Own-brand social media websites like are being tipped as the secret to successful social media in travel.
Writing for Travolution sister website travelweekly.co.uk this week, City Insider columnist David Stevenson, author of the Financial Times’ Adventurous Investor column, said this:
“Last month I looked at the growing number of start ups looking to use friend’s recommendations to power travel.
“The venture capitalists are becoming terribly excited but I reckon that one of the most interesting developments in the travel social media space may be sitting under our noses, namely tour operators’ own-label social media websites.
“It’s worth taking a closer look at websites such as trekamericalive.com where there’s a determined effort to provide all of the social feedback from external networks through a company sponsored ‘portal’.
“The key here is light touch, going with the flow of the conversation and keeping brand messages to a sensible minimum.”
Coincidentally the company behind TrekAmerciaLive, KMP Digitata, was a recent visitor to the Travolution offices.
Unsurprisingly he was also enthusiastic about the website, claiming it is establishing itself as a test bed for other brands within the Tui Travel group.
The site, which encourages pre- within- and post-tour engagement between customers and the brand, is achieving a 60% sign up rate among new customers, Jon Keefe, KMP Digitata chief executive said.
Since launch two years ago there have been 5,483 photographs uploaded and 3,196 forum posts and conversations.
Keefe said: “Tui has realised that new customer acquisition comes from having an ongoing relationship with your existing customers selling horizontally within the peer group.
“TrekAmerciaLive engenders a relationship with the brand before someone goes on holiday; helps them search and understand product.
“People, on average visit 22 websites before they book – that’s crazy. This puts into contact potential customers with past and present customers.
“It allows them to ask things like should I get into a yellow taxi or a green taxi or what are the best restaurants to visit, all of the stuff which if you go to a travel agent they read from the brochure to you.
“While you are away it allows engagement with Trek America encouraging you to tweet and upload comments, photographs or videos.”
TrekAmericaLive allows sign in through Facebook Connect, further tapping into the power of the world’s largest social network.
Keefe said this has created brand advocates who will go on the site to answer other people’s questions.
And loyalty is further driven by offering members credit for future treks through activity like voting for their favourite picture or video.
Keefe said this helps to solve the problem of social media in travel being sporadic due to the infrequent nature of the buying process.
And he said this was best done within the confines of a brand that knows and understands it customer.
“You have got to match the essence of the application with the mindset of the customer. It’s very social media, it’s all about sharing.
“There is a trust issue, there is a loyalty issue, there is a customer acquisition issue. What we have proved is people will contribute year round.
“The clever thing about TrekAmericaLive is it doesn’t seek to rewrite Facebook, it used existing platforms and APIs to the benefit of the brand.”
Keefe believes the next generation of digital natives (generation Z) will become even more engaged with brands online.
The original plan was for TrekAmericaLive to be a part of the main TrekAmerica site. But for technical reasons that was not possible, said Keefe, and this was a blessing in disguise.
“Originally we were trying to bring it into the customer journey and that would have been a mistake because it would have been perceived as being part of the selling process.
“As a separate entity it’s created its own identity, it has its own domain so it’s separate and it’s credible.
“It’s about relevancy – that’s the point of this community. There are multiple conversations going on, not just reviews.
“There is not necessarily a monetary value out of the relationship in the first instance. As a brand you cannot talk to everyone all the time with relevance.”
Keefe estimated it cost Trek America £100,000 to set up TrekAmericaLive and it paid for itself within 10 months.