NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—How’s your social media game? Interacting with followers, fans and friends on the various digital platforms can help to drive conversions for travel companies.
With that in mind, Engagement Labs has released its TotalSocial rankings of the most social OTAs. Digging into the data can help marketers further understand what tactics are working and how to convert travelers in the planning-to-book stage.
“We know that about 19% of all consumer purchases are the result of a recommendation or a conversation, so our TotalSocial rankings are important in driving all types of businesses,” said Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs. “With such a high level of competition among today’s travel sites, OTAs definitely depend on personal recommendations. Our data helps capture what consumers are talking about in both their online (social media) and offline (face-to-face) conversations when it comes to travel services, so that OTA marketers can better identify their strengths and areas of improvement when measuring the success of marketing campaigns.”
Keller found that OTAs tend to perform poorly relative to other travel brands in face-to-face conversations.
“The average online performance for OTAs is lower than for hotels, probably because it’s a lot easier to brag in social media about a great hotel experience with a photo taken poolside, than to celebrate the experience of booking that trip on a travel website,” he said. “These OTA brands are at a disadvantage on social media.”
The top OTAs in Engagement Labs’ TotalSocial performance are Expedia and TripAdvisor, but they achieve their success in different ways.
“TripAdvisor thrives on extremely high sentiment, both online and offline, meaning that it enjoys lots of praise and very little criticism. TripAdvisor’s challenge is to encourage more people to talk about the brand more often,” he said. “Expedia is faced with the opposite—it gets a higher quantity of conversations while the sentiment quality is more in the average range. For Expedia, the challenge is to give its consumers more positive things to say about the brand.”
What’s interesting is that OTAs tend to perform better in offline (face-to-face) conversations when compared to online or social media interactions. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“Even though OTAs are digital-first companies that function primarily online, the brands in our ranking enjoy stronger conversations face-to-face than in social media. The truth, however, is that OTAs tend to perform below average both online and offline, so they have plenty of work to do,” he said. “Kayak enjoys the highest online sentiment and online influence scores of any brand in the category, which means that the brand has been successful in activating influential consumers online—or those who frequently give recommendations and maintain large social networks. But the brand is the worst performer on most of the offline TotalSocial metrics, suggesting a real need to broaden its marketing beyond social media and other digital channels.”
According to the rankings, Expedia climbed to the top spot and TripAdvisor dropped to the second spot on the list. In this case, TripAdvisor’s decline scores is Expedia’s gain.
“In addition to a decline in influence scores—which is defined as how well the brand connects with everyday influencers who have the largest social networks in both the offline and online worlds—TripAdvisor also saw a notable decline in the online sentiment scores compared to the previous six months, meaning people were speaking more negatively about the brand,” he said. “TripAdvisor faced scrutiny in November after ‘deleting serious warnings from its customer reviews.’ However, its offline sentiment score has held steady, which is generally a sign of stability for the brand.”
What can hoteliers do to increase their brand’s word of mouth in real life and online? Keller explained it’s all about the TotalSocial strengths and weaknesses in advising clients how to drive success through social performance.
“On the strengths side, hotels benefit from offering a physical and highly personal service that lends itself to sharing, both online and offline. To encourage online sharing, they can encourage user reviews on social media and provide branded photo opportunities on site. To promote sharing offline, they should be working hard to establish long-term loyalty and advocacy through loyalty program perks,” he said. “Hotels also have to worry about their weaknesses, which include the challenge of offering consistent high quality in a people-centric business, and the inevitable price comparison shopping that tends to commoditize the market.”
The key takeaway here is hoteliers have some real advantages against OTAs because of the highly personal experience they offer, explained Keller.
“OTAs are tools; hotels are experiences. The OTA relationship is based on clicking a button; the hotel experience is about talking to a real person at the front desk,” he said. “Our recommendation is to invest in the personal touches that create loyalty and advocacy—online and offline.”