Guest post: Authentic social proof in the age of ‘Fyre’

Guest post: Authentic social proof in the age of ‘Fyre’

Mike Austin, CEO & co-founder at Fresh Relevance explores why genuine advocacy remains a powerful marketing tactic that elevates the brand experience for travel brands.

From the damaging effect of Fyre Festival on influencer marketing to the recent ruling by the CMA on misleading online selling tactics, Mike Austin, CEO & co-founder at Fresh Relevance, explores why genuine advocacy remains a powerful marketing tactic that elevates the brand experience for travel brands.

Yes; the endorsement of Fyre Festival – the extravagant party in the Exumas that would never take place – by a group of influencers who failed to disclose that they had been paid to drive bookings was questionable. And the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was right to act on its concern that some travel sites were making rooms seem more popular than they were.

But I hope this doesn’t prompt the travel industry to doubt the value of ‘social proof’ – the psychological phenomenon that people assume others’ actions reflect correct behaviour for a given situation.

When used correctly and ethically, the power of social proof is not only tremendously valuable to the marketer, but also the consumer. Don’t let the recent furore surrounding controversial endorsements detract you from the value holidaymakers draw from the actions and honest opinions of fellow travelers.

When buying something as important – and expensive – as a vacation, customers need to be sure they are making the right choice. Travel brands are known traditionally for producing idyllic, picture-perfect brochures to propel customer engagement about an amazing experience. This collateral certainly has an appeal, but is no longer used in isolation as savvy travelers will do extensive research on Tripadvisor and other independent travel reviews before making a booking. Therefore, sharing authentic user-generated content and feedback alongside professionally-produced marketing material goes a long way.

In fact, there are a number of ways that travel brands can turn browsers into bookers with social proof. Here are some easy-to-implement and scalable strategies that travel brands can add to their marketing toolkit in order to boost sales.

Recommending trending products

You can tap into shoppers’ desire to follow a consensus by leveraging crowdsourced data to suggest trending products. For maximum impact, refine product feeds further based on a customer’s preference – if someone is particularly interested in the south of France, you could show them the most-viewed trips to that region.

Product recommendations don’t just have to sit in product pages, they can be used to great effect when included in emails and the site navigation. This can help shoppers landing on your homepage rapidly discover and engage with products.

Tapping into FOMO with product popularity and scarcity messaging

Urgency is one of the most effective persuasion techniques out there which, when used effectively, can lead to shorter decision making and higher conversion. Travels brands should look to capitalise on this by informing travellers about time-relevant offers and remaining sales volumes for the desired vacation dates. Most shoppers have a time frame in which they will be able to travel so time-sensitive offers can be a sure way to get the shoppers attention and ultimately, increase conversion.

Another useful tactic travel brands can use to drive booking sales is using social proof widgets on product level pages and booking abandonment emails to show customers how many people have viewed or purchased a holiday recently. In order to avoid giving an inflated impression of a hotel’s popularity, when saying that other customers are looking at the same hotel, it should be made clear they might be searching for different dates.

Featuring ratings and reviews

It’s one thing knowing that other people have booked a holiday – it’s another knowing that someone was satisfied enough to share positive feedback. Including ratings and reviews adds an authenticity that a professional photo shoot can’t buy and helps holiday makers make better decisions based on the prior purchases and experiences of other consumers.

Research by Reevoo concludes that displaying reviews on a website significantly increases conversion rates for travel companies – and conversion rates only get higher as the volume of reviews increases. Feedback on product level pages also reassures customers at the moment of purchase, while showcasing positive ratings and reviews on your homepage builds trust with first-time visitors. Included in email marketing, such as newsletters and booking abandonment messages, ratings are an effective tactic to help increase click-through and conversion rates.

Blending social proof and behaviour

The social proof techniques covered above do not need to exist in isolation. They can be blended with customer behaviour to show customers the products most likely to lead to a conversion or to achieve specific objectives. For example, you can show customers the most highly-rated or most-browsed trips from their favourite category. This might be refined by a customer’s prefered destination or by type of vacation.

The principles behind the concept of social proof are as old as mankind itself. Supplying shoppers with tactics such as UGC or reviews seamlessly across channels is a cost-effective way to help them make a booking and feel confident that they have made the right choice. It opens up the opportunity to tap into more loyal customers, encourage sales and drive revenue and growth.