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It’s time to answer the age-old question: How do Travel Companies use Social Media?
Two questions arise first: How do they convince their audience to keep them in their networks, among their friends and family? And how do they convert Social Media users into customers?
Below is a review of some of the biggest names in one of the biggest international market places: The Travel Industry.
For uniformity and narrower scope, we’ll be looking at the UK arms of each company.
Let’s start with the big dog: Thomas Cook.
The Facebook stats for TC are more or less what we’d expect…
In fairness, the figures could be higher since Thomas Cook is one of the biggest travel agents in the UK. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing right (and wrong):
The typical post on Thomas Cook’s Facebook wall is one that encourages ‘Liking’ pictures.
Normally the idea users are encouraged to like is something that everyone inherently likes. In fact I daresay everybody on earth likes Relaxation and Saving Money.
Playing it safe: generating a big response. Also, check out the very subtle link to their website. Every post on their page is an advert, but you wouldn’t know it.
They also run a weekly competition to win: Nothing. They encourage users to guess the destination and share and like the picture. There’s no incentive, but it appears to work. In my opinion it’s the nice picture that helps. People love sharing pictures. If this had been a picture of a ruined village I doubt it would have generated the same level of response.
Interacting with Customers
The posts from other people on Thomas Cook’s page appear to almost exclusively be complaints from customers.
With the examples below I’m immediately struck by the bureaucratic nature of the responses. The Facebook page is the face of the company, and here it is fobbing off problems to other parts of the company. It would have served them better to say something conciliatory: ‘Sorry to hear that, let’s try to get it sorted’. These responses don’t help the customer or allay their dissatisfaction.
On the bright side, they do give informative answers to non-complaints, and ‘Claire’ seems to be willing to put her name to the posts.
Moving on to the next company, we have Intrepid Travel. A smaller company, focussed on ‘Adventure Holidays’ to exotic destinations.
Even though the company is smaller, we can see immediately that they have a great engagement with their audience.
This is a typical post:
They’re promoting the work of one of their fans, with everyone’s favourite sharable media: A Nice Photo. Even better, it’s a photo taken by one of their customers and Facebook fans. It’s a great way to generate a buzz within the community and it acts as a superb advert for a holiday to Nepal.
Another type of post serves a completely different purpose:
On this occasion they’re plugging another Social Media event. Again, this is an advert; but surprise-surprise they’ve used a cool picture to disguise it.
Noticing a trend yet? Here’s another example:
Advert in disguise. Very clever.
Interacting with Customers
Intrepid Travels have praise lumped on them as much as Thomas Cook receive complaints. Moreover, they engage with their customers as people rather than a faceless company:
Even though they’re plugging another part of their Social Profile, we can forgive it because they’re so friendly and encouraging. Plus the feature in question is a photo album of their customer’s travels. Croud-sourced content. Great stuff.
They’re also well informed and helpful:
Whilst the numbers are lower than the Facebook page, Interpid’s Twitter stats are nothing to be sniffed at:
Their Tweets are pretty much what you’d expect, along with some questionable #Hashtags.
Industry news along with links. And asking engaging and amusing questions:
Another Adventure Travel site of note is Wild Frontiers. An even smaller company with a significantly smaller Social Profile:
What’s the one thing we’ve learnt works?
With that in mind, it’s fairly easy to see where these guys are going wrong:
Sharing a link to your own site under a block of text (and the full link at that!) is not a good way to get people excited.
The next example is a great piece of industry news with a lot of chances for incredible pictures; and although they’ve tried to encourage involvement with a question, the question is rather niche and the post feels cluttered.
Interaction with Customers
On the plus side, they’re very informative in their responses to customer’s questions (although perhaps a little slow).
Even when fans are just keen to share their love of TV Documentaries staring Chris Tarrant, they give them the time of day and respond in kind.
WF’s Twitter standing is reasonably good compared with its Facebook:
The Twitter stream is very much focussed on audience interaction. Twitter is used to promote the blog (company news, industry news and all company projects etc.):
WF’s link with its blog is great to see. Not only does it promote the blog by getting the content into the social sphere; it also shows a conscious desire to engage with the audience.
Also, it never hurts to help your fans sing your praises:
And once again, back to the sure-fire winner… nice pictures!
Moving away from adventure holidays and into luxury travel: Next up on our list is Western and Oriental.
The Facebook statistics seem rather paltry for W&O, and taking a look at the typical wall posts, it’s easy to see why…
Although they’ve caught onto the trend of using stunning pictures, the accompanying text reads like a press release. They’ve even gone as far as keeping terms and conditions in the post, and using the pure URL. All this screams one thing.
They’ve also picked up on the trend of using regular features. The ‘Wonderful Offer of the Week’ isn’t particularly catchy, but once again they’re let down by a focus on stats rather than an appeal to emotion. Check out this link for more in the same genre.
Although they do get one thing right: combining nice pictures with regular features to get: ‘Picture of the Week’. This got a good response in comparison to the marketing posts:
Interaction with Customers
Having few fans means little need to react to their questions, but to their credit, on the one occasion someone did ask something they were very helpful:
Compared with their Facebook page, W&O have a great following on Twitter:
They use their Twitter presence to spread industry news (with out-of-place hashtags):
Although, almost counter-intuitively, the marketing material seems to generate more of a response than the stories about animals:
Although the cynic in me thinks Tom Browne works for W&O since he retweets nearly all of their posts…
Moving onto another slightly bigger travel agent, we have Sta Travel.
They have a good following and their posts generally generate a good response:
I like that the above example takes advantage of the dominance a picture has in a Facebook post. Yellow is eye-catching and its a very evocative image. The text is also both topical and carries a great incentive.
Equally posts that are purely promotional/marketing traps use incredible images and shortened URLs. The point is clear and the opportunity to engage is very easy.
And it’s always nice to see a company link its Social Media with its blog:
Engagement with Customers
STA have an exemplary customer relations attitude. Even when a customer offers a vague question such as the one below, they give a full comment with examples and research – and even drop in a bit of upselling completely naturally. This is the
best only way anyone should use Social Media as a sales tactic – dropped in almost as an afterthought.
Also to its credit, STA offered a Q&A with its online team where Facebook fans could ask anything they want about Thailand. The response was great, and even though STA didn’t answer every question, other members of the community were more than willing to help each other out. It made for a great foundation for an online travel group:
STA’s Twitter following (whilst not quite as big as it’s FB following) is still respectable:
By mentioning unconventional holiday activities, they’re able to inspire engagement and response:
It seems that even by acknowledging their own marketing methods, they’re able to use them to a decent effect:
And as ever, it’s great to give your fans a bigger platform to praise you from:
Overall, great customer engagement and a focus on more unique aspects of travel give STA a great social media presence.
And finally on our hitlist, we have Eastern travel specialists, Travelfish.
Travelfish are quite unique as all of their social media appears to be run predominantly by one man: the owner, Stuart McDonald. In any case, their Facebook stats are very good:
This post takes advantage of the ‘great picture’ phenomenon, as well as giving the appearance of a kind of travelogue or diary entry. It appears to have generated a good response whatever the reason:
Conversely, this very promotional product-based post did less well. I still thing it’s weird when people use full links. The full one seems overwhelming.
And also posts about industry news with stunning photos are used to generate a decent response (still with the full link though :( )
This is where the obvious flaws in having one person run an entire company’s Twitter becomes apparent…
Despite a decent following, the Tweets don’t seem to generate much of a response.
I think it’s because they’re largely idiosyncratic. The mini-blog style doesn’t lend itself to corporate social media:
Also giving off-brand reviews about other Social Media tools (which you use!) is probably a no-no:
The majority of the rest of the Tweets are conversations with fans about eastern travel. In this sense, the personal touch is a benefit as McDonald is clearly an expert in his field and loves talking about it. It does leave the rest of us feeling rather left out though:
As a sidenote, Travelfish is the only one of our subjects here that features a Facebook App as one of its social tools…
Unfortunately the ‘App’ is a still image which shows the date in Asia along with some bizzare travel related images. That’s it.
Overall it seems that the best posts in Social Media are ones that contain unique perspectives and nice pictures. However, this is totally down to each brand.
Ultimately, it’s important to stress that Social Media shouldn’t be used as a Marketing Tool, it should be used as a way to interact with your customers; and for them to be able to reach you easily.
Sewing the seeds with sharable engaging content means that you can use subtle advertising methods once your audience grows to a decent size.
The real challenge is coming up with a Social Media plan to suit your business.