Did you know that over 85% of travelers from the US and UK actively research online to plan their travel? More importantly, more than 50% of travelers trust recommendations and experiences from friends and family over public reviews [read more].
Social networks play a huge part in this. A customer’s friends, family and acquaintances make up the bulk of her social network. If more than 50% of travels rely on their first degree network for decision making information then this network is what businesses in the travel sector should be looking to leverage. For this purpose it is imperative that you, as a travel brand, cultivate a strong social brand and manage your online reputation wisely. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Social media is your friend: One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Facebook social graph has been Tripadvisor as per a report by TheNextWeb. Here’s how this worked for them: the Tripadvisor-Facebook integration allows for a review by you to be seen by friends and also by friends of those friends i.e. it exposes your review a second degree network. For a Facebook user with an average of 190 friends, the possible second degree network could span tens of thousands of people. Even if 1% of that network sees your review it is a number in the hundreds. With an off-the-shelf integration, Tripadvisor made good on exposing trusted content via social networks to larger and larger audiences. You must utilize a similar approach when it comes to your website and offer integration with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others. Also ensure that you take control of your property/service on sites like Tripadvisor.
- Affiliate marketing on social media: People like to travel with their friends and family, or at least keep their friends and family informed of their travel plans and experiences. There’s an easy way you can benefit from this. Suppose you have an online booking process. Once a customer has completed the booking process, on the last step provide a link to share the info on networks like Facebook and Twitter. While the customer gets an easy way to share the information, you as a brand can benefit from the direct advertisement by attributing yourself in the link (or as a short URL if you want to be subtle). See the example below:
- Incentives for online participation: As a business you generally are aware of how much revenue each customer bring you and how much are you willing to spend to get a new customer i.e. acquisition costs. In the context of social networks, the acquisition cost includes the cost you incur to get a customer to recommend your brand to others, and a way to do this is by providing tangible freebies or incentives. If you want people to share your posts, recommend your brand online or download your app, give out a freebie in return. For e.g. If you are a lodging company, give away a bottle of wine; if you are a cab rental company, knock off 10% from your customer’s bill once you know they have recommended you to someone. Many brands give out even stronger incentives like this one here:
- Facebook like button: Probably the simplest tip but also very effective. We have all seen the Facebook like button on different websites and forums. Alongside the like button Facebook also shows you how many of your friends have liked the same web page. Once you add the Facebook like button on your travel website and other properties then customers and prospects who land up on the page get to see how many of their friends have already liked it thus giving them a sense of trust when dealing with you.
- Testimonials, testimonials, testimonials: Brands are trying very hard to present a human like image on social networks but there is a difference between human like VS human. In other words, a customer will always prefer another customer’s word over your own message. This is where you should highlight every previous customer testimonial possible to help this customer to prompt her in making her decision! Give the customer an incentive to write you a review and also get the proper permissions to show the review to others. Here’s an example:
- Feedback and action: This is easier said than done for two reasons. One, very few customers have any cause to give feedback: once the trip is over or they have finished all transactions they have nothing to gain from further interaction. Two, most customers feel that their feedback is simply a window dressing and will eventually end up in the bin. However, if you can ask for feedback on public fora like social media sites. The risk is being flooded with negative reviews all in the public eye. On the other hand it shows your commitment towards making your service better and that is something anyone can appreciate. Once you act on the feedback you should use the same public forum to let them know of it and provide avenues to share/recommend these things.
Follow some of these tips and you are guaranteed to make an impression with your customers online. Social media is a long term investment but the payoffs are also significant if you are committed to making it work for you.