I have had a number of questions posted to me recently about how tourism marketers can promote their services and products. Including traditional marketing and PR, one of the channels that I consistently promote as part of a holistic marketing package is digital and social media. Building on the foundation of Web 2.0, social media applications have facilitated unprecedented growth in human interaction in modern times. The world has changed dramatically since the dawn of the Internet, moving from one where Destination marketers could create a web page and use it in the same fashion as one might use an online brochure, to one where users generate their own content about that destination. Social media in the context of destination marketing is evolving and marketer need to keep pace and understand how travellers are using social networks so that they can respond appropriately.
A Reminder: What is social media ?
Social media generally refers to web applications that allow for the user to post and share content. Common social media applications include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+ etc. Social media can be organize them into six types: blogs, social networking sites, virtual social worlds, collaborative projects, content communities, and virtual game worlds. On the other hand User Generated Content (UGC) is the means by which people use social media; the way they share ideas and collaborate. Examples of User Generated Content includes photos, blogs, micro blogs and videos that users share publicly.
Importance of User Generated Content to Destination marketers?
Search engines play a critical role in bringing together the traveller and the tourism supplier. Destination marketers need to understand how visitors use search engines in order to increase visibility through higher search engine rankings. They must meet the needs of travellers by providing value-added information and services that differentiate them from their competition.
User generated content is quickly becoming the source for credible travel information.
Though the results are somewhat mixed, research suggests that travellers perceive User Generated Content to be more trustworthy than information provided by more traditional marketing materials. The use of blogs and social networking sites is permeating areas that in the past were dominated by traditional suppliers. Social media is becoming the primary medium by which travel information is shared. For instance travel comparison sites provide traveller experiences that can significantly impact (positively or negatively) destination brands.
The opinions of other travellers is becoming the reference point in destination buying.
The opinion of others is becoming the primary vehicle by which the consumer judges the travel product. Given that travellers engage in social media to satisfy any number of needs – from functional, social, to psychological – it stands to reason that Destination marketers must be prepared to engage travellers at the place where they are…. on line.
The importance of global communication and community sharing to the global traveller
While social media use is a global phenomenon, the use of different applications varies by culture, technological infrastructure, political climate, and media landscape. Perception of risk has been found to influence social media use, as well as the popularity of particular applications. The greater the perceived risk, the greater the tendency to depend on personal networks of family and friends for travel related information.
With the change in the nature of communication and notions of community there has been a change in how travellers gather information and make their travel decisions. Generally, travellers place a high degree of trust in their social media networks – information is gathered and synthesized from other travellers. Knowledge of the travel destination is acquired through social interaction, in addition to traditional market-generated materials.
The impact of technology on destination sharing and marketing
A growing trend is the use of mobile devices, from smart phones to Tablet PCs. With advances in technology, portable devices make blogging, photo sharing, and social networking easier for the traveller. An estimated 40% of smart phone users obtain destination related information with these devices. The power of the tourism product is, more than ever, consumer-driven. Better communication technologies, at the same time, should empower suppliers and destination marketers, allowing for more efficiencies, collaboration and flexibility.
The power of blogs and micro blogs in destination marketing.
Blogs continue to be one of the most popular forms of user generated content used by destination marketers while travellers may use blogs as well as other social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Blogs can be described as “the social media equivalent of personal web pages and can come in a multitude of different variations, from personal diaries describing the author’s life to summaries of all relevant information in one specific content area”.
Blogs serve a variety of functions including:
- Influencing travellers’ perception of a destination brand
- Creating brands and brand perception in the minds of target segments
- May influence travellers to make buying decisions
User generated blogs
- Enable travellers to share tholiday pictures and stories with family and the world
- Assist marketers to monitor visitors’ attitudes about a destination
- Help marketers with valuable ways of positioning the destination to create value and meaning for future visitors
The power of e-Word Of Mouth
Word-of-mouth, and now e-word of mouth is a concept frequently found at the foundations of social media dialogue. The power of WOM was not only recognized as far back in time as Aristotle, but has been shown to influence consumer behaviour, attitudes, intentions, awareness, expectations and perceptions.
Therefore what should Destination marketers remember?
- Travellers are using social media to help plan their trips and this trend is growing.
- Social media plays a significant role in the information search and how that information is used is influenced by age, gender, culture and other demographic and socio-graphic characteristics.
- Social networking sites influence travel decisions; users generally participate in these communities to find information, for social interaction, as well as, for personal enjoyment.
- Blogs are one of the most popular forms of social media both in terms of branding a destination and influencing travellers’ decisions to visit a particular place.
- Travellers trust word of mouth communications more so than traditional marketing; given that e-word of mouth is anonymous (fostering greater self-disclosure and global (reaches out to many people at the same time), its influence may well be even greater than that of traditional word of mouth.
- User adoption of mobile technologies is growing significantly and as technologies change and become more traveller friendly, travellers are able to share more content on line to the detriment or the advantage of destination brands.
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