As social media becomes more and more ubiquitous, it changes how companies do business. Those who stay on top of the trends can use social networks as a powerful marketing tool, while those who don’t are getting left behind. For the travel and hospitality industry, social media is reshaping the way customers book travel in ways both big and small.
The three main ways that social media and onsite travel booking collide are inspiration, reviews and customer service. We rounded up some interesting statistics on how social networks are impacting the industry, along with some ways to harness their power and grow your digital footprint—and your bottom line.
According to a 2014 study by Google, 83% of leisure travelers use social networking, video, or photo sites for online sources of inspiration. If you want to increase your booking, you need to be a place where users turn to find that inspiration. Here are a few ways to showcase your destination or services:
- Video: Create videos that showcase your hotel, service or city for YouTube, Vine or Periscope. They don’t have to be big-budget—they just have to get users excited about travel.
- Photos: Make sure your website includes breathtaking photography of local scenery, food, architecture and design. Post them on photo sharing sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.
- Content: Create relevant, shareable content for your website that will get you some traction on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You can include destination-specific content (10 Reasons You Absolutely Must Visit Savannah in the Spring), consumer news (Study Highlights the #1 Mistake Most Travelers Make) or industry information (5 Travel Predictions for 2015).
Make sure all of that inspirational content is easily shareable, so travelers and would-be travelers alike will see it. Social share buttons help to grow brand awareness and website traffic, which will ultimately lead to more onsite bookings.
Ratings and Reviews
If you aren’t paying attention to your online reviews, consider this statistic: one recent study showed that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That’s an enormous number! Travelers are turning to websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor before making booking decisions, so it’s important to know—and respond to—what’s being said about your brand. Here’s how to manage your reputation on online review sites:
- If the review is positive, reply and thank the reviewer. You obviously can’t do this if you have thousands of reviews, but if you choose even a few thoughtful or popular reviews to respond to, it will show potential travelers that you’re thankful for your customers.
- If the review is negative, apologize and offer to fix it—even if you’re not at fault. So many businesses react negatively to bad reviews, and sometimes, those reactions go viral. A rant toward a customer can hurt the reputation of a business owner, so always take the high road. Plus, it will let potential customers know that you care about their experience.
- If the reviews are overwhelmingly negative, see how you can improve. Let some or all of reviewers know that you’re either working on or have fixed the problem, and what actions you’re taking. Offer them a make-good to try your business again. This will reflect positively on your brand to those reading the reviews.
You should also encourage your customers to rate you on review sites, as well as your Facebook page. Remember: people tend to want to review things that they either love or hate, so the more you can do to foster the love, the better.
Increasingly, customers are turning to social media for complaints about the travel industry. Think of all the negative attention airlines have gotten over the past few years after a tweet has gone viral. People are becoming increasingly reluctant to call a toll-free number and be placed on hold, or fill out a contact form and never hear a response. Social media is an immediate way to let a business know there’s a problem with their service.
Here are some basic rules for dealing with complaints on social media:
- Always be listening: 24/7, on all social channels. A social media monitoring service like TweetDeck, Hootsuite or Sprout Social can help you to stay on top of what users are saying about you on social media so you can address complaints in a timely fashion.
- Consider dedicated customer service accounts: Many large brands are opening separate Twitter accounts for customer service issues. If you choose to go this route, share the link in your company’s main Twitter bio. And remember that not everyone will use the right account, so you’ll still have to monitor all channels closely.
- If you can, make the conversation private. Brands are beginning to use Facebook Messenger as a customer service line. The benefit is it’s a private conversation, so everyone on your Facebook page won’t be reading negative comments. On Twitter, you can ask an unhappy customer to send you a direct message so you can help them out of the public eye.
The worst thing you can do when confronted with a customer complaint on a social network is to immediately direct them to do something, like call a number or fill out a form. Try to help as much as you can through the platform they’re on—if you have to direct them somewhere later, they’ll be less upset because you listened to their complaint and gave them personal attention.
Booking Through Social Media
Many brands have been experimenting with offering booking through social media. It’s still in the early stages, and conversion rates are low, but they’re growing. In fact, almost half of the hotels that are on Facebook provide booking through the network’s “Book Now” button.
Booking through Twitter and Instagram has proven more complicated, as neither platform offers a built-in experience the way Facebook does. Both Loews Hotels and boutique hotel booking site Stayful have offered booking through Twitter, but the experience has been more like that of an online travel agent than an actual booking platform. On Instagram, it’s currently only possible to initiate a booking on-site, and even that requires clicking through several screens–hardly user-friendly.
Booking through social media is still in its infancy, and it shows. It will likely get more robust and more popular over time, however, so it’s worth experimenting. For companies that rely on online booking, it’s important to not just embrace social media, but to stay on top of social networking trends and new technologies that can impact your business in the ultra-competitive travel space.
Make sure you have the best social tools on your site to continue engagement with your visitors – get started free!