The influence of community sites on the travel industry is rising significantly. According to Hitwise Clickstream data, the share of traffic sent to travel sites over the past year from net communities and chat applications has increased by 34%.
With the success of sites such as YouTube and MySpace few people are questioning that community is the central theme of Web 2.0.
The interesting question for businesses is how to make the best use of this trend. In Europe, Yahoo! Travel is closing the gap between community research and booking by integrating travel information from other services into the main portal.
The rising influence of community sites means consumers are moving from being the recipients of information to becoming active participants in the proliferation of knowledge. In the US we are seeing this with Yahoo! Travel’s TripPlanner service, which enables users to publish their trip plans, add photos and share them with the community. The community can then post comments or use this as the basis for their trip.
Like many successful online applications, community sites are simply adapting natural behaviour – the desire to share information and seek advice within a community – and amplifying its reach and influence. Furthermore, many of the advantages that community sites offer for users can also be exploited by advertisers. At the most basic level, they offer cost-effective access to candid information from a mass audience. This can provide feedback and insight that can be used to gauge the success of marketing campaigns and inform future product development.
Community sites can reveal the attractions that generate recommendations or, through photo-sharing sites, advertisers can view the images that capture the traveller’s imagination and assess how all this fits the marketing messages they are using. Likewise, airlines can monitor the effectiveness of their new programmes. For example, what drives consumers to recommend one airline over another: more legroom, online check-in or the quality of in-flight meals?
Taking this a step further, these insights can inform innovation and help in targeting new audiences.
Moreover, community sites offer unique ways to engage with your audience and to build more personal relationships. Nonetheless, advertisers who plan to work with community sites must remember that this is a different kind of forum, where users may be more demanding. Messages should not only be highly targeted but they should also add value or offer a unique opportunity for the consumer.
For example, Sainsbury’s has recently utilised Yahoo! Answers to extend its brand presence online by communicating ideas to consumers on a daily basis. The supermarket giant posts a Daily Delicious question such as “What’s the best variation on classic mashed potato you’ve ever tried?” directly to the site, providing users with a forum to share food ideas and recipe tips and to inspire shoppers to – using its tagline – Try Something New Today.
For travel companies that are prepared to invest in relationship building, there are enormous rewards to be gained, including the potential to develop a global network of brand ambassadors.
The type of advertising employed by Sainsbury’s could be effectively employed by travel advertisers seeking to build relationships with consumers around a particular country by sponsoring a country category.
Alternatively, travel advertisers that offer sporting or adventure holidays can utilise community sites which focus on these areas to build relationships with this core enthusiastic audience.
Tim Frankcom is general manager for Yahoo! Travel Europe