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Social media’s influence on travel

In a previous posting, I mentioned that even with user-generated social-media content, you need a strong hook to get people to travel. A tip from a friend might get you to try a new flavor of yogurt or pick up a new book, but before you shell out $10,000 to bring your family to Australia, you’re going to need a stronger reason to visit than “liking” cute baby kangaroo pictures on Facebook. (Compare the world-leading growth of Australia’s social media figures to their lackluster visitor growth over the last years and you may arrive at the same conclusion.)

So how do does Expedia’s recent boast of their “swimming pigs in the Bahamas” social-media success fit into this? I’m not saying it didn’t generate the sales increase they claim.  I am, however, questioning how much of it was social media.

It was, essentially, a short commercial that they aired on social media channels.  We know that TV commercials (and print ads and billboards) do often produce a bump in sales — that’s why companies continue to advertise their products.  And we know that clever TV commercials get spread around on social media as well. Bud Lite’s recent Superbowl commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger dressed at Bjorn Borg is a prime example (over 18 million views on YouTube).

Expedia’s swimming pigs video also included a contest that featured the Bahamas and a general sale on travel bookings. This is the trifecta of viral web content (quirky video, contest, and a sale that appeals to all markets).

So can destinations look at this and conclude that social media is a great generator of travelers to their destination?  Perhaps… if they also want to attempt this trifecta. But without the quirky video (or photos), a contest and the ability to offer a sale to other destinations, it may be difficult to compete with Expedia’s success.

Relying on user-generated content is powerful in the sense that people pay much more attention to what their friends and family are doing than the messages that DMOs are sending out  But seeing a photo of some friends eating fish and chips in London doesn’t necessarily make others want to go.

That powerful hook is going to come when you see your friends and family doing something that looks really appealing (and preferably new).  A photo of your friends entering London’s Harry Potter Studio Tour when it first opened and also capturing the smiles on your kids’ faces is perfect example of a strong hook.

Which brings me back to the real formula for success on social media. Creating cool, new photo-friendly attractions/experiences and letting visitors share those.


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