Today, when we need an escape, we turn to the mobile apps on our smart phones and the internet. When we need a mental break from work, we turn to our social networks. When we need to escape boredom we turn to our news feeds. When we need to avoid an awkward moment we face one of our many digital screens.
So it should be no surprise that when we need a break, an escape, a getaway we turn to our social networks, news feeds and various digital screens to plan a vacation.
A recent survey from Leadsift showed that 52% of the participants used social media to plan their summer vacations. People are using social media and review sites throughout all the stages of vacation planning which includes:
The dreaming stage is when the idea takes form. This is a time when people are collecting ideas of places they would like to go. During this stage people are creating their bucket lists. Last year Pinterest revealed that there are 660 million pins posted to the travel category on their website. Seeing all those travel pins might have been what inspired Pinterest to launch their place pins feature that allows pinners to place their images onto an interactive world map.
Marketeers can help people dream of their idea get away daily on the various social media sites through images that allows the audience to see themselves at the destination; or even offer ideas that inspire people to imagine the experience.
The researching stage happens when the decision has been made to get away. The date might not yet be set nor the place or activities planned, but the decision to escape has been made. The vacationer has moved from a passive collector of ideas to an active gatherer of information. They are searching for ideas and deals. They are online actively soliciting advice from friends and strangers alike. It is during this stage that a vacationer will make decisions based on blog posts and articles. They will be most likely to click the ad on Facebook or Twitter at this time, but more importantly, it is at this stage that vacationers will appreciate a destination marketeer responding to their questions online and providing guidance and advice. This is not a time to sell, but to help.
The planning stage is when things get serious. The date is most likely set and the types of vacation has been decided on. During this stage the research becomes more focused. Vacationers are searching for accommodations, attractions, and activities within a specific area. Marketers can reach people at this stage by targeting people who are searching out complementary or competitive brands. A complementary brand for a hotel is a local Festival or attraction that people travel to and may need to book a room. Not only can your advertisements be targeted to reach this group, but you can also look for places where they are are discussing the event or activity and share some helpful information, along with informing them about how close you are to the activity or whether you have shuttles to get to key places. Music Festivals continue to grow and attract visitors, and there is nothing more fun to talk about than seeing your favorite bands. You do not want to interrupt the conversation with a commercial pitch, but if you have valuable information to share about the city they will be visiting or advice on how to make the most of their visit, your input will be appreciated.
There is so much information available to us today but unfortunately it is not all accurate. Once information has been gathered for an upcoming vacation it needs to be confirmed. Do I really need to make a reservation or can I just show up? Will I be able to purchase tickets the day of the show? Can my children go to the top of the tower or mountain? These are questions that concierges typically answer for guest that are already staying at a hotel, but more and more people are now getting these answers from social networks. By having your hotel present and proactively answering questions about attractions in the area, you build a trusting relationship that will give you the edge when it comes time to booking.
The best deal does not always mean the best price. Some people will stay with a brand they know and are comfortable with. Some will seek out a hotel that best represents the city. Others will book with a hotel they feel is more likely to offer the best service. During the comparing stage online reviews matter, but so does the way a brand represents itself online. During this time people will be paying attention to social media content that showcases what kind of experience they can expect from your hotel and how committed you are to serving your guests. Booking
People often announce on social media when they are getting ready to book a trip. They may have an account with hotels.com or expedia.com but if your social media team can catch a vacationer at the right time you can lead them to book directly with your hotel without going through the third party.
The key to success is to be of service rather than a pushy salesperson. As you are listening to the social chatter, offer to help with booking a room or answer questions.
This is the fun part. Depending on the traveller and the destination, they may or may not be posting photos to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. during this time, but they're certainly taking photos and living the trip that they've been carefully planning this whole time. This is where it all pays off; if your company can monitor the chatter and connect with travellers virtually and on the ground during their experience to ensure they have the best possible time, it will pay dividends when they get home.
As much as people love to travel, they love to talk about their travel. In a sense, this renews the cycle of planning. When friends see the socially shared vacation, this may spark their interest to plan a trip to the same destination. A tantalizing view, a plate of delicious food, adventure activities–when this comes home in the form of photo and video shared to a trusted network (people overwhelmingly trust their friends far more than they do brands), inspiration is born again in a new potential traveller. This work in real time (if the circumstances allow) and afterwards.
When your brand reacts and shares what users are sharing, you're essentially saying, "see, it's not all about us." This builds trust in your audience and–ultimately–loyalty.
Of course, a trip is only as good as the experience a traveller has. The better experience, the more like he or she is to recommend your product. This is why good customer service is essential the whole down the chain. Social media is a double-edged sword, and can be used to lift up and savage a brand in equal measure. Responsiveness and thoughtful interactions with your travellers will ensure you get that amazing recommendation. Not they post that they leave on your brand page, but the things they tell their friends, voluntarily, to social media and elsewhere. There's nothing like the good word of a fellow traveller.
Vacation travellers tend to follow the Social Media channels of the brands they had a great experience with during their vacation. They will become your most engaged followers by commenting on your posts about their memories of their vacation and how they cannot wait to get back
To get the most return from your social media efforts, your social media strategy should have elements in it that captures vacationers at each of these stages. This means actively listening and engaging in conversations in a helpful way, to inspire vacation ideas, to proactively provide customer service during the booking and experience stage, to share the fun with friends of your new fans.