Curious where social media is going? The travel industry leads the way

In the world of marketing, nothing emphasizes a faster change in popularity or trend than social media.

  • Just when a social media manager believes they’ve figured out Facebook’s algorithm, it changes.
  • Think implementing a strategy with Snapchat is the solution to hitting target audiences? Here comes Tik Tok.
  • That brand new influencer with millions of engaged followers you just signed? They just entered the news cycle with questionable posts right after pushing your brand.

In social marketing, early adopters are rewarded. Those who pass over trends or are late to the game, will miss fantastic opportunities, and, of course, risk ridicule or mockery by more social-savvy users.

It’s easy to see which trends are relevant right now and build a strategy around current viral posts and innovative tactics, but how do you predict what’s coming next?

Customer behavior is in a constant state of evolution. How can an agency, in-house team or other social specialists, build content to stick with followers and increase awareness for prospective clients and future fans?

Where can you look for inspiration? Key indicators are available, ready to guide your organization to accomplish its comprehensive social media strategy.

In fact, one industry has been at the forefront of social innovation: Travel and tourism has been leading content sharing well before the conception of today’s popular platforms; a consistent trend for years.

Inherently social

Travel has always been social. Not simply traveling with friends and family, but sharing our travel experiences with others. Before the rise of today’s social media giants, travelers were eager to provide social media-type feedback to family, friends and strangers around the globe.

What used to be organized photo albums and slideshows for friends and neighbors, have been replaced by blogs and Instagram posts. 

Whether planners were in need of information and reviews regarding potential vacation destinations and activities, or vacationers were looking to boast about their experiences, passing information has evolved from speaking to someone face-to-face, and reading detailed brochures, to leaving reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor – a prime example of social media before social media.

Of course today, social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all other platforms are the most exciting and efficient ways of spreading information to your friends and family.

The third-party endorsements of destinations and activities from the consumers’ point of view are truly impacting future plans of other travelers, who monitor social sites for recommendations. These connections with the like-minded have become vital to destinations as posts become more visual.

So, why were consumers sharing, rating and reviewing trips before the social media takeover?

To be frank, vacations are expensive – a high-stakes purchasing decision.

As marketers, we learned early that a trusted evaluation of an experience is important to those ready to spend the time and money on a high-priced activity. Unlike the ease of ordering, trying and returning products such as clothing, vacations are one of the most expensive purchases consumers make, and you’ll be hard-pressed to receive a refund for an unimpressive travel experience.

Traveling is a highly personal product – costs, safety and overall level of fun are not taken lightly.

Sharing everything

No matter where you are, or where you’ve gone, there have always been opportunities to socially share or receive information about your trip.

When social media, as we currently know it, launched in the early 2000s, it was a game-changer for the travel industry, placing a more intricate spin on sharing and researching details about potential vacation itineraries.

It can be challenging to identify the cause and effect of social media trends as they continue to ebb and flow, almost daily. Are consumers behaving differently due to platform features and algorithms, or are the consumers forcing these changes from the platforms?

From our experience in the travel industry’s social media landscape, there are four trends that a marketer must identify – all of which have a tremendous impact on the travel industry, and are fundamentally relevant to non-travel businesses looking to succeed on social media.

The rise of niche communities

With 3.5 billion people on social media, how many of these users are relevant to your brand?

Users are taking advantage of social media to stay connected to family, friends and only those brands they love.

Travel and tourism has been at the forefront of developing niche communities, with groups, or “artificial walls” put up by brands to segment and target their audiences. Brands develop opportunistic groups to pull prime targets in to discuss travel plans, recommendations and more. 

Groups such as “It’s Orlando Time,” filled with dedicated travelers in the U.K., maintain hundreds of thousands of followers, with nearly 1,000 posts every day about traveling to Orlando, Florida.

There are so many opportunities to share and learn on social media, but groups like these are followed due to their direct impact on its community. Brands monitor the deep and passionate thoughts and insights in real time, and add any relevant content to increase participation.

There are countless groups of all sizes, for road warriors, who share detailed insights on how to exploit loopholes in frequent flyer programs, and those who simply vent their frustrations when hotels and other providers do not meet expectations.

These dedicated groups have set the example for productive social sharing, especially as brands figure out a way to interact with their customers in these new environments, even without control over messaging.  

Social sales

Social media is driving purchasing decisions. The phenomenon of repeating what you see on social media began as users became inspired by travelers they aspire to be. (Looking at you, Instagram Repeat account)

Whether they be travel-, fitness-, food, or even laundry detergentrelated sales, these posts inspire consumers to mimic social media by purchasing and eventually posting. 

Platforms like Instagram are no longer simply providing inspiration, but they’re also making it increasingly easy to shop right from the app.

Like many other businesses, the travel industry struggles to completely attribute what part of their sales are driven by social media, especially as travel is less of an impulse buy.

The most forward-thinking travel marketers have come up with very sophisticated attribution models, which allow them to track consumers as they see the content and subsequently make a purchase. 

Social customer service

Customer service has boomed on social media. Yes, it’s an opportunity to engage with consumers who’ve had negative and positive experiences, but it also means responses are expected in real time.

Social media has empowered consumers, who are not afraid to use that power – just ask any person responsible for community management of an airline’s social channels. 

Any cancelled or delayed flight, changed seat assignment, service animal, unruly passenger or disruption can lead to an onslaught of angry tweets or messages.

For years, travel industry leaders have been reaching out and solving problems for customers through social media platforms (or travel review sites), whether it’s a mismanaged hotel room or flight cancellation. For the travel industry, immediate responses have been vital to ensure today’s guests don’t miss flights and are comfortable during their travels.

This type of customer service is spilling over into other industries, and they should take their cue from the tourism giants who have perfected solving customer service issues, quickly, effectively and personally.

Brand connectors

Social media influencers discovered travel before other verticals, and are now everywhere – even causing some hospitality organizations to ban “influencers” from their properties. So what comes next?

The influencer trend is moving towards those passionate, more targeted audiences (see niche communities above), who might not have the large number of followers, but are more authentic and relatable.

Consumers are no longer influenced by one person who visits a city for half a day. They want the real/authentic view of a local with all the connections. 

“Following” a true insider helps build that authentic audience base, that continues to realize the difference between an ad and a shared experience. In other words, don’t build an influencer program, build a partnership.

No industry has achieved such strong social media success like travel – the concepts of sharing and enjoying photos, recommendations and reviews has gracefully aged and continues to improve.

It’s more important than ever that all brands and industries take note of the important work destination marketing organizations, hotel owners, airlines and conventions bureaus have accomplished to keep up with the changing dynamics of social strategies.

Social media has dissolved the barrier between businesses and consumers – planning/purchasing is at the fingertips of consumers, and feedback is only a click away.

Questions and requests can be resolved with a tweet or Facebook message. Yes, this is the perfect marketplace to provide information to your audience, but understanding the needs and wants of your targets through social media data are key to increasing awareness and the bottom line.


Filed Under: Tourism

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