Social Media for Travel Brands

Thought Leadership
Simon Kemp

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recently commissioned We Are Social to investigate the emerging trends shaping people’s use of social media in relation to travel. We uncovered a number of interesting trends that we think will be relevant to all marketers – regardless of which industry they work in – so Singapore Tourism Board have been kind enough to let us share our key findings here.

We shared our findings in a presentation that I gave to a couple of hundred marketers at STB’s recent Marketing Lab in Singapore; you can read the full presentation in the SlideShare embed above (or read it here if that’s not working for you), but we thought it might be helpful to share some additional insights too, so read on below for some even richer context.

The State Of Social

We started the session with a look at the device and platform trends that are shaping the world’s overall relationship with social media.

As we highlighted in our mammoth Digital in 2016 report, the primary take-away for marketers is the central role of mobile-oriented social media behaviours – a finding which should be obvious by now, but which has particular importance for travel brands, given that most tourists will be using a smartphone as their primary connected device while travelling.

It’s been a few weeks since we presented the findings though, and the social and digital landscape changes fast, so we’ve included some updated stats in this presentation:

DSM 20160418

Beyond the data, there are three things marketers need to pay particular attention to when it comes to mobile-centric social: the frequency of interaction, people’s changing channel choices, and the need to broaden our thinking when it comes to social media marketing.

Frequency of Interaction

Depending on which study you read, people check their phones an average of between 40 and 150 (!) times per day. Assuming the average person sleeps for 8 hours each day, that translates to checking our phones somewhere between every 24 minutes and every 7 minutes.

Even at the lower end of that scale, however, we interact with our phones more frequently than we do with any other medium – and for some people, more frequently that we interact with other people face-to-face.

From a marketer’s perspective, that’s a huge opportunity: this potential for frequent interactions means that we can use mobile to build an evolving dialogue (or even a ‘relationship’) with our audiences.

mobile social frequency

In order to achieve that, however, we need to use mobile more wisely and strategically than we have been using it up until now; in particular, we need to stop treating mobile as an interruptive advertising medium, and start using it to add more distinct value to our audiences.

Fortunately, using social media is one of the top activities on mobile for people all around the world, so it follows that marketers looking to take advantage of this ‘meaningful frequency’ opportunity should look at how they can harness mobile social to build and deepen relationships, and deliver regular value to the people they hope to engage.

Changing Channel Choices

As we become more attached to our mobile devices, our social media preferences are changing. The data in our Digital in 2016 report shows an accelerating shift to mobile messengers – chat apps like WhatsApp, LINE and WeChat – and we’re confident that one of these platforms will soon overtake Facebook to become the world’s most active social platform.

Social Rankings 20160418

However, these platforms offer a very different social environment to the one we’ve become used to with Facebook. Critically – at least for now – there’s no easy ‘pay-to-play’ way to succeed in most chat apps (perhaps with the exception of stickers).

This will likely change in the coming months (especially with the arrival of Bots on Messenger), but for now, marketers need to find ways to inspire people to share organically, and the only way we’ll do that is by being more relevant, more meaningful, and adding more value.

And that means changing our mindset.

Broadening Our Thinking

One of the most important mindset changes will be to stop thinking about social in isolation; if we are to succeed in an environment that’s increasingly dependent on organic conversations, we need to use everything at our disposal – every element of our marketing mix – to inspire meaningful peer-to-peer conversations (for more on this, check out our guide to building a more powerful Social Marketing Mix).

everything is social

Instead of wondering how we build larger communities though – or worse, mindlessly building fans and followers – on each individual platform, we need to think of communities as people, and understand their behaviours.

We need to identify what those people do today, but also understand how their preferences and behaviours are evolving, and how to ensure that we continue to engage them over time, even when they move on to the next hot platform(s).

The ‘Consumer Journey’

The body of our bespoke research for STB explored social’s role in the end-to-end ‘consumer journey’ – i.e. the contributions that social media can make, from delivering initial awareness through to inspiring and amplifying post-experience sharing, repeat purchase, and even lifetime value (loyalty).

Many of the findings we outlined in the SlideShare embed above are specific to travel, but it should be easy for marketers to adapt them – and the associated framework – to their own industry and brand, so here are the key steps of the consumer journey that we identified, together with a few thought-starters of how marketers in any industry can use social at each step:

travel journey

1. Dreaming: When are people first aware of a potential need or desire for the value that your brand offers? In travel, this is a stage we’ve called ‘dreaming’, but in some industries this stage may be more about the gradual awareness of the need for a functional solution (e.g. “I wish there was a better way of…”). Other people’s social posts and conversations are often one of the stimuli that kickstart this dreaming phase – posts that trigger an “I’d love a holiday / new phone / glass of beer” kind of reaction.

2. Triggering: When do people move from passive awareness of that potential want, need or desire, and into a stage of more active behaviour? What are the specific catalysts (triggers) for this shift? Should you consider using social marketing to deliver this trigger, or is it better to use social more for relationship building rather than conversion?

3. Researching: How do people learn about the various options that may help them achieve the outcome they’re looking for? How much research do they do? Even when it comes to impulse buys, research still plays a part, but we may need to use our judgment to identify which behaviours qualify as ‘research’. Remember that a first purchase may even fit within this stage; for example, I might buy a variety of chocolate bars simply to try them all out, rather than because I’ve already decided they’re the best choice for me.

4. Planning: In many categories – especially those that require greater emotional or financial investment – there may be an important planning stage too. Social can play a valuable role in informing the various steps and activities within this phase, but it can be better to explore how you can inspire organic peer-to-peer conversations to fuel this, rather than trying to address them all in your own social media activities and posts (mainly because it’s difficult for you to cover that quantity of content all at once without irritating or alienating people at different stages of the consumer journey).

5. Booking (Purchase): Can social media play a role in the actual purchase transaction? One example we identified in our research is using social media to coordinate group travel bookings – something that is particularly important for Millennials looking to take advantage of a time-limited deal to travel with a group of friends who aren’t in the same room as each other at the time of booking.

6. Day Planning: This phase is more specific to travel brands, but it’s also an interesting step to consider whichever industry you’re in: how can social media influence our brand experiences, even as they’re unfolding? Could you use real-time social media marketing to upsize your customers’ spend or involvement?

7. Enjoyment: Can social media heighten your customers’ ‘consumption’ experiences? Many people enjoy posting pictures of their holiday while we’re still travelling, and there’s no reason why brands shouldn’t explore ways to help guests or customers post the best content about their experience. This idea isn’t unique to travel brands either; it has clear potential for restaurants, and indeed any brand offering some form of ‘experience’.

8. Remembering: Holidays often trigger social conversations long after they’re over, and travel brands can use this opportunity to their advantage. Even before the days of social media, people would pass around their holiday photos to family and friends once they’d returned (remember those endless photo albums?!). There’s no reason why brands shouldn’t tap into this natural behaviour on social media too; for example, a #TBT (Throw-Back Thursday) post where the brand celebrates one of their previous guests or customers many months after their visit can help to re-trigger the dreaming phase.

Digging Deeper: Changing Social Behaviours

During the course of our research, we identified some broader changes in social media behaviour too, so we included a deep-dive analysis into three of these trends that particularly captured our attention: the desire to post ‘pro-quality’ content, the evolution of social media clichés, and the desire for authentic, local experiences.

You’ll find our full analysis of these trends – together with some examples – as part of the ‘Enjoyment’ section of the deck, but here’s a quick snapshot to whet your appetite:

1. The Desire For Pro-Quality Content

The qualitative aspects of our research revealed that many people feel pressure to post professional quality content, even when they’re just posting to an account that only their friends will see. Given the quality of content in many social streams, this is perhaps unsurprising though; many Instagram users will be familiar with the sense of inferiority when comparing their casual posts to those that appear in their own feeds:

pro quality instagram posts

This represents an interesting opportunity for brands though: there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to help people to create bigger, better, richer and more engaging posts of their own – an approach that’s likely to improve organic word of mouth, as well as ensure that our brands appear in the best possible light:

get the best shot

2. Evolving Social Clichés

Selfies were the biggest thing in social media a few months ago (so much so that we were invited by news channels to talk about them). However, the selfie has evolved rapidly since then, with many people seeming to eschew the ‘classic’ self-centred shot in favour of less narcissistic compositions:

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 12.41.24[click image to enlarge]

This may sound like a highly trivial observation, but it has genuine importance for brands that hope to engage customers and those people’s social networks.

People still want to show that they’re ‘there’, but they also want people to engage with their posts. By moving to a less self-centred approach, people can still show off, but it’s more likely that the subsequent conversations with friends focus on surroundings and context rather than the person featured in the post – an outcome that benefits everyone (including any associated brands).

We have three tips for brands looking to harness this ‘evolution of the selfie’:

evolving selfies

Some clichés are here to stay though, most notably ‘photos of my lunch’. However, given this trend’s continuing – and growing – organic popularity, it’s probably time that marketers stopped dismissing it, and spent some time working out how they can use it to their advantage.

why we post photos of our lunch

Photos of #food is a topic we’ve talked about many times before, so naturally, we’ve got plenty of tips to help marketers who want to understand how to engage people who are keen to share this kind of content:

food posts

3. Authentic, Local Experiences

Our research also revealed that people from all over the world want to experience new cultures whenever they travel. That may not be a revelation in itself, but few marketers are using social media to help these people identify, locate and enjoy these authentic, local experiences.

The good news is that social media marketing is perfectly placed to help people with each of those steps, and sometimes, to be a part of the experience itself:

local experiences

Parting Thoughts

Hopefully that’s inspired a whole lot of new thinking, and given you a wealth of new ideas too. The SlideShare deck at the top of this post has many more ideas and examples, so get stuck in, and give Simon a shout on Twitter if you have any questions.

And don’t forget to offer your thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for allowing us to share this research with you too!

Disclosure: please note that this research was conducted as part of a paid engagement.