Last month I wrote a piece on the next generation of travel consumers. For the USA, at least, this has significant impact for anyone trying to understand the changing profile of the consumer.
I believe we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the whole structure of our communication between the consumer and the seller of the products and services we consume.
As many, many say, social media is no longer a fad but a fundamental shift in the form, format and behavior of communication.
In fact, it is as important a shift as that of the web. And, in reality, this is just the second wave of the web - if you like, the true Web 2.0 - but perhaps not quite as envisaged in a linear progression of behavior that pundits predicted over the past 5 years.
The reality is indeed different and has taken hold far deeper and stronger than most would have imagined. This is not a phenomenon applied to just the USA, of course, meaning it will hit every country populace, with national or rgional nuances, but the basic shift in communications form including media is well underway. And to anyone who disagrees – resistance is futile.
While this is all fine in theory, do we have anything to back this up?
There is finally a definitive study which enables us to look at what is really happening, by examining the behavior of the frequent social user.
It has always been a troubling aspect of conventional media-based advertising and PR that the engagement of the user to the message of the communication was asynchronous - or disconnected.
Even direct Mail or 1-to-1 marketing was a stand-off experience. Discrete activity – one shot – wait a while – one possible reply. But social media - in of itself a misnomer when considering the true impact – has changed all of this.
It has unleashed completely different behavior in consumers (predominantly those who are now entering the consumer marketplace) and who are now making their impact felt.
As an analogy, we are moving from Abercrombie & Fitch to General Motors, from Air Asia to American Airlines.
An Arbitron/Emerson study published last week: The Social Habit - Frequent Social Networkers makes for a sobering read. It has eight major conclusions, each of which has an implication for travel as a category:
- With both usage of social networks and the frequency of that usage increasing dramatically, we are truly witnessing a sea change in how mainstream consumers communicate.
- Americans who check social networking sites several times per day are much more likely to be young, and female.
- Mobile access to social media is almost certainly a significant contributor to frequency of usage.
- Frequent social networkers are also more likely to update their status on those networks - i.e., create content online - which has implications for word-of-mouth marketing and search.
- Not only are frequent social networkers posting more status updates, they are also more likely to follow brands/companies than the average social media user – which makes identifying and appealing to those with the “social habit” crucial for brands.
- The data for frequent social networkers’ usage of podcasts, online video and online audio supports the assumption that a significant amount of content is being consumed on-demand, potentially at the point here such content is shared.
- Americans with "the social habit" are watching significantly less traditional television, but potentially consuming (and sharing) more "video" through alternative means.
- Pandora is already the dominant online audio brand with frequent social networkers. These consumers’ propensity for posting status updates and other content, combined with Pandora’s recent moves to integrate with Facebook, will likely position Pandora as the dominant music discovery brand online.
Combining this in-depth study with other data, we can draw some interesting conclusions of our own.
The importance of Facebook and its command of mindshare will alter the face of advertising and consumer/supplier interaction. In fact, I was blown away by recent numbers from eMarketer showing that Facebook will command 20% of all display advertising in the USA.
Now having seen this study I wonder if that amount is too low. Travel as a category has been a poor user of display advertising as so many of its products are niche or small market. As such it is probably leading the way in the adoption of social media as the mechanism for consumer/supplier interaction.
But can we rely on this data and start to project future possibilities? I believe so.
Interestingly, another piece of research came out this week that indicates the rate of change is slowing in the USA, perhaps illustrating the days of double digit growth in social network usage are likely over.
Today search and social are seen to be somewhat interlinked. Indeed, another study from eMarketer points clearly to this idea.
However, this is a constrained proposition because good mobile and social based search has not yet emerged. The early, immature nature of social search and mobile search are forcing users back to the old standby of Google, as it would hope.
However as Google sees its share of revenue from its flagship product decline in the coming years it is clearly seeing that Facebook becomes its number one adversary in the market for the hearts and minds of the consumer. Never before have we witnessed a battle of this nature.
Anyone who believes that this will be business as usual for travel in how suppliers and consumers will engage needs a brain reset.
Meanwhile, I will pick on one piece from the Arbitron/Emerson study that might have seemed out of place.
The eighth conclusion talks about the rise and dominance of music sharing service Pandora. But what does this have to do with travel? In fact, travel and music are actually quite alike.
Pandora has, through its music genome sequencing, struck a chord with the user. It has enabled the user to feel comfortable with the enjoyment of music.
The consumer can set their own mood, can enjoy different personas of behavior. This is significant because it mirrors the behavior and activity of travel purchasing and enjoyment.
The expectation of the frequent social user is that all product services can be delivered this way. The technology to power this already exists. The presentation to the consumer is now starting to appear. We are truly at the cusp of a fundamental change in the way we can engage with the enjoyment of the personal travel experience.
Understanding how we can bring the consumer to better and broader product experiences is no longer a simple question of exposing access to the product. Engagement via social is essential. Think about it.