No doubt one of the hottest topics when it comes to online marketing, social media is particularly interesting when it comes to the travel industry. Already there has been a number of big fails when it comes to travel businesses taking the plunge to grow their social media databases. On the same front, however, social media has proven to be the most important contributor to the viral sharing of information in recent natural disasters, which has been key to managing the impact of these situations. The instant nature of social communication is not only the key driver for sharing news, but also from a brand point of view, for publishing updates, announcements, sales and more.
The travel industry is far more competitive and dynamic than many other industries and it is also one of the most social purchases that a user can make. Decisions based on friend’s recommendations and questions answered from within a user’s network matter immensely when it comes to travel.
The struggle for online travel businesses and e-commerce business in general, is the commitment of resources to social media. Before implementing a social media strategy, brands need to be prepared for the resource heavy management that comes with it. Responses must be faster than the usual inquiry-driving methods such as email, engagement must be on a regular basis and not only do you need to respond to conversation, you must facilitate it.
On top of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, travel brands need to replicate the social nature of traveling while connecting with a travelbug’s spontaneity and eye for good deals. One of the best examples of the use of social media in the travel industry is TripAdvisor and their use of the Facebook Connect API. Upon connecting with Facebook the home page changes, a large percentage of it, to reflect the site-wide activity of your social network. Places your friends have been, hotels your friends have recommended and the most popular destinations are some of the feeds that replace the existing home page content. Immediately you begin to snoop at what your friends have been up to, the places they recommend and it starts to generate ideas for your next holiday. There’s also an element of ‘groupthink’ that comes from seeing where your friends have been. The notion of ‘if that many people have been there I have to go to’ becomes a reality in the same way it does when you see that 3,000 people have purchased an item on a daily deals site. When planning your next holiday, your friend’s most popular places immediately head to the top of the list.
People love to travel and more importantly share stories, photos, videos and more on their experience. So how do you take advantage of this social media boom if you’re a travel brand?
The first and most simple way to integrate social media into your website is through sharing functionality in both Twitter and Facebook. Have a hot product or interesting content? Ensure that your visitors can share this. It will benefit your social media presence as well as your site SEO. Email marketing is no exception either, add sharing to your email communication, you’ll be thankful you did.
Emphasize Friends Actions
If you want to take it to the next step like in the Trip Advisor example, integrating the actions of a user’s friend is an excellent strategy to improve conversion rates and give users a complete social media experience. Facebook Connect is the obvious choice for this and I believe that you can’t argue with the power of that network. Use it to your advantage, knowing that a person is likely to have at least 100 friends already connected on Facebook. If a user can share, shortlist, comment on or like a product or service on your site then their friends should know about it when they do. It will encourage conversation, interest in a product and ultimately improve your website experience.
People love competitions and in particular, travel-related competitions. A competition integrated across multiple channels including your website and social media channels is a great way to utilize social networking to grow your database, engage with your customers and increase website traffic and brand recognition. Use Competition Applications in Facebook, social sharing for extra entries and if you want to make it big, video entries. Hitting your website traffic, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter simultaneously will create a buzz around your brand that will take you to new heights.
Communicate and Engage
Finally, after a few suggestions on how to use it, the most important aspect is the most simple. As mentioned previously, if you are going to jump into social media, be prepared to keep up with demand, respond to your users and create conversation. Make it personal, ensure that users feel like they are being listened to and that you’re a real person. You’re no longer talking at them, you’re talking to them.