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Special Report: Travolution Business Breakfast on the evolving role of social media in travel

Posted by Lee Hayhurst on
Special Report: Travolution Business Breakfast on the evolving role of social media in travel

Last month Travolution held a special roundtable hosted by Facebook to discuss with some leading travel firms how their social strategies are evolving and the value of the channel

See our gallery from the event

Small high street travel firms are ideally placed to take on the big guys on social media platforms, a Travolution business breakfast heard last month.

The event, hosted by Facebook, was held on the first morning of the annual Travel Technology Europe trade show in London.

Over 100 delegates heard from a panel of experts on how social is evolving as a platform to not just build brand awareness but drive bookings.

Nick Cooper, the newly appointed UK head at deals publisher Holiday Pirates, said because being authentic on social was vital local firms have an advantage.

“High street agencies in villages already have the authenticity and relevance, therefore it’s easy for them to make the transition into Facebook or social.

“They are engaging with their local community and, as a consumer, you might already know them.

“They might already have their physical shop window, now they have another shop window on social.

“Bigger brands can get on to social and be good at it but if they don’t maintain that authenticity and relevance then they’re doomed to fail.

“Being successful isn’t just about posting stuff, you have to have that authentic voice, and smaller brands are ideally suited to capitalise on that because they can grow up with social.”

Alison Busacca, travel product marketing lead at Facebook, said firms do not necessarily need huge budgets to use the social network and Instagram.

She revealed of the 75 million business on Facebook and 25 million on Instagram there are six million advertisers on the former and two million on the latter.

“That shows there’s a tonne of business value regardless of whether or not paid tools come into pay,” she said.

“We think about success and business growth as both organic and paid. There are certainly more targeting opportunities, a little bit more precision, you can achieve once you evolve into paid advertising.”

Many firms “perfect their game” on social with organic activity before seeing their businesses “skyrocket” after “jumping into paid advertising”, Busacca added.

“Smaller business sometimes feel they are under-resourced but they can also be a lot more nimble.

“One of the challenges we see in a larger business is there are more decision makers, more layers of process.

“The more you can integrate social into every element of what you are doing the quicker you can adapt and take advantage of your successes.”

Nena Chaletzos, founder and chief executive of luxury online travel agent Luxtripper, agreed that putting social at the heart of your business is vital.

“If you’re a big brand you’ve got to try to remove your brand from the conversation altogether and connect with users personally, so it is definitely easier for smaller brands.

“I think anyone can do really well on social but it’s not as easy as just saying I’m going to hire a person to do social.

“It’s got to be implicit in your organisation’s culture that you want to find your voice, find your audiences and connect with them.

“That’s not as simple as getting one or two people sitting in a room and saying they are going to run social media. It will fail.

“You have to try to change the culture internally. You have to look at what else needs to change in the organisation, so it becomes a bigger project.”

Facebook ‘demise’ is a myth

Claims that Facebook is in decline because younger generations are abandoning the site for other social platforms were dismissed.

Mike Fox, chief marketing officer at Culture Trip, who formerly worked at Facebook as director of marketing, said:

“It’s a total myth. all you need to do is take a look at their recent financial results. They’re crushing it.

“There are a lot of people in the press who love to write the negative story around Facebook. It’s always a good clickbait headline.

“There’s certainly things that could be done better, but for the most part people working here are trying to do their best.

“It’s very complicated and it’s unchartered territory and there’s a lot of trial and error that comes with building something.

“Yes, the kids aren’t adopting it [Facebook] as quickly as they did ten years ago. But maybe they’re not ready for it in their life stage yet.

“I use Facebook a lot because I am a grown up with parents who live in America and relatives all over the world who I need to keep I touch with.”

Luxtripper’s Chaletzos said people tend to be present on most social platforms they just have one they tend to use the most.

“We are always looking at which platform is more relevant for which demographic.

“Just because they come onto Instagram doesn’t mean they’re going to leave Facebook. You have to cover all bases.”

Cooper, of Holiday Pirates, which has built its business specially targeting millennials on Facebook said:

“The main thing for us is how successful Facebook has been. Being too reliant on Facebook and only knowing how to do business one way can leave you vulnerable.

“That’s why we’re looking at growing our Instagram subscriber base, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp and even looking to the future to video sharing. Diversifying is going to be really important for us.”

Challenger social platforms

Travel firms serious about social can’t afford not to experiment with alternative social channels, according to Culture Trip.

Fox, chief marketing officer at the global content platform that plans to launch a travel division this year, said:

“Facebook is pretty well established so you have to be good at it, it’s a sort of table stakes.

“What’s challenging for us is the new platforms that are still trying to figure their way.

“For instance, Snapchat, what do you do with that?  We’ve done a lot of experiments but it’s hard to figure out where you scale.

“Facebook is very crowded. It’s hard to get your message out, so you have to spend a lot. On emerging platforms you’re not sure what’s going to work.

“But I saw so many people in the early days of Facebook crush it so I don’t think you can afford not to be experimenting on these new platforms because if you solve it for yourself you’re so far ahead of the game.

In October Culture Trip launched its Hungerlust food video series on Snapchat and Fox said this “saw a tonne of engagement”.

“What’s not clear at the moment is how we bring the Snapchat customer from Snapchat into our ecosystem. It’s a lot easier to do that on Facebook.”

Being human

Success on social can be measured in many different ways, but panellists agreed that the only way to ensure meeting your goals is to be human.

Speakers agreed a more sophisticated approach to social has emerged from the early days when firms prioritised amassing ‘friends’, ‘followers’ or ‘likes’.

Today, success is measured more by engagement which can take many forms, including driving direct bookings, although attribution remains a challenge.

Nick Cooper, of Holiday Pirates, said: “We’d love to have that direct link between the deals we post and converting that into bookings. Essentially that’s what we’re trying to do.

“With multi-channel attribution, it’s quite difficult to pin down a specific booking with something you’ve done on social media.

“So, the way we look at it is how viral a deal goes, if a deal is shared by our community. We look at how engaged the audience is.”

Luxtripper’s Nena Chaletzos said: “Travel is social, it’s personal, so social media really lends itself brilliantly to travel.

“It is sometimes difficult to attribute a user because they might have seen you on Facebook, but come direct to your website.

“There are multiple ways to measure success and for different organisations what counts as success will be very different. We get a lot of leads.”

Facebook’s Busacca said 80% of Instagram users follow a business indicating a strong desire to engage with brands.

“The shift we’re seeing is towards engagement rather than just ‘likes’ – having a really strong conversation,” she said.

“It’s creating engagement so your followers feel they are a part of your brand, looking beyond just one metric and thinking about all of them together.

“And it’s about being human. Social platforms are just different ways to communicate with your consumers where they are and how they want to receive information.”

Busacca added: “One thing that’s really unique with travel is the fact that one person’s clean is another person’s dirty.

“So, when you do personality well and you know the types of people that are your consumers, they understand a little bit more about the status and values that align with your values.”

Cooper, of Holiday Pirates, added: “The way we leverage social media is by using a more authentic tone. It’s not just top-down communicating.

“It’s done in a more jovial way, as a friend would. Having that authenticity in your communication, we have found, is really important in social.

“Also, there is the immediacy of it. Sometimes deals will come up and they are not going to be around for very long.

“We can be agile enough to say this is a fantastic deal and can quickly put it on Facebook to millions of followers and that then helps them to trust us because of our authenticity of voice and of the product we offer.

“Having that human element is still really important and that authenticity of voice can’t be replaced with any kind of technology.”

Is email the new social?

Although social is becoming an increasingly important channel for brands to drive business, other forms of marketing continue to have their place.

Panellists agreed that email continues to be a powerful marketing tool, although it requires a different approach.

Cooper, who joined Holiday Pirates this year from rival deals publisher Travelzoo which built its business on email, said:

“With email it just needs to be planned out a bit more. You need to know when you are sending the email, what you’re going to put in.

“You need a longer-term view on your strategy and that sometimes can be quite nice because things can be more simple in that way.

“I feel the way we do things is sometimes a bit more spontaneous and chaotic which internally can be challenging, but the outcome is fantastic because if you get it right the results are really there.”

For Culture Trip’s Mike Fox, email has become its main source of highly engaged, opted-in customers. “Email is incredibly important for us,” he said.

“If you keep good hygiene on your lists and you’re valuable in terms of what you’re sending to those people and your open rates are high you have a really core group of people.

“Our email customers are essentially what fans were in the early days of Facebook.

“When people were signing up for fans they thought they were getting their best, most valuable customers, then every brand had acquired fans and were in everyone’s feeds.

“Now, our newsletter is one of the most important aspects of our marketing because those are our most loyal people we reach and they are the ones that most engage with us.

“But you have to keep the hygiene, you can’t let your list get big and keep people on it who are not opening the emails. If you keep your hygiene, you’re in great shape.”

Facebook’s Busacca said: “Email maybe better for longer term deals, social for more immediate deals.

“Forty three percent of Facebookers have said they would rather communicate with brands via messaging. Is that the new email? Is that too cumbersome?

“There are so many different communication methods, it’s about understanding your audience and what they prefer.”

Facebook merger plans welcomed

Panellists said they were excited about Facebook’s intention to merge its three main platforms.

In March, the social media giant announced plans to bring its Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp channels together.

Cooper, of Holiday Pirates, said: “That could be massive for us. At the moment we have three separate strategies.

“You could have someone who’s inspired by your brand on Instagram and be able to WhatsApp their friends or share it on Facebook.

“Because the success of our business is in engagement and our deals going viral having them combined will only increase that.”

Luxtripper’s Chaletzos said she was excited by the announcement: “Having a better ecosystem that connects is definitely better for business.

“It will be amazing if we can manage it all through one platform. Messenging is becoming a bigger channel for us.

“We could create content in a more meaningful way through Messenger and deliver what our customers want at the moment they want it.”

Busacca said Facebook has recognised firms do not have the resources to support all of its channels separately.

“We are thinking about the integration to make it easier for you to support those conversations, to engage as humans across the three platforms,” she said.

The challenge of algorithm changes

Changes in the Facebook algorithm are one of the big challenges in social but ensure firms are kept on their toes, delegates heard.

Luxtripper’s Chaletzos said: “Facebook may have to change something and we always have to be ahead of the game, so now we are used to it.

“It’s quite exciting when that happens because you have to think outside the box.

“But it is a challenge because when you build your business on there on a moving platform it can be quite difficult.”

Facebook’s Busacca said the changes the firm makes are intended to make sure the user experience is more relevant and this is good for businesses.

“A couple of months ago we changed the algorithm to support meaningful social interactions to favour your friends and family interactions.

“It also favours really solid news sources that you follow and the businesses you interact with on a regular basis.

“It’s about making sure that the feed that you want is the feed that you have. That is hard for businesses because it takes away the easy win. We get that.

“But it is upgrading to a stronger ecosystem and the stronger that ecosystem is, inevitably, it’s better for business.

“When you do get in front of people it means that’s going to be a great interaction for people and not something that annoys them.

“That is a constantly shifting landscape because social is a constantly shifting landscape.

“As a business I think diversification is key but being really strategic about where you are is super important.

“It’s really understanding which channels work for you and why they work and which audiences they are hitting.”

Busacca confirmed that partner category insights based on purchase behaviour would not be returning after GDPR was brought in last year.

“We can no longer do this, but what I will take back to the product team is what can we do to improve the intent signals that we are getting from our audiences. We’ve heard how valuable that data was,” she said.

The fracturing Internet

Different approaches to online privacy around the world is causing the internet to fracture in to three distinct entities, it was claimed.

Culture Trip’s Mike Fox said there is now the GDPR world in Europe, the “free internet” in the US and then China.

“There are huge differences in culture,” he said. “We are probably at the very beginning of this new trend.

“We used to build digital businesses for the global community and there was one internet but there’s going to be three probably in the future.

“That has huge implications for how you structure your business and what you do with your content and treat your users.

“The key guideline for us to just be useful. If you’re useful to the user you can do all different kinds of things.”

Chaletzos said Luxtripper did have to modify its strategy post GDPR but that it has seen many benefits following the new rules coming in.

“Before it came into play, we were using timeline quite heavily. There is a reason for these changes.

“The best thing to come out of it is that you get content which is extremely relevant. I think it’s better, it’s cleaner.

“We have always been focussed on engagement so while it did have an impact it wasn’t so significant.

“We had already built a strong community and we are inspiring people with content that is relevant. It’s almost as if their friend is on holiday.

“There were challenges, but if you keep in mind that you are talking to an individual. If you were talking to a friend would you start spamming them?

“If this is the approach you take when algorithm changes come in you should be relatively okay.”

Cooper said Holiday Pirates had not seen much of an impact from GDPR.

“It reinforces the point you have to be authentic and relevant for that person because if you are trying to just spam people that’s not the way to go about it.

“It might be have been easier [before GDPR] but, actually, the success of a business is based on what’s hard to do not what’s easy.”

See our gallery from the event

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