or journey the user now expects to be able to imagine themselves there. Travel companies can achieve this through the use of visual media eg photography and video, and encouraging user reviews, which allow potential bookers to see what past visitors have experienced. Bookers use both official and unofficial channels to research and plan their trip as together they provide a more complete picture of the destination under consideration.
Every traveller is now a reporter – sharing their own visual content to give the ‘warts and all’ view of each location. At very least the booker expects to be able to scroll through a gallery of images and maybe even a 360 photo of each location – a single photo will no longer satisfy our appetite for visual media. Content always has and always will be king.
If you’re seeking evidence of this thirst for visual information – look to the rapid rise of Pinterest and Instagram, as well as Facebook’s latest redesign – which makes visual content even more important in their page layout.
A natural progression for travel marketing has been the social sharing of information. Status updates, holiday photos and even video make their way onto Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare and are shared across the world. Much of this sharing takes place via mobile devices. Harnessing this power enables travel brands to multiply their marketing budgets and enable information to spread faster than a well planned and executed marcomms campaign could ever do. This is word of mouth referral advertising for the digital age.
SEO should be your number one priority
A website optimized for natural search is every marketing manager’s number one action. However it is now thought in geek circles that Google Search’s latest algorythms are promoting content posted and shared on social networks even higher. The reach of your social network and the sharing you do to those networks will have a substantive, possibly massive, effect on your search traffic.
What can travel brands do to leverage social media?
Here are some essential steps for travel and leisure brands wanting to bring their digital strategy up to date:
1. Create official platforms for sharing. You need to have an authentic presence on all the relevant social networks. If you don’t set it up, a user might, and then you risk your brand being misrepresented by a (hopefully) well-meaning customer. Which social platforms you select will depend naturally on your target markets and marketing objectives. The most important networks for the travel and leisure industry are Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Youtube and Flikr, and blogging (eg WordPress or Blogger). The strategy for each will depend on your business and customer profile.
2. Connect your social networks by cross linking so that your Twitter feed promotes your Facebook page and so on. Pinterest allows you to verify your web address so that it appears in your profile header. These administrative tasks are well worth the time as it demonstrates to Google’s robots that your social profiles are connected and that you are one and the same organisation.
3. Link your organisation’s official website to your social channels. Invite website visitors to connect with you and follow your updates. Even better, incorporate a feed of ‘latest tweets’ or ‘updates’ directly into your company website. Make sure your website is optimised for mobile or better still create a mobile version.
4. Create original content. Anyone can share existing content out there, but brands are in the ideal position of having access to the product or service themselves. Create stunning new photography, create a chalet host’s blog, present survey results as an infographic. Interesting, useful, engaging and most of all entertaining content is shared.
5. Ask users to share it. Word of mouth recommendations will happen regardless, but are vastly accelerated if we ask happy customers to share and recommend the service to their friends. When posting content ask your followers to share or comment – both of which will spread the word virally to their circles.
6. Create events – real or virtual online events and ask followers to join in. If you’re attending trade shows add those as events, or set up a live chat event for your followers.
7. Create unique content that is only available via each network. Competitions work well but have to involve the community and provide a worthwhile reward. Don’t fall foul of competition rules – check out my earlier post for info. Give your followers something special – a preview of a new video, or a discount code off their booking. If you reward their loyalty they will become brand ambassadors and do the hard work for you.
8. Don’t shout, listen to your customers instead. It is more important to engage with and converse with your social media followers than it is to keep pushing out messages to them. They may sometimes complain about your services, but that is fine. A sanitised social media channel will come across as entirely artificial. Listen to their comments, respond and take action in the real world. Learn when to respond to complaints posted on TripAdvisor and know when to leave alone.
9. Make it easy to research and book online. Customer expectations are that this should be possible, and the idea of waiting for a phone line to re-open could lose you valuable business. Ensure that the user journey for each process is as quick and simple as possible – remove redundant steps and only ask for data when it is needed.
Of course social media is only part of the digital marketing landscape, and any social media strategy has to be in synergy with your overarching marketing strategy. Customers will care about every interaction with your brand – from social media, to company website, to phone operative and everyone they meet along their journey. If any of these customer touchpoints are not up to scratch then it lets the whole customer experience down. So take the time to take a renewed look at your customer journey and the content you are sharing and consider where you can make a difference. This relatively small investment of time and budget will pay dividends in terms of future bookings.
Roisin Kirby is an experienced Marketing Consultant based in Nottingham (UK), with experience spanning a range of service industries, particularly the education and travel sectors.