NB: This is a guest article by Anthony Rawlins, managing director of Digital Visitor.
We know we NEED to get involved with social media - but a common theme for many in the travel industry is that they are unclear how to do it effectively and comprehensively.
As we all know, social media has secured its place in the marketing departments of many different industries all over the world, with more brands recognising the enormous benefits that social media can bring.
For the travel industry specifically, a recent study by L2 Digital has confirmed the sheer importance of social media, finding that social media is a significant source of traffic for 78% of travel websites. And while many travel organisations will already have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc, this is only one aspect of a good social media strategy.
The confusion over social media is partly due to a lack of strategic direction, so to make things simpler for everyone, here at Digital Visitor we have created a simple philosophy.
There are two types of social media to consider and both of these should be considered for an effective, longer term and profitable social media strategy. Your social media strategy should be made up of the following:
- An Onchannel strategy
- An Onsite strategy
Your Onchannel strategy should drive new traffic to your website and your Onsite strategy should increase online conversions and repeat visits to your website.
So, let’s look at these types of social media strategy in a little more detail…
Onchannel Social Media
This element of a wider social media strategy should aim to direct traffic back to your company website. If you can achieve this you are a long way towards showing a clear ROI for your social media marketing activities. Once on your website, it is the job of your site to convert your new online visitors.
Onchannel strategies predominantly revolve around Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and over 300 other social media sites in existence.
Onchannel strategies are also 99% of all social media strategies with a great bias across every industry towards this facet of social media. Onchannel strategies are amazing at finding new audiences. With nearly 700 million people on Facebook, it’s irresistible to not try and capture some of these as new customers.
Onchannels strategies are also a great way to communicate with customers or potential customers in a less controlled, less formal and potentially more credible manner.
Like all your other marketing campaigns, it is important to ensure that your social media efforts include set targets in order to clarify a ROI, and with onchannel social media this is predominantly shown against marketing and communications activity.
Here are three ways of measuring ROI for Onchannel activity:
- Traffic back to your website. This can be offset against PPC or SEO spend.
- Job applications via your social media channels reduce recruitment fees.
- Communicating via these channels can reduce email marketing costs.
Over the past few years there have been some great examples of travel companies using social media channels to promote their brand, destination or service.
Here are just a few:
1) VisitBritain and the Royal Wedding
VisitBritain’s activity on Facebook and Twitter during the recent Royal Wedding was certainly impressive. VisitBritain’s objective was to capitalise on the global media interest in the Royal Wedding and increase its engagement with prospective visitors across digital and social media.
The results: the LoveUK Facebook Page was the 6th most "explosive page" on Facebook during the Royal Wedding week, gaining 127,546 new fans to double its Love UK membership. Moreover, content on the page was viewed by over 1.3 million
On Twitter, discussions started by @VisitBritain and mentions of Royal Wedding articles on the VisitBritain Super Blog, reached more than two million people in 48 hours, pushing its Twitter Klout score (the standard measure of influence where one is the least influential and 100 is the most) to over 71, taking @VisitBritain into the top 1% of Twitter users.
2) JetBlue’s incredible social CRM campaign.
The airline uses its channels to reactively answer customer complaints and turn them into positives. Even with tricky PR situations, officials still answer every question, whether it’s positive or not.
The Dutch airline has consistently been innovative with its Onchannel social media activity. Most impressive of all was KLM Surprise where a team researched KLM customers who were waiting at airports through their social media check ins. KLM staff then located them and offered them a small gift based on the interests on their social media profiles.
As mentioned, Onchannel social media strategies are the vast majority of social media but there is a void and a flaw in just Onchannel strategies.
Whilst we feel Onchannel strategies can save some marketing and communication costs and drive new audiences to your site, we don’t feel this has a significant impact on website conversion rates.
For this to be achieved, the social media journey should be continued by visitors on your own website – Onsite.
Onsite Social Media
Put simply: putting in place an Onsite social media strategy should aim to increase browsing time, repeat visits and conversions on your own website.
Onsite social media focuses on how to best utilise social media on your own company website and under your own brand and includes such activities as enabling visitors to upload reviews to your website, create forums and discussions and join your own community.
Like Onchannel social media, Onsite social media also aims to drive search traffic to your website but this will primarily come from organic search engine traffic rather than direct referral.
ROI from Onsite social media is easier to measure and should show:
- An increase in browsing time (usually doubling browsing time if your visitors content is good).
- An increase in online conversions provided you display the correct content on the correct pages of your website.
- An increase in repeat visits to your website and repeat bookings.
Onsite social media is also a longer term investment as reviews on your website and your own community will grow and continually provide benefit to your website with little maintenance required.
Top six reasons why travel companies should also consider Onsite social media?
1. Increased browsing time.
Social media such as videos, photos and reviews are more inspiring and engaging, thus increasing the browse time on your own website. For example, VJVLounge has increased the browsing time under the VJV brand by over three minutes.
2. Increasing traffic.
Referring back to the study by L2 Digital, research found that those travel companies who do allow user reviews on their website, report an increase in traffic of 24%.
3. Maintain traffic rather than send to competitors.
Reviews by real people on your own site increases your authenticity and builds customer loyalty and trust with your brand. If you don’t provide this on your website, your online visitors will find this somewhere else!
A recent study by Forrester Research found that consumers overwhelmingly rely on online reviews and price comparisons to research products and services before making a purchase.
More importantly, the study continued to state that 47% of consumers in fact rely on online reviews about products or services on company websites over newspapers, magazines or social networking sites before making a purchase decision.
These results also highlight the importance for organisations to have up-to-date reviews on their own company website. [More here]
4. Better analytics.
While Facebook provides some tools to help you track interactions, they are certainly not as insightful as website analytics. Google analytics is a free service that allows you track every single interaction on your website; including how people found you in the first place.
Things like keywords and referrals are not included in Facebook analytics and this information is incredibly valuable. Social media on your own site can therefore be analysed in much greater detail.
If your website is redesigned, or you move CMS, your reviews and communities can be easily transferred using innovative new developments in this marketplace.
On the other hand, your investment in Onchannel websites such as Facebook is not future proof as you do not have total control over your brand presence.
What’s more, Facebook regularly changes it rules and businesses have to catch-up. ‘Fans’ are now "likes", "polls" are now "questions" and competitions are technically not allowed just on Facebook.
6. Brand identity.
Whether new audiences or existing, your company should be about your brand and not theirs! Onchannel, there will always be a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or other experience running in the background, reminding people that they are interacting with these channels just as much as they are with your brand.
This clearly dilutes your brand identity. Onsite social media on the other hand, allows you to communicate like you would on these channels, but on your own terms and in your own style and branding.
Here are a few examples of companies offering Onsite social media solutions and we strongly recommend that you research this option before committing to your social media strategy for the year:
- VR3 by Digital Visitor
- Fresh Networks
It’s very important to construct an Onchannel and Onsite social media strategy to deliver a complete social media strategy.
Your Onchannel strategy can drive new audiences to your website whilst your Onsite strategy can move these new audiences into your booking flow and increase conversions.
Onchannel strategies should be viewed very much as marketing and communications activities whereas your Onsite strategy is more to do with development of your own website, enhancing its conversion rate and search engine optimisation.
Travel brands that want to secure their place in social media should consider adding social media features to their own website. Both Onsite and Onchannel activity are needed to complete a social media strategy to ensure that your brand is really making the most of all that social media has to offer.
NB: This is a guest article by Anthony Rawlins, managing director of Digital Visitor. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.