Online Media & The Traveler
This report is an overview of the relationship between social media and its influence on travelers. It is composed of five parts. Part (A) includes insights on whether social or content posts are more effective, finding that social posts have the most sway. Part (B) includes insights on the effectiveness of seeded, distributed, and native content, finding that Instagram native ads having high success rates. Part (C) examines the effectiveness of influencers, podcasts, and other media in influencing travel plans. Part (D) outlines insights related to social media's effect on different generations in influencing travel, finding that millennials and Gen Zers are very affected by social media. Part (E) includes several online travel-related insights, including case studies of recent effective campaigns and the finding that fast responses are critical for building relationships. A few relevant datapoints are repeated between sections.
Part (A): This section includes insights on whether social posts or content posts are more effective in attracting interest. The research team interpreted "social posts" to mean those originating from peers or users and "content posts" to be more traditional marketing posts originating from a brand page. Social posts appear to be more effective, though peer-like influencers who project and maintain authenticity are also effective. Content marketing is less effective, while traditional marketing is the least effective overall.
Insights Related to the Effectiveness of Social Posts
- 52 percent of Facebook users report that seeing their friends' travel photos inspired them to travel.
- Millennials in particular are motivated more by social posts based on their perceived authenticity.
- 84 percent of millennials reported that user-generated content influenced their trip more than ads.
- Destination Marketing Organizations are increasingly utilizing socially-created content rather than stock or posed imagery based on its effectiveness. This includes reposting visitor photos on social media, including social imagery in visitor guides, and uploading social photos on their websites.
- 92 percent of online users trusted content created by their peers over traditional marketing.
- Content marketing campaigns that are particularly unique or that find a niche are especially effective. These include Travelocity's Gnational Gnomads, a group of influencers that were selected to travel and highlight their experiences; Travel Oregon's game that mimicked the Oregon Trail, and Zenith Aircraft's 360 degree virtual flight tour.
- While Gen Z is very connected to online influencers, the content that they are most affected by is that which is generated by their peers (rather than traditional influencer content). As such, influencers who maintain their accessibility and authenticity as peers are most effective.
- While user-generated content is most effective of all, content marketing is more effective than traditional marketing.
- 70 percent of social media users prefer content-marketing rather than traditional ads.
Part (B): This section includes insights on whether seeding, native, or distributed content on social media is most effective. Distributed content was interpreted to be content originating from a brand's page and distributed to targeted channels. Based on these insights, content seeding is effective for attaining a wide reach, although it has been impaired by algorithm changes. Native ads are effective at connecting with viewers, with strong results on Instagram. Distributed content is effective at targeting interested consumers, especially on Facebook.
Insights Related to the Effectiveness of Content Seeding
- Content seeding has a wide initial reach, giving it more potential for organic spreading through trusted peers.
- Content seeding can be expensive.
- Content seeding through influencers yields a substantial reach, as follows:
- Sharing, particularly related to brands, had decreased on social media. In 2017, the amount of social sharing was half of what it was in 2015, in part because of changes to Facebook's algorithm (which are ongoing).
- When a post is shared by a friend or family member, users are 16 times more likely to read it.
Insights Related to Native Advertisements on Social Media
- 86 percent of social media users are say they are okay with native advertising because it does not disrupt their experience.
- 71 percent of social media users personally identify with a brand after viewing a native ad.
- 63 percent of brands feel that native ads increase consumer engagement.
- 32 percent of consumers will share native ads with friends and family on social media.
- A paid ad campaign on Instagram Stories for Hopper (a travel app) was targeted at millennial North American travelers, and it generated an 80 percent higher booking rate.
- Instagram reported in 2017 that 120 million Instagram users per month were visiting websites, getting directions, or calling, emailing, or messaging businesses as a result of advertisements on their platform.
- Social traffic referrals, including from native ads, declined sharply from 2015-2017, with more than half of all referrals now coming from Google sites. This is due to Facebook newsfeed changes that affected when users see ads.
- The most effective native advertisements are ones that appear seamless to the user, such as an Instagram story with low production value that feels authentic.
Insights Related to Distributed Content on Social Media
- Content obviously distributed from a brand is preferred only 19 percent of the time to content from a friend or family member.
- 36 percent of social media users ignore social posts from brands.
- 74 percent of consumers follow brands on social media, indicating that posts originating on brands' pages do have a wide potential audience of consumers interested in their product.
- 96 percent of consumers interact with the brands they follow on social media. Being the originator of posts enables businesses to respond to that interaction and generate a positive relationship.
- Facebook is by far the best platform for distributed content based on the number of users and their likelihood of making purchases from a brand they follow on that platform. 52 percent of consumers made a purchase from a brand they follow on Facebook, compared to 48 percent of consumers who follow a brand on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Reddit combined.
Part (C): This section includes insights on the effectiveness of different media in influencing travel plans, as well as how effective influencers are on social media. Photos, videos, and podcasts (in that apparent order) are effective in reaching travel customers based on overall popularity of consumption.
Insights on the Effectiveness of Different Media
- 4 out of 5 millennials view travel articles and photos online, while 2 out of 3 millennials view travel videos online.
- Serialized videos such as those put out on YouTube by Marriott are very popular and effective marketing tools, with its 2015 short film contributing to $500,000 in bookings in two months, and its 2017 short film garnering more than 9 million views to date.
- Content marketers using video to attract visitors to their websites have a 66 percent higher conversion rate.
- Podcasts are on the rise: 14 percent of all adults in the UK listened to a podcast at least once a week in 2019, up from 2 percent in 2014.
- 45 percent of internet users between the ages of 25-34 regularly listen to podcasts.
- Podcasts can provide seamless ad integration. 50 percent of podcast listeners say they are either somewhat or much more likely to consider a brand they heard about during a podcast.
Insights on Influencers
- 17 percent of Instagram users pay attention to where celebrities are staying and base their own travel plans accordingly.
- Explore St. Louis's recently-launched microsite that begins simply with the selection of four local influencers in four interest groups: food, beer, music, and culture. The marketing company's usage of this method for the splash page indicates that candid interviews with influencers is an effective way to attract viewers.
- Influencers are extremely important with 92 percent of customers trusting online content created by their peers rather than traditional advertising.
- Gen Z is especially swayed by online influencers. 45 percent follow more than 10 online influencers, while 10 percent follow more than 50.
- The number of influencers tapped yields increasing reach, as follows:
- Posts shared by 0 influencers were shared 706 times.
- Posts shared by 1 influencer were shared 930 times.
- Posts shared by 2 influencers were shared 1,210 times.
- Posts shared by 3 influencers were shared 1,405 times.
- Posts shared by 4 influencers were shared 1,588 times.
- Posts shared by 5 influencers were shared 2,776 times.
Part (D): This section provides insights on social media's effect on different generations when making travel plans. Most available recent information has been focused on millennials due to the size of the demographic. Millennials and Gen Z are heavily influenced by images and deals posted on social media, while baby boomers value informative posts or content as well as reviews.
Insights Related to Millennials
- Millennials are the largest generation of adults in the history of the United States, with a population size of 79 million.
- 89 percent of millennials make their travel plans based on content posted by their peers on social media.
- While 60 percent of all travelers are likely to share their travel photos during their vacation, more than 97 percent of millennials post photos and videos of their travels, thus influencing their peers to travel.
- Millennials are much more likely to be drawn to vacation experiences that will make for exceptional photos or posts on their own social media when planning trips.
- 78 percent of millennials would rather have a desirable experience than a desirable object, indicating the necessity of selling an experience to prospective millennial travelers.
- Millennials are driven to take trips after viewing social media as a result of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). 69 percent of millenniums regret not taking a last minute trip as a result of FOMO.
- According to a 2017 study, 20 percent of millennials use Twitter and Pinterest to gain travel inspirations, compared to 87 percent who use Facebook. This indicates that Facebook is a more effective and/or commonly used travel planner for millennials.
- 68 percent of millennials will remain loyal to travel rewards programs that offer substantial rewards in the form of cash, freebies, upgrades, or discounts.
- Millennials are much more likely to respond to flash deals or limited-time discounts posted on social media.
- Millennials are most attracted by advertisements that emphasize imagery and deals.
- Millennials are less responsive to stock imagery.
- Millennials use online travel agencies more than any other resource for booking travel.
Insights Related to Gen Z
- Gen Z is the largest group of consumers in the world, as of 2020.
- Like millennials, Gen Z is interested in authentic, unique experiences that they can share on social media.
- Instagram is the number one platform for Gen Z to form travel plans, with 50 percent of users saying it provided the best inspiration.
- Gen Z is most attracted by advertisements that emphasize imagery and deals.
- Gen Z is most likely to browse for travel inspiration without an initial destination in mind, making them highly influenced by both social media and advertising.
Additional Generational Insights
- 30 to 40 percent of travelers under the age of 30 based their travel plans on how Instagram-able the destination is.
- Baby boomers are most interested in food- and activity-based destinations and respond to marketing targeting those factors accordingly.
- Baby boomers are most attracted by advertisements with informative content and reviews.
- Baby boomers are most likely to have a destination in mind when deciding to take a trip.
- Gen Xers are most interested in family-oriented experiences that showcase local culture, including festivals, museums, and educational opportunities.
Part (E): This section includes insights related to online media and the traveler, including platform-specific insights, recent successful online marketing campaigns, and examples of travel brands improving their image on social media.
Platform-Specific Travel Insights
- On Pinterest, users look through photos of activities and environments to gain inspiration to plan their travel experience rather than looking at specific destinations.
- Almost 50 percent of travelers booking vacations hear about new travel companies and destinations on Twitter after being exposed to it in their feed (not necessarily by searching for it).
- Hotels on Instagram are most successful when they: empower their own brand identity, make it easier to communicate to travelers, connect users with destinations, and distribute their product well.
- 76 percent of users on Pinterest make a travel-related decision based on what they've seen on Pinterest in the past three months, according to the platform's data.
- Pinterest has integrated personas that help advertisers pinpoint their market. These personas are “the Group Vacationer, the Culture Chaser, the Spa Sojourner, the Adventure Lover and the Eating Explorer.” The personas are effective according to a recent Carnival Cruise Line campaign that saw a 14 percent click-through rate increase and a decrease in cost-per-click by 71 percent.
- The top six locations tagged with #travel on Instagram in March 2016 were: Paris, France; Istanbul, Turkey; New York, New York; London, United Kingdom; Venice, Italy; and Maldives.
- Women are most likely to buy something based on recommendations on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, while men are more likely to buy something based on YouTube and Twitter ads.
- Social media posts are very influential on those who use it to plan a trip. After using social media, 33 percent of users changed their hotels, 10 percent switch resorts, 7 percent traveled to another country, and 5 percent switched airlines. This indicates the importance of a strong social media presence for destinations wishing to entice visitors.
Examples of Recent Successful Marketing Strategies Through Social Media
- Tourism boards are increasing their visibility by utilizing hashtags in social media. Texas Tourism increased the number of visitors to TravelTexas.com by 33 percent after creating #TexasToDo.
- Hotels and restaurants are similarly utilizing social media to promote their visibility by hosting social events complete with hashtags. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants used guest photos tagged with #KimptonWeddings rather than staged photos to provide authentic, user-generated content that they were able to capitalize on as it was shared with the social network of each guest.
- Soho House utilizes lifestyle imagery on Instagram to draw its users to book at its locations in New York, London, and Chicago.
- Intrepid Travel has successfully launched its own hashtag campaign on Instagram, which has gone viral. #beintrepid now has more than 50,000 tags from users.
- Norwegian Cruise Line has their own viral hashtag, serving to advertise what they offer through customers' own experiences. #cruisenorwegian has over 50,000 tags on Instagram.
Travel Brands Are Improving Retention with Social Media
Social media has proven to be an ideal platform for brands in travel-related industries to improve their brand reputation and encourage future business. Speed of response is key.
- Between March 2013-February 2015, there was a 59 percent increase in tweets at brands in the travel, transportation, and hospitality industries.
- 53 percent of Twitter users expect a brand to respond to their Tweet within an hour, increasing to 72 percent if it is a complaint.
- Companies that respond quickly and with a sincere manner develop a strong reputation among their current and potential customers. American Airlines and JetBlue are two examples of this.
- Airbnb manages multiple social media accounts and monitors comments on multiple social media profiles to rapidly respond to any customer concerns, earning it a high reputation from users.
- Rather than funneling all of its customers through a global account, Air France has divided its customer service and users into regions to enable a fast, prompt response. The effect has given it an excellent reputation on social media.