There's something about travel that appeals to our deepest desires and natural instincts. Seeing a friend's Instagram photo of a trip to Paris is a bit like watching someone devour an ice cream on a hot day. You see it, you want it. That basic tendency is at the heart of what's driving social trends in the travel agency today. A shared experience is a step closer to an experience that's all your own. So maybe that's why we love to window shop for holidays more than any other type of expenditure.
In a recent article in Marketing Land, the incredible amount of social travel data out there online was put under the microscope. Marketer Chris Kerns drew three separate conclusions from the findings of his research. We're going to look through his analysis and suggest how travel brands might adapt to meet the changing needs and behaviour of their customers.
What if that was my life? What if I tried that? What if I finally booked that trip?...
Travel brands that are successful on social media effectively transport people across the world with the touch of a button. One post, a single inspiring photograph - that can be all it takes. But at the same time, social media users are savvy and sceptical. They're unlikely to properly engage with anything they see as generic. With this in mind, it's no surprise some of the biggest influencers in the travel market are not brands but individuals.
Take travel photographer Chris Burkard.
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Today is #WorldPhotoDay. But what does that actually mean? Well it's meant to encourage photographers & really any picture taker to share a single photo with their view of the world to celebrate the art of photography. . So here is mine, an old one from a couple years ago at Lake Moraine. This sums up my favorite use of photography. A photo that's single purpose is to inspire others to get outside and experience our greatest resource. Wilderness.
Pretty cool, right? Well, Chris Kerns suggests that content such as this is being engaged with a whole lot more than the regular stuff many travel agencies are churning out. The key here is a combination of authenticity and action. As well as a stunning landscape, this particular photo includes the photographer himself. This is clever for a whole bunch of reasons. First, it radiates authenticity. This guy is doing what any of us would be tempted to do in that situation. Ruining the beautiful serenity of the lake, nature at its finest, by charging straight into it. Second, it inspires action. Instead of viewers thinking "Wow, look at that incredible lake", they are thinking "Wow, look at that incredible lake - I want to do what that guy's doing!".
This element of inspiration is always going to be pivotal when it comes to engagement on social media. Bukard must be doing something right anyway - he's got 1.9 million followers on Instagram and counting.
The next successful social media influencer picked out by Chris Kerns was Murad Osmann. He's a big deal, and he and his wife Nataly's 'Follow me to...' brand has gained huge traction on Instagram. The premise is simple. In the majority of his posts, his wife is leading him toward a different destination or sight, dressed completely in whatever is the local cultural norm. And it's worked. Each photo is in the same format but radically different depending on where they happen to be in the world.
So what's the takeaway here? Perhaps something to do with brand consistency. Clearly, we can see that Follow me to has developed a theme and continues to play on that familiarity to connect with its audience. 4.4 million followers and an engagement rate of just under 5%. Strong.
Above is another thriving Instagram account - this time from Foster Huntington, who left his job to drive around the US in a camper van. His posts are a long way away from the "Oh look at how perfect my life is" trend that circulates through much of social media. Instead, his images are super-realistic, often gritty, but always, always honest and engaging. It's probably that authenticity that radiates with his loyal following, which currently stands at over 1 million.
Sometimes polish isn't everything.
Kerns did some analysis into the response times and frequency of travel brands when dealing with customer engagements online. Having run a similar analysis the year before, on the rise of 1:1 marketing, he decided to delve deeper into the percentage of brands’ Twitter content written to single individuals, noticing that it has been steadily increasing:
In the 2015 study, airlines saw the highest percentage of replies of any industry, at 98 percent of their Twitter content, and now in 2016, that number has hit 99 percent fairly consistently each month to date. When we look at hotel brands, we see this number increasing this year as well. In January of 2016, the 1:1 percentage for hotel brands was close to 88 percent; by July of 2016, that number had risen to 91 percent. This increase in one-to-one social communication between brands and consumers isn’t coming out of the blue; it’s a response to growing customer expectations on social. The channel is increasingly used by consumers to ask for help, advice and troubleshooting — all without having to pick up a phone." - Chris Kerns, Marketing Land
We are entering a time when marketing, customer service, and product delivery begin to merge into one. Social platforms provide the best way of doing this, as travel agency marketing teams respond to questions and issues instantaneously. With this increased capability comes increased customer expectation and engagement on social platforms. As people understand that social media offers a viable channel for everyday travel queries, the industry is going to have to shift its operations to react accordingly.
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