Tourism is its own unique industry, with its own particular obstacles, opportunities, and marketing strategies. In this blog, we’d like to talk about why tourism companies should use social media as a branding tool. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all offer different experiences for users and have different functions for businesses trying to promote themselves. We hope this blog post will help anyone working in the tourism sector to make better use of their social media platforms, connecting with even more potential customers.
Social isn’t a Sales Platform (most of the time)
First off, it’s important to emphasise that social media advertising is often misunderstood as a purely sales-driven platform. This is perhaps due to the general buzz that has surrounded it over the last few years and the relative success some companies have had selling smaller, cheaper products through Facebook Ads. Whilst social is, indeed, very useful, it is usually not a source of direct sales for tourism brands in the way that PPC advertising is. This isn’t to say that the right social activity won’t garner sales further down the line; just don’t expect instant sales from your social media accounts. This is because people aren’t necessarily in a shopping frame of mind when they are browsing their social media accounts. They may be, but usually they are just looking to be intrigued, entertained, or informed.
Think of social media as a conversation between you and your potential customers, as well as anyone else who may be connected to potential customers. Where sales is concerned with directly selling your product to the audience, marketing is often about indirectly grabbing your customers attention, securing a sale further down the line. For the most part, this is exactly how social media functions in the tourism sector — often because the higher price points of tours, hotels, and activities require people to spend a little longer in the research phase before they make a purchase.
What is Branding?
Branding — or brand exposure — is a term that is thrown around a lot in the tourism marketing world, but it is useful here to clarify what we actually mean by it. Branding is both the process of exposing your company to a wider audience and the process of dictating the impression this audience has of your brand. It’s not enough to reach people if they aren’t interested or impressed by what they see. Branding isn’t the same as advertising: where a specific product is usually for sale in advertising, branding is more about promoting the business itself, communicating the company ethos, and how that informs all of its products.
Advertising = Promoting a specific tour on a platform like Google Ads. Its main KPI is to sell that product.
Branding = Sharing images, videos, and other media about your company. The main KPI is viewers/readers/engagements.
This doesn’t mean that branding is completely divorced from revenue — it’s just that it’s usually the first point of contact with a company, followed by sales and other forms of marketing.
Instagram and Pinterest are Perfect Platforms for Tourism Companies
So, if you’re convinced that social media isn’t a direct sales tool, but that it’s an amazing branding tool, let’s talk about why platforms that prioritise visual content, such as Pinterest and Instagram, are particularly powerful branding tools for tourism companies. This should be doubly interesting for tourism brands when you take into consideration that around 50% of Instagram users use or rely on content posted on the app to help them work out where they will travel to next, and that there are 121 million Instagram users in the US alone!
Firstly, it’s vital to recognise how important images and photography are to the tourism industry. Images catch people’s attention in a way that words never will. This isn’t unique to the tourism industry, but the effect of images and videos in tourism marketing is particularly strong. When someone is considering a visit to Rome, for example, they are much more likely to be sold by images of the Colosseum or the Pantheon than from reading about them. This isn’t to say that written content is not important, but just that it serves a secondary function to the more compelling visual content.
You also have to consider that most potential customers do not have the flexibility to book a holiday at any given time of the year. Most of the time, they are simply happy to be inspired by a particularly beautiful image, or an inspirational video, or by any other kind of visual content. If you are entertaining or inspiring your social media followers all-year-round, you are adding value to their daily experience, and this will give them a very positive impression of your brand. Then, when it comes time to sell, you already have a relationship and the customer is very aware of your brand and your products.
Talking to Previous Customers on Social Media
Another thing to take into consideration when managing your company is that many of your social media followers will be previous customers. While many people return to the same resort or hotel, they often don’t take the same tour or activity again. This means that directly advertising to previous customers isn’t likely to yield any results and it might just irritate them, causing them to unfollow you.
You can, however, make use of your previous customers by reminding them of the wonderful time they had with you, engaging with them and inspiring them to interact with and share your posts. Any engagement they make with your social media posts raises the chance that their friends will see them, and it’s your previous customers’ contacts that you are essentially trying to reach. In a sense, this is the digital version of word of mouth, and it’s an extremely powerful marketing tool. Always remember that a good portion of your followers are ex customers and that you need to engage with them just as much as with potential new customers.
Social media is an extremely powerful tool for the travel and tourism industry, and we’ve only scratched the surface with this blog post. However, we hope we’ve convinced a few readers that social media is rarely a direct sales platform, and that it works best when it functions as a branding tool. It’s about establishing contact and making an impression that will eventually result in sales, further down the line.
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