By Invitation Only: Social media key for travel decision-making
by Leigh Franks. According the latest Sony Mobile #XperiaNewPerspectives research, 50% of travellers pick their holiday destinations based on other people’s holiday snaps, and a further 45% use Instagram as inspiration for where to photograph and visit. That represents a paradigm shift in how people are planning trips.
Destination-marketing organisations (DMOs) and other travel professionals must adjust their strategies accordingly — you may make your visitors your most-valuable, and free, marketing team if you do things differently.
It’s natural that a mobile-first generation, accustomed to using devices for almost every conceivable activity, would prefer the immediacy of being able to research, plan and book trips in one go, and this market segment also represents the largest market in terms of the demographic of travellers. This demographic is also most active on social media, dipping seamlessly between Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (according to their preferences). They’re competitive, wanting to see and do things others haven’t, and share those experiences online. That energy takes them to some unusual places, and their photographic records expose a wider market to more new things to do and see.
The challenge for destination-marketers parrots that of other brand marketers: how may this environment of ‘virality’, hashtags and exponential community-reach be harnessed and translated into marketing that speaks to the right people, enticing them to want to share the same experiences? More than that, how may this become a sustainable model that keeps on giving back?
Across the globe, big-city destinations typically use the [verb/adjective/noun]+city name formula of marketing: #YourSingapore, #FjordNorway, #PureNewZealand, #SpainInDetail, #LoveCapeTown — the most-popular word to use in conjunction with a city name is “beautiful”; an excellent example is “Djibouti, DjiBeauty”. New Zealand’s Instagram account has more than 624k followers, showing the possible reach of its posts.
By adding a prefix, DMOs may establish up-front positioning that is easily executed across channels. Campaign hashtags also allow for marketing such as in-destination competitions or promotions, so marketers may develop a campaign that involves communities sharing a destination hashtag as a form of entry into a competition. Aruba Tourism inspired with its #1happysnap contest on Instagram and Twitter, encouraging its community to share travel inspirations for a chance to win a trip to the happy island plus other great prizes. The hashtag was a general one it used for its own purposes. In this way, user-generated content may be curated and a narrative created that may be used to market the product.
There are great destination hashtags from many countries, the chief benefit for travellers being that, not only are you sharing your experience with an extensive audience, you may also curate your journey — you could travel without creating a specific album and then gather all your hashtagged images when you get home into one place.
Marketing with social media images doesn’t stop at hashtags; the very data around images and sharing may be used. So, marketers may analyse which images are the most popular and why; what makes people share them; what are they sharing; and what kinds of content obtains the most interaction, whether in the form of likes or engagement in comments.
Table Mountain is one of the top 30 most-photographed landmarks worldwide, according to the same Sony Mobile research results, which used Instagram data to find the most-photographed landmarks. Without too much thought, you could probably list at least 10 global icons associated with cities: Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Statue of Liberty, Christ the Redeemer reaching out over Rio — it’s easy to picture them all. The associated data can pinpoint down to the exact angle from where visitors are snapping images.
A destination may analyse which attractions are most-photographed and encourage this more, such as by positioning giant frames around the city with different views of the local attractions. This also aids in rooting out the parts of the marketing campaigns that aren’t effective: if your image of the local cathedral isn’t getting attention but the bustling market is, then you know where to concentrate your marketing efforts.
For other travel businesses, this trend is an essential one. Whereas hotel groups used to advertise using images of hotel rooms or dining areas, now they’re becoming aware that they’re part of a bigger picture — a destination — and so many are providing images of the surrounding areas, along with lists of what’s hot to do and see, so a potential visitor is immersed in the destination before even arriving.
A current trend is to allow a popular social media platform user to take over a DMO’s accounts for a couple of days — to do an Insta-takeover. That person then shares images of what they’re getting up to on your accounts, so you get the benefit of tapping into their communities. It’s not hard to identify these super-users; there are many marketing sites that collate information about who they are.
The most-important factor is that engaging on social media platforms takes you right into these communities, allowing you to speak in terms your market will understand. Social media gives visitors a platform to speak about you, rather than your doing that yourself. It may be a risk but it’s about having the confidence in your product to place it in the hands of your consumers, creating trust in word-of-mouth, third-party marketing.
It’s interactive, unlike a paper brochure, and aspirational. It gives you, as a marketer, room to be playful and fun while placing your brand right in their hands, in their homes.
Leigh Franks is the marketing executive of Cape Town Tourism. She has worked on an extensive range of brands across the globe, from Europe to Africa. What distinguishes her is her way of making sense where there is none and executing brand strategies with her teams that meet business targets and speak to the minds and souls of consumers.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.