Ever increasing circles: Where travel’s social media revolution goes next

Ever increasing circles: Where travel’s social media revolution goes next

Being connected has never been as easy and accessible as it is today. As soon as the internet became ubiquitous, faster, and increasingly accessible, we were able to communicate with people from all over the world. And thus social media was born.

Even the person with the most unusual hobbies was able to find, connect and share with others like themselves, even if they were on the other side of the world. There is even a page on Facebook dedicated to napkins.

With 750 million users on Facebook, 490 million on YouTube and 200 million on Twitter, there is no denying that social media has changed the way we communicate with each other, and the way brands communicate with their customers.

Social media evolved from a handful of communities created solely for web browsers and PCs, to one of the most prolific communication mediums in the world, and it is still expanding at a rapid rate as the long-anticipated explosion of mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – is finally here.

Undeniably, technological advances have played a huge part in the growth of social media. For example, the rise of mobile applications in the past few years was due to the advancement of higher speed mobile networks and the technical advances of smartphones (kicked off by iPhone). Similarly, YouTube relied on the development of Adobe Flash and the extensive availability of broadband internet.

Travel gets social

For the travel industry, the most significant changes have been in how people search, shop for and purchase travel services and products online. In the past, consumers had to rely on what tour operators’ brochures and travel agents’ guides suggested. Social media has changed this. Today’s travellers have millions of photos, videos, reviews and blog posts about even the most secluded places in the world at their fingertips.

 We, as travellers, are the content creators and collaborators, and anyone with access to a computer and the internet can post information and actively share their travel experiences with the world – and this is what we, the consumer, want to see. We trust photos and videos generated by other travellers because it provides a personal source of information about an experience or venue.

So where do we go from here? What else is there to come for travel companies and social media?

It’s really difficult to talk about where social media will be in five years’ time. If you had asked me in 2006 where I thought social media would be in 2011, I don’t think I could have predicted just how significant it has become. But here are some of the next areas that we think will be influential.

Social media strategies will become much more ‘strategic’

Currently, most social media strategies revolve around disparate and unconnected social media presences across multiple social media channels and various interactions on a company’s own website.

Your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, your YouTube channel, reviews on your website, discussions and forums on your website, questions and answers on your website: all these items and more are social media contributed by your online visitors and potential next customers.

The next few years will see us taking each of these interactions out of their ‘silos’.  More companies will adopt a much more strategic and integrated social media strategy, connecting their website and these social media channels to synergise and bring maximum effect to their businesses.

We believe there are two types of social media to consider, and if you want an effective, long-term and profitable social media strategy, both need to be considered.

These are:

  • On-channel strategies – driving new traffic to your website;
  • Onsite strategies – increasing online conversions and repeat visits to your website

There’s going to be more . . . much, much more!

If you thought there was a lot of social media available at the moment, wait until you see what’s coming. We predict that as it becomes easier to contribute and communicate in real-time – with media, using smartphones, apps and more – then the quality of content and the volume of content will increase beyond what has been seen to date.

In fact, based on the increased number of people online, combined with their growing propensity to upload content and communicate via social media, we predict more social media will be generated in the next 18 months than has been in the past 10 years. Wait and see.

Google+ will join the kings of social networking

It is very unlikely that the current kings of social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) will fall from grace in the next five years, but it will certainly be interesting to see where Google+ takes us. Where Google will have an advantage over Facebook for marketing professionals is with the possibility for integration with the larger Google universe: search, maps, offers, AdWords, analytics and cloud computing.

Google has yet to officially launch its plans for business users or say how its business profiles will work. However, product manager Christian Oestlien recently said: “Right now we’re very focused on optimising for the consumer experience, but we have a great team of engineers building a similarly optimised business experience for Google+. It will include things like rich analytics and the ability to connect that identity to other parts of Google that businesses might use on a daily basis like AdWords.”

In the meantime, we recommend that travel companies communicate about their areas of expertise and try to integrate their business keywords into their posts. Build a personal profile within a network of people that you will be able to interact with once Google+ business pages arrive.

Social media will rank higher in search results

In addition to trawling traditional content of a company’s website and blogs for relevant keywords, search engines will also pull results from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

As we search online, we will start to see more real-time information in our results from Facebook, Twitter, blogs and user-generated reviews.

Already in 2011 we have seen that Bing has started pushing relevant content from our personal networks to the front of search results, making them more personalised. Google has made similar moves.

First, it challenged the Facebook ‘Like’ button with the introduction of its ‘+1’ button. And now it has sought to directly challenge Bing by using results from Twitter, Flickr and other social networks to help users make decisions on content based on the recommendations of their friends.

The more your content is shared, liked, and tweeted, the better. So make sure you have a solid content creation strategy in place.

Reviews will become even more powerful

There is no doubt that reviews are essential to consumers in the travel planning process and there are flurries of statistics across all industries that prove why online reviews are important for businesses because of their impact on purchasing decisions.

We will start to see even more travel companies incorporating reviews on their own websites. According to a recent study by Lightspeed Research, 47% of consumers prefer to read reviews on a company’s website over magazines, forums, shopping comparison sites, newspapers and social networking sites.

With TripAdvisor in the UK being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority over claims it has untrustworthy reviews, more travel companies will see the value in gathering real reviews and experiences on their own websites, and incorporating these into the path of their online visitors.

A report earlier this year found that travel companies that featured user reviews stimulated a 24% increase in traffic, with users attracted by the enhanced authenticity, according to the L2 Thinktank Digital IQ Index.

 Reviews on your website also give your visitors a reason to stick around; between 25% and 40% of people who leave a hotel website do so to read online reviews, according to HotelMarketing.com.

So publishing reviews directly on your hotel website fights this loss of traffic and increases the probability of a direct booking right there on your site.
 
Social media relevance to rise

Social media has become everything to everyone, and as more people and brands engage via the ever-growing number of social media sites, the question of how to match up relevant information with the right people will become vital for businesses to succeed.

Consider this: every minute, 695,000 Facebook statuses are updated, 98,000 tweets posted, 79,300 Facebook wall posts revised and 600 new YouTube videos uploaded (and this is just the tip of the iceberg). It is important to provide people with the information that you know they are interested in or they will quickly be turned off.

So, to round up, social media is here to stay but it’s going to be so much more prevalent over the coming years.

What was thought to be a fad by many has become established as a new channel of communication and interaction both socially and commercially. More money is being spent on social media by businesses every year to support this importance and realisation.

And yet, we believe very few businesses have got it right. That’s the most exciting thing. So what if you have 150,000 Facebook fans? What are they doing for you?

We are very close to showing definitive returns on investment for social media that can be used to measure success on a grand scale. SEO and PPC are straightforward; so is online advertising. But social media is much more difficult to track and very similar to PR in this respect.

Our main prediction for 2012 is that now that many companies have dipped their toe in the water, social media is going to become much more strategic and measurable.

It is going to be very exciting to see this develop over the coming years.

I believe very soon we will be able to put a pounds and pence value on all our social media efforts. That will be the greatest revelation of next year.

In numbers

Social media’s influence on travel

  • 38% of total travel sales occur online, compared with 6% for retail
  • The average online consumer visits 20 sites before making a travel purchase
  • 66% are influenced by user reviews
  • 90% of the major travel brands report that social media was a top destination site after visiting their site
  • Consumer reviews are 12 times more trusted than product descriptions by companies, according to digital intelligence specialist eMarketer
  • 72% of social media users access social networking sites while they are travelling, according to Tripl, the social travel service
  • 52% of Facebook users said their friends’ photos inspired their holiday choice and travel plans, according to Tripl

Digital Visitor is a social media agency dedicated to raising  conversion rates, driving traffic to websites and reducing customer acquisition costs. To find out more call 01179 055195, visit digitalvisitor.com or email anthony@digitalvisitor.com

Digital Visitor

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