How well do travel & leisure brands use social media?

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Why and how do users of travel and leisure (T&L) products interact on social media? Are particular T&L businesses better at converting social media interactions into brand use? And what factors turn a social media interaction into usage of the brand?

A new report (BDRC Continental’s Social Media Impact ‘Freemium Report’) looks at a range of T&L businesses: airlines, hotels, railway companies, coffee shops, online travel agents, car rental companies, airports and visitors attractions, to answer some of these questions. Some 40 brands fall under its scrutiny and come from many points on the T&L spectrum and include Alton Towers, Booking.com, British Airways, Caffè Nero, Heathrow Airport, Hotels.com, Starbucks, Travelodge and Virgin Trains.

BDRC Continental conducted initial interviews in Spring 2015 to produce a nationally representative sample of 1,007 people who had all used social media to interact with a T&L organisation in the previous six months. This means the survey was conducted among active social media users in the context of travel and leisure brands. An interaction was defined as: “any contact including a follow, a like, a share, a retweet, a check-in, asking a question, expressing an opinion, viewing pictures or reading posts”.

Motivations and needs

The Social Media Impact report found 46% of Britons had interacted with a T&L brand on social media within the six-month timeframe. There were four motivations for doing this. First, was the aim of learning about a brand and its products (the Learners) and this accounted for 41% of those surveyed. Then came the Proactives (25%), meaning people who interacted to ask questions, express dissatisfaction, endorse a brand, share a brand experience, enter a competition or get a discount. Watchers accounted for 24%; they were the people who simply watch a brand’s information updates or engage in a brand’s social media campaigns. Finally there were the Connectors (10%), those who interact to connect to a cause or subject that is important to them.

Consumers can interact in all sorts of ways on social media. The most common activity in this survey is to ‘like’ a social media post or mark it as a ‘favourite’ (11%), while 8% clicked on adverts or web links. Social media provides a forum for asking questions (14%) with half doing this publicly and half by private message. Social media also offers a de facto complaints channel and in this survey 6% expressed dissatisfaction directly through the brand’s social media page.

Top social media platforms and their varying roles

Facebook trumped all others with 98% of respondents saying they use this site generally, with 59% saying it was the platform for their T&L interactions over the past six months. YouTube and Twitter were important with general usage of 73% and 55% respectively, although specific T&L brand interaction was much lower at 11% (YouTube) and 16% (Twitter). LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr commanded less T&L brand engagement at just 5%, 4%, 4% and 2% respectively. 

Jon Young, associate director with BDRC Continental, comments: “The survey shows that Facebook is driving around four times as much T&L brand engagement as Twitter, five times as much as YouTube and 50 times as much as Tumblr. So for T&L brands, not all social media platforms are equal.”

The social media platforms naturally have different roles too. People felt Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are good for learning purposes and staying updated,  but Facebook was singled out as a good platform for entering a competition while Twitter was the channel for endorsing an organisation or asking questions.

“There are varying degrees of engagement and reasons for use across different platforms,” says Jon Young. “Facebook attracts the highest proportion of Learners, Pintrest the highest proportion of Watchers, Instagram draws Proactives while Tumblr attracts the Connectors.  Awareness of the roles each platform plays will allow organisations to modify their content and tone on social media accordingly.”

Social media and actual brand usage

But does social media do more than help with learning and staying updated? When the survey moved onto the issues of actually using a brand, there were some interesting results.

Jon Young notes: “The most important finding in our survey is that social media interactions lead to brand use. Around 1 in 5 social media interactions (22%) with a leisure organisation in the last six months attributed ‘a lot’ of influence on the decision to use or physically visit this brand. And 70% said that the interaction had at least some influence. This is a positive endorsement of the leisure industry’s social media performance. Social media plays a vital role in driving custom.”

The survey also looked at how social media shaped the resulting sense of satisfaction with the brand. A total of 75% said social media interactions had exercised at least ‘some’ influence.

Jon Young adds: “It was also clear that there was an “information first, emotion second” dynamic at work. Our key driver analysis shows that providing ‘useful’ and ‘interesting’ information are the two biggest drivers of converting social media use to purchases and brand satisfaction. The next most important drivers are posts that are ‘entertaining’ and ‘inspiring’. To maximise effectiveness, leisure organisations should ensure their content contains useful information as well as emotional triggers.  The most effective organisations offer a combination of the two.”

Generation Y loves to connect

Were younger respondents the ones using social media most? Yes, the survey showed this clearly. The survey divided the 46% (who had had social media interaction with a T&L brand in the past six months) into three tiers: Generation Y, Generation X and Baby Boomers. It was no surprise that 66% of Generation Y (ages 18 to 34) had interacted with T&L brands in the stated time frame, while for Generation X (35-54) it was 50% and for the Baby Boomers (55+) it was much lower at 35%.

Generation Y want to belong. They are the age group most likely to interact with leisure brands on social media and to be converted to purchases ‘offline’.   They are the age group with the lowest proportion of ‘learners’ (35%) – this compares to 46% for Baby Boomers and 47% for Generation X. Generation Y are also most likely to be ‘Connectors’ (25%).

The Generation X age band mostly comprises ‘learners’ (47%) for whom finding ‘useful information’ is the key activity. Baby Boomers are least likely to use social media to interact with leisure brands – only 6% described themselves as ‘Connectors’ – half of the 12% seen for Generation Y.

Top T&L sectors

The survey showed clearly that car rental companies are getting the best out of social media. BDRC covered Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Sixt and Hertz. They generate the highest levels of satisfaction (85%) and the highest brand usage conversion (83%) as a result of social media interaction. This is driven by their provision of a good balance of useful content and inspiring or entertaining updates. So it is in the car rental sector you’ll find the highest likelihood of using a brand as a result of social media interactions (and the highest degree of brand satisfaction arising from the social media experience). In fact, in the case of car rental companies, 26% said social media posts exercised ‘a lot of influence’ and directly prompted them to use the product. This was higher than any other T&L business category.

“We were initially surprised with the success of car rental companies but when we looked at their Facebook pages we saw some really inspiring posts,” says Jon Young. “Rather than focus on the transaction, they talk about the romance of travel and the open road. Car rental companies demonstrate how a fairly dry transaction can be made into so much more with interesting and inspiring social media content.”

But visitor attractions do well too. The likelihood to use a brand (or make a physical visit) as a result of social media interaction is 74% while 80% said the interaction had ‘at least some’ influence on personal satisfaction with the brand.

Online travel agents scored the same ‘likelihood to use’ (74%), but a lower score (76%) for ‘at least some’ influence on satisfaction. The survey found that online travel agents with the most influence in driving use were Lastminute.com (31%), Hotels.com (25%), Booking.com (20%) and Expedia.com (14%).

Airlines scored 73% ‘likelihood to use’ and 72% ‘at least some’ influence on satisfaction. There were weaker results for hotels, with 65% agreeing there was a likelihood of using a brand as a result of social media interactions. Again with hotels, 69% said ‘at least some’ satisfaction with the brand was driven by their social media experience with it.

The survey showed people are motivated to read social media posts right across the eight T&L categories. In fact, reading posts was the ‘main reason’ for a recent social media interaction. Visitor attractions did best in this respect, scoring 44%, with airports (42%) and railway companies (41%) close behind. 

Jon Young is research director with BDRC Continental.  BDRC Continental’s Social Media Impact ‘Freemium Report’ is on sale now. Contact Jon Young: [email protected] for more information. 

About Jon Young

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