Which do you trust more – travel marketing or reviews from people just like you? The truth is, the traveler has never been more empowered to make informed decisions. The exchange of travel information on blogs, community review forums, flash sales, mobile apps and many other emerging media experiences have put much more information in the hands of travelers to plan, initiate, track, share and connect. While there’s nothing new about friends and family informing and influencing their peers' decisions, what is new is the pervasive integration of consumer recommendations, the connectivity people have that spans well beyond their personal networks, and the fact that all of this happens on channels that scale and facilitate bookings in the travel space.
What's more, the mindset and experience of the traveler (much like participants of social media) is an inherently fluid and gregarious mentality. For this reason, travel marketers aiming to expand their presence in social should start by sparking high quality, engagement-driven relationships. As the metaphor goes: Social media is a bit like a dinner party. If I mentioned at the table that I’m going to San Antonio, how do you think I’d feel if everyone started shouting “book now!” at me? Like any skilled conversationalist, it's critical to build rapport before making the hard sell. Once your brand has established social currency, begin to consider planning how social impacts businesses more deeply and how to gain greater scale.
I’ve identified five trends in travel social media that were big in 2010 and will be important to track in 2011. At the core of all these trends, social media is less of a broadcast “push channel” and more about loyalty, reputation and advocacy
Five trends to track:
1. Friends get special access to deals and programs:
It’s important to remember, relationships are not just about a pat on the back; they also should deliver real consumer benefits. Research suggests that 59% of those who became a fan/follower of a travel company in social media did so for special offers and discounts (eMarketer, “The Impact of Social Media,” 9/9/10).
2. Digital travelers never travel alone:
Leisure travel planning is often more fun when it’s with friends and family. Recent trends are providing tangible evidence for this basic insight. 20% of Facebook users have asked their network friends for travel advice (eMarketer, “The Impact of Social Media,” 1/10). Further, apps and communities are beginning to empower shared planning among friends and connections by taking advantage of "network effect."
3. Loyalty is increasingly about style, not just bookings:
Most travel brands limit loyalty programs to the transaction when in fact travelers are thinking about travel well beyond the swipe of their card. With social media integrating into mobile devices, many hotels and airlines have realized that they can engage a significant number of travelers at touch points throughout the travel journey.
4. What travelers discuss is found and compared:
The release of Google ‘Places’ and the recent whispers of the forthcoming Google ‘Place Recommendations’ reflect the close relationship of location reviews and search. What can brands do? For starters, actively engage in ‘reputation management’, which involves monitoring for issues, responding when necessary and optimizing how both brand sites and brand reviews are indexed in search.
5. Service is extended via connections:
Social media is a “live channel” that can be leveraged for addressing customer issues in real time and for routing customers to service channels directly. 35% of travelers have used social media to interact with a travel company (eMarketer, “PhoCusWright Cross-Channel Survey,” 7/1/10).