Industry Analysis – How Online Travel Providers Use Social Media
As everybody knows, travel has changed a lot over recent years, and even more so when you consider what booking a holiday was like 10 years ago. The expansion of the internet has had a significant impact in the way people book flights, and how they look for information about places to travel. There are several companies which have taken advantage of these new age opportunities by delivering a wide selection of the cheapest possible flight and travel options available.
These well-established travel providers have gained worldwide brand recognition, especially during a sustained period of poor economic growth the interest and consumer desire for travelling at the most competitive prices has hit an all time time. Not only that, with the rise of these travel sites brings more purchasing power to the consumer as they research for the most convenient and cheapest deals. But what impact does and can social media have in this dynamic?
This article addresses how four of the most important online travel providers – Skyscanner, Kayak, Expedia and Lastminute.com – use social networks and what their impact has been within the social media sphere.
When it comes to how these travel providers use social networks, it must be said that each company has its own way and strategies in this field. Skyscanner which has 110,554 Facebook fans and 66,976 Twitter followers. Their usage of great imagery stands out thanks to the extraordinary photos that they regularly post which are perfectly shot to gain the attention and imagination of their audience.
Skyscanner make great efforts to communicate closely with followers, for example, answering personally to a follower’s questions on Facebook, or simply asking an open question for consumer feedback.
However, there is a lack of utilisation of hashtags, something which is relatively new to Facebook with certain brands adopting them within their messages and there’s certainly not much cross over when it comes to integrating promotions with Twitter. The main focus here really seems to be attracting their target audience through the vivid imagery of various destination hotspots, rather than offering discounts or travel advice.
When it comes to Twitter, there’s certainly lots of blog content highlighting the latest in travel news as well as useful travel tips:
— Skyscanner (@Skyscanner) June 23, 2013
And Skyscanner also aim to attract a wider audience to their messaging via the usage of related industry hashtags:
Interestingly, they only showcase their Facebook profile on their homepage as a means of engaging socially.
Kayak curiously have the smallest Facebook audience of the brands selected, 84,396 fans and yet have the biggest Twitter fan base, 373,260 fans. Let’s start with Twitter as Kayak have grown an audience that outreaches their competitors which can be put down to their social approach. They make use of ‘Promoted Tweets’ which is Twitter’s paid advertising service allowing Kayak to get their brand messaging into as many profile feeds as possible.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu — KAYAK (@KAYAK) October 6, 2012
Potentially another one of the main reasons behind their Twitter success is the fact they have a great team behind the scenes taking care of customer service responding to all queries about bookings within an instant. I can’t stress enough how a good customer service experience online goes a long way in a consumers mind.
On Facebook, despite not having a huge following they are utilising the platforms latest features such as hashtags as well as highlighting their relationships with travel photographers and partners:
Perhaps one of the most well known and iconic online travel providers, Expedia notably possesses the largest Facebook fan base with 1,829,923 fans and surprisingly a lower Twitter audience than Kayak with 153,866 followers. Ultimately the brands we’re showcasing here wish to gain as many sales as possible from their social media strategies, with that in mind Expedia are really the main brand here which drive consumers to make decisions. Calls to action are present through the majority of their Facebook messaging applying discount incentives to dates that customers should book their flights and hotels by. We highlighted earlier the importance of price within the consumers mind set and Expedia are making sure their fans are exposed to great deals all the time. Not only that, their messaging plays on the desires of their audience, showcasing a particular activity that is a must for any traveller, enticing them to engage in new experiences.
Expedia like Kayak also make use of ‘Promoted Tweets’ allowing them deliver their messaging to an expansive audience. However, Expedia use this tool in a different way showcasing their latest project ‘#ExpediaViewFinder‘ where they aim to get closer to travellers allowing them to highlight their travel experiences, tips and itineraries – a sort of more in depth version of Trip Advisor. The site allows travellers to find travel ideas by destination, time of year, type of holiday and even how many people you’re travelling with. It’s certainly interesting to see how ‘ExpediaViewFinder’ will develop but it could become a key online source of travel information and a great way for them to build their Twitter audience.
Expedia certainly don’t use their Twitter account for as much customer service as Kayak however they do a great job of creating opportunities for their fans to engage and feel involved. #expediachat often offers fans to win prizes as well as getting to know new travel destinations.
Furthermore, as a final thought Expedia make sure their social profiles get a good level of coverage and importance on their homepage.
Last Minute Profile
Last Minute another major player in the online travel industry have the second largest Facebook fan base from the 4 brands with 153,509 fans and surprisingly have the smallest Twitter following, 31,762 fans. First things first, unlike Expedia the social buttons don’t feature prominently enough on Last Minute’s homepage – they’re tucked away at the foot of the page. One way to explain the lack of Twitter following is perhaps too much focus towards customer service on Twitter. They seem to promote very little of their blog content and there’s certainly a lack of intuitive hashtags to engage followers. LastMinute don’t currently use ‘Promoted Tweets’ which again may explain their low fan base. However, one area where they do stand out is in the way they thank customers for their positive feedback:
— nicola grimshaw (@nicola_grimshaw) July 5, 2013
With regards to Facebook LastMinute have the second largest audience and they certainly provide some great visuals to entice their followers. One of their key brand messages ties into their company name, being spontaneous. Quite often the posts centre around driving consumers to be inspired to go somewhere new and experience the wonders of the world.
For LastMinute, being spontaneous pays off as they reward their fans with discounts on their latest hot deals, such as a weekend stay in Paris. Living your brand values is important and we can see that LastMinute manage to drive them to the consumer, enabling them to maintain their position as the 2nd most popular brand from the 4 we’ve chosen here.
Nevertheless, they don’t highlight their blog or website as a key source of travel information, unlike Expedia who are trying their best to become a even bigger resource for online travel.
Brand Comparison & Analysis
Let’s begin by analysing Facebook:
From the graph above we can see how Expedia clearly rules the platform over its competitors, possessing a much larger audience. However, looking back at 2010 and even early 2011 it was a completely different picture. Kayak and LastMinute were both outperforming ahead of Expedia having 55,000, 77,000 fans respectively over Expedia’s 32,000 (January 2nd 2011). However, in March 2011 Expedia went on the offensive, offering $1,000,000 worth of prizes to draw in their audience.
Through this they achieved over 1,000,000 fans and managed to establish themselves as a runaway leader in terms of social media following in online travel.
When analysing Twitter we can obviously notice a clear distinction between Kayak and the rest of the travel brands. They possess twice as many followers as Expedia, which does go to show that by sharing relevant and engaging content and by delivering a great level of attention in their customer service they’ve surpassd their competitors. Interestingly, Expedia has focused all their attentions via Facebook and did not make Twitter integrated enough within their $1,000,000 worth of prizes that were all pushed through Facebook alone – a lesson learned perhaps?
We can delve into further analysis on Twitter with the following graph:
Key: (Yellow=Expedia, Green=Last Minute, Blue=Kayak)
Here we see how despite Kayak being the overall leader in terms of Twitter audience, they actually post the fewest amount of times on a weekly basis.
Key: (Yellow=Expedia, Green=Last Minute, Blue=Kayak)
When looking at the second graphic we then can examine how remarkable Kayak’s efforts are on Twitter as they receive on average a much larger growth on a daily basis than their competitors despite the lower amount of communications.
One thing that has stood out is how few of these brands are taking advantage of all the latest digital marketing tools. Not one of the companies highlighted in this analysis piece were using Twitter Vine or Instagram video for promotional activities. Nor were they implementing Twitter Card markups to help increase conversions and click-through’s to content on their site. Additionally, we’ve seen clear brand messaging being transmitted but there’s certainly not the same level of integration across social channels as we’ve seen in other sectors. Many brands use events as a means to get closer to their customers, however only LastMinute seem to be incorporating this.
We’ve also learnt how spending big can reap rewards with regards to building a consumer audience via social media platforms, but we’ve also seen how lack of integration can mean competitors performing better on other social platforms. Good customer service especially via the form of Twitter is without doubt highly valued by consumers.