By Jamie Riddell, creator of on-demand social media analytics platform BirdSong.
Europe’s summer holiday season is already in full swing and, for travel operators, there is still time to tempt tens of thousands of families to take a much-needed break.
With family budgets squeezed, travel marketers’ task is harder and more competitive than ever. So who is winning the race to turn on consumers when it comes to social media, and what does their success or failure tell others about digital strategy?
At BirdSong, we crunched thousands of data points for four of the UK’s top tour operators’ Facebook activities. The firm with the biggest following is plain to see – Thomson Holidays leads with 608,566 fans.
But it’s not about how big your following is, but what you do with it – converting fans into customers is critical. Here’s where the strategies get interesting…
Driving agreement with brand messaging
Photos are a key engagement driver, drawing the largest number of likes. Our four tour operators attach pictures to the majority of their posts (see graph below), tantalising customers with sun-kissed beaches, beautiful hotels and atmospheric restaurants.
When it comes to the accompanying text, most of our quartet agrees: direct calls to action tend to mobilise follower expressions.
Thomas Cook injects an inspirational flavour. Its most-liked update is this photo of a plane, with the caption: “Like this if you want to be on the plane!”
First Choice follows suit, with solicitations like “Like if this is your idea of fun” and “Hands up if you need a holiday”, two of its most-liked updates. Thomas Cook uses a similar approach, attempting to motivate likes and shares with competition prizes.
This is an obvious opportunity, but can be high-risk – not all followers will agree with your declarations, undermining your public position.
The main tour operators’ social media strategies do not much differ from one another – but they do not all achieve success in execution.
One, in particular, performs notably worse when it comes to driving interaction. Although Thomas Cook is the number two firm by followers, it trails the pack for attracting likes, shares and comments to its Facebook updates, with a mere 1.73% engagement rate.
Here, Thomson Holidays also excels, whilst First Choice is punching above its weight, and Cosmos is punching well above Thomas Cook’s weight.
Must try harder
Right now, Thomas Cook and each of the main travel operators are not fully realising the benefits of social media. By congregating around the same dreamy photo updates – “holiday porn”, if you like – they fail to differentiate their offerings.
One sandy beach ends up looking the same as another, especially for those who follow multiple operators. The operators don’t offer much content of any depth, specificity or value beyond encouraging consensus that holidays are great.
Worse, they are simply doing social media at the wrong time. At the end of the working week, when thoughts turn to holidays, consumers are ready to engage with service providers, with our data showing followers’ “likes” for travel firms’ updates are mostly made on weekends. But the four main travel operators all post fewer updates on Saturdays and Sundays than mid-week.
I’m disappointed but not surprised by this. In my experience, many brands, large and small, dive in to social media campaign activities without asking themselves simple planning questions, like “Who is my audience?” and “When is it most receptive to me?” This is the problem we are trying to solve at BirdSong.
A holiday checklist for social success
Travel firms are building themselves large followings online, but to convert their social connections into customers they should heed the following:
- Post more updates on weekends. Busy working families find the time to search for a bargain on Saturday and Sunday. Operators should give them what they want, when they want it.
- Post more valuable information. Gratuitous, aspirational beach photos are all well and good – but families searching for a break want real information, like resort details, flight duration and children’s facilities.
- Be specific about available deals. Too few operators communicate actual availability, price-drops, new routes or other deals. Facebook feeds should not just provide weak connections with a steady stream of pool photos – a bargain can tantalise just as much.
- Engage more with your audience. Engagement is so much more than seeking likes or shares. Returning followers’ communication builds rapport, but less than 6% is followed up, and Cosmos only responds to 1% of customer posts.
- Post more videos. Whilst photos are the updates best received, this is followed closely by videos. Yet less than 1% of operators’ updates are videos. More videos will boost engagement rates and help illustrate the holiday experience.
- Don’t forget single-parent families. Firms should understand their potential client bases as distinct segments. They are not making specific enough offers to struggling one-parent families – perhaps the demographic most in need of a break and highly likely to be on Facebook.