Social media in the travel industry - who is getting it right?

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Twitter is an incredibly useful tool for marketers, bloggers and companies alike, but no industry has quite the potential to maximise the benefit like travel. We browse the platform for inspiration, use it to get the best deals or connect with others travelling to the same place and even use it to resolve problems with our bookings or the service we've received.

Despite this, many travel companies have been late to the party and have reacted after a fashion to the need for a better Twitter strategy through customer and potential client demand. Now, many businesses with a travel element to them can be found on the social media platform, and those that aren’t are missing a trick.

With so many voices from the travel industry to be found on Twitter, which companies are getting it right and which ones are simply twittering away without much purpose? We take a look at this corner of the social media world and see the pitfalls and the triumphs that can be experienced while travelling through cyberspace.

Resolving issues on social media - are travel companies getting it right?

Sometimes things go wrong. We don't want them to, but they do. In these situations it is often how a company deals with the problem that affects our opinion of them in the long-run, not the issue in the first place.

In this day and age, people's time is valuable and there is likely to be a feeling of dread at having to call a firm in order to sort out a problem. That is why contact through social media is increasingly popular and many organisations know this.

One area where businesses are starting to use social media extensively for problem solving is airlines, with whole teams dedicated to responding to people through Twitter or Facebook.

Case study: experience with KLM

Last year, when I needed to sort out a KLM flight I couldn't use, I went to the airline's website. The answer I was looking for could not be found and a large Twitter icon invited me to get in touch through social media.

“Ooh, a way of asking a direct question and getting a straightforward answer," I thought.

Things started well and a note in the banner said that queries were currently being answered within 47 minutes. Not bad, and it meant I did not have to sit on the end of the phone listening to a tinny version of Handel's Messiah, worrying about how much the call was costing me.

The team at KLM did get back to me promptly, informing me that I could not change the name on the ticket to someone else, but that they could look at rebooking me for a later date. So far so good. We then proceeded to converse in direct messages about possible alternative dates.

“Disappointing, as I had someone lined up to go instead of me, but at least they can help me change the date,” were my internal thoughts.

All this was going well and we discussed the issue over a few hours with me able to get on with my life in the meantime. Until KLM suddenly said that I should seek to resolve the issue with the website through which I booked my ticket. If this was the case then why had we been going along the previous path up until now?

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“Aaaargh, so much for Twitter meaning I could resolve the issue quickly.”

What I learnt from this process is that KLM has committed to using social media to help customers resolve problems, but there seems to be a lack of clarity on their jurisdiction. This means my time was wasted and I had to resort to phoning a call centre instead. Something I had been keen to avoid in the first place.

If it had all been sorted out over Twitter, as it appeared it would, then my experience would have been better, and therefore my overall opinion of the service would have improved. Instead, I was left feeling the Twitter side of the encounter had been something of a waste of time. A good start KLM, but could do better.

My next encounter with KLM

My first encounter with the team on KLM's Twitter account had been one that put them in the role of a reactive participant, but the second time I chatted to them was altogether different. In this instance they actively sought to engage me and offer me an above-and-beyond level of service.

With 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Singapore, the destination had piqued my interest and over the course of a week I started reading up on it. With no holiday entitlement left for the year, it was something of a pipe dream, but I did some research anyway.

Checking my emails, a message came through from KLM offering cheap flights to Singapore as part of its two-day sale. Too much of a coincidence to ignore, I tweeted: "Singapore has been registering on my radar all this week and KLM has just sent me an email about flights there on sale. #serendipity".

Notice that I hadn't used the KLM Twitter handle and instead had intended it as more of a comment to my followers about temptation and opportunities arising. Someone at KLM was on the ball, however, and replied, saying: "One plus one makes two, Emma. So can we assist you with booking a flight to Singapore? ;-)".

I have to admit I was impressed. Although I couldn't really justify splashing out on flights to Singapore, the KLM rep was doing a good job of trying to convince me. Several tweets went backwards and forwards and they even included a link to a guide to the city.

The most important element of the exchange, however, was its lightheartedness. At no point did I feel pressurised into buying a flight, but the overall experience certainly got me very tempted.

It ended with me saying: "Maybe I'll be sipping a Singapore sling in 2016. All booked up for 2015" and KLM replying "We hope you do, Emma! If you need to book a flight, you know where to find us. ;-)". And when I do eventually book that flight, it will almost certainly be with KLM.

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Harnessing the power of the hashtag

Another way that travel businesses use Twitter is to create a buzz around something and there is nothing more useful than this than the hashtag. This can be harnessed for use as a Twitter-based campaign or to support marketing efforts in other areas, either across multiple social networks or in conjunction with adverts run on the TV or the Tube, for example.

How Travelzoo is using Twitter to increase the impact of its ads

Travelzoo has recently launched a TV ad campaign that is based around the concept of the "Travelzoo feeling". This is the idea that those who have saved money on their holiday get a unique rush of emotion that can be associated with the brand. Added impact is given by the fact that the model in the advert goes from sophisticated to mimicking an excited seal.

How Twitter comes into this, however, is through the hashtag #TravelzooFeeling, which encourages the viewer to remember the theme and then apply it to their own tweets. Travelzoo has even taken it a step further and asked its community to share photos and videos tagged with the hashtag on social media for a chance to win one of its deals. They were quick off the mark (who doesn't like sharing their smug holiday snaps?!) and helped amplify the hashtag, continuing to spread awareness of the brand and its popularity among holidaymakers excited about getting value for money. 

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This is an example of how travel companies can harness the power of their customers and a trend to proliferate their message across a social media platform such as Twitter.

So how can the travel industry get it right?

The travel industry uses Twitter in many different ways and has the potential to find even more strategies to make the most of the social media platform. Ensure your travel business is getting it right so that your customers can be inspired, empowered and involved through Twitter to come out with a great overall impression of your services.

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