Comment: Don’t underestimate the power of social media

Snapchat’s Ruth Arber says brands must immerse travel consumers in experiences to win their business

When does the holiday start for you? Arriving at the airport and gliding through duty free? Or when you step onto the stairs and get hit with that welcome whoosh of hot, humid, foreign air? Perhaps, it’s sitting at your desk at lunchtime on a rainy Thursday in March, scrolling through your phone.

For travel brands, the so-called dreaming phase is as vital as any of the other parts of the customer journey that follow it. Enticing the customer with promises of sapphire seas or frosty slopes is where sales are won – and lost.

But today’s equivalent of the Boomer dreaming phase – when it was all about popping to the travel agent for some brochures to thumb through – doesn’t cut the mustard with Gen Z and Millennials. Established online tour operators are functionally very helpful when it comes to comparing prices, sorting flights and getting itineraries arranged. But as far as inspiring wanderlust and spontaneity, they’re lacking.

Younger, travel-savvy consumers want a more tailored, visual, experiential travel search experience. They want to feel inspired, that they’ve got the insider knowledge, right from the first click. This is where search-style sites fail and social media excels. Here are our top five insights into attracting this critical customer base.

Tip 1: In search of experience

Gen Z and Millennials want more variety and freedom around how they shape their travel. As destinations become more accessible with low-cost airlines and accommodation, trips have become endlessly customisable. Social media plays a huge role in how people discover new places and locations. Even the reason for travel is changing, shifting the importance from destination to the experience you’re likely to have once there. It’s not Chamonix versus Courchevel, it’s the number of heart-stopping black runs versus heliskiing or telemark.

Social media has been amazing in helping individuals share their experiences and gain inspiration from others, giving travellers confidence and education on travel before they book.

The social experience is richer in every way. Using a search engine, you’re going to get mostly factual information. Searching Florence will give you pictures, hotel names and the cost to climb the Duomo.

Using social media, you’re going to see videos from local enthusiasts, snippets of food courses, a treasure hunt for buchette del vino (wine windows) and a glimpse of unique experiences you simply couldn’t search for. It’s an immersive, multi-sensory experience.

Tip 2: Marry insight with information

But just because you’re on social, it doesn’t mean you don’t want that practicality. This is where the best of both worlds collide. It’s easy to search for a location on Snap Maps – a digital map similar to the ones you use for navigation – so users have the ability to dive into a city or location and view all the public snaps (pictures or videos) that have been shared.

It gives the travellers a really good sense of what it’s actually like to be there and there’s nothing stopping brands being a part of that action. Posting their own Snaps, showcasing what the specific area has to offer, to remain front of mind.

Tip 3: Match content to the platform for true shareability

Brands need to think about all the channels they’re using to reach their audiences. Platforms like Snapchat are great for engaging the younger traveller, 18-34, which can be hard to reach on other channels. You need to speak to this group in a way they’re used to. Snapchat is all about communication with friends. That’s because those friends heavily influence purchasing decisions. Six out of 10 Snapchatters decided to go on their last holiday after a friend told them about it.

As a brand, you need to look at what content is being shared and how. Snapchatters post an average of 50 times a day; when they’re on their way to the airport, at the hotel, at the beach. So you need to adopt that mindset and behaviour – understand how to use short-form video to demonstrate experiences, learn the nuance of vertical video formats and customise the creativity to make sure it’s the right format for the right platform.

Tip 4: Retarget busy browsers

Even if you wow your audience first time, chances are your potential customer is browsing any number of experiences and destinations. They will certainly leave your content to explore elsewhere. Being able to remind them of their ‘first, best choice’ through retargeting is vital. On every page in Snapchat that a user clicks on, the audience can be captured by a pixel and retargeted.

But, it’s not just about popping up at different points in the customer journey. To keep your brand front of mind you have to make sure the messaging changes depending where they are in their journey, physical or digital. That’s because brands can and should continue engaging with users throughout their trip, using location targeting to update the interaction with relevant content.

Tip 5: Enhance the travel experience

Travel is an inspirational topic already, but even it can benefit from adding a layer of playfulness to the experience. Augmented reality is used by 70% of Snapchatters every day, with 56% using it for inspiration, 49% for planning and while they’re on their trip, and 44% for actually booking.

With AR, travellers can use social media to share experiences with friends, putting your brand front and centre with your existing as well as new audiences.

And making the most of the available technology will be what helps brands deliver the best, most rounded experience to travellers. Alongside augmenting the travel experience, we can make it more intuitive with artificial intelligence.

Snap’s ‘My AI’ means users can chat to the system in the same way as they would chat to friends. We’ve seen over 5 million conversations from Snapchatters asking for top tourist destinations, along with over one million planning visits to Disneyland and other theme parks, but some also simply use it for researching, planning and asking general questions.

It’s the final link in the chain that brings search, dreaming, inspiration and engagement all together into one, singular travel experience.

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