Why social search is a step change for travel influencer marketing



Charles Scowsill


The sun’s finally out and thoughts are turning towards summer adventures. Even amid a cost-of-living crisis, many people are still looking to spend on those big memorable moments, but they want help to splash the cash on the right holiday for them.

The travel agent and holiday brochure have long since been surpassed by Google when it comes to finding holiday inspiration, but there’s an increasingly important new kid on the holiday apartment block – social search.

And it’s easy to see why. Sharing holiday snaps, experiences and recommendations have been part of friends and family discourse since holidays became a thing. People listen attentively to those who have travelled to destinations before them, actively wanting to be influenced. Which means that, more than almost any other sector, travel influencer posts have evolved in what feels like an organic and authentic way. Indeed, recent research shows that one in three people are turning to social media for travel inspiration.

So travel companies just need to post great photos and videos on social channels right? Wrong. The real answer lies in effectively deploying influencer marketing, to better replicate that friends and family discourse of old, so this should be an increasingly integral part of every travel company’s media mix.

But how can travel brands best use influencer marketing to ensure they are maximising the potential of social search and building brand awareness?

Firstly, it’s all about the platform. In the West we turn to Google and search ‘Best boutique hotels in….’ and get 100s of text responses. But, imagine a world in which Google displays search results through video, not text. Highly engaging, 30-second videos, summarising the valuable information of thousands of articles and hours of research. Travellers would have access to destinations, itineraries, activities, promotions, hidden gems – all at their fingertips in one short video.

This alternative Google would transform the travel and tourism landscape. But that’s not how Google works. However, search has evolved differently elsewhere.

Chinese social media is restricted to the mainland and this isolation has seen it evolve in a different direction to the rest of the world. China’s number one search engine, Douyin, responds to any question with a short form video, summarising information from thousands of articles and hours of research. The format was so successful, it decided to launch an international sister platform you may have heard of – TikTok.

In its infancy, TikTok was a collage of dancing teens and memes. TikTok has now matured, and it’s data-driven cutthroat algorithm that presents consumers with the most engaging videos on the platform each day, offers a valuable medium through which to attract tourists.

In fact, 40% of Gen Z, turn to TikTok before a traditional search engine. If this is how so many young people now search, travel brands seeking out this audience need to adapt so they are served up in this form of search. Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat have all integrated TikTok’s features, so much so that they are often accused of developing into “TikTok clones”.

The more a user searches for travel destinations on TikTok, the more the algorithm will flood their “for you” page with the hottest destinations as judged by user engagement. The initial search opens the floodgates for relevant content that can feed someone’s travel desires. In this respect, TikTok is more sophisticated and captivating than any traditional search engine.

If TikTok is the travel broadcaster, influencers are the journalists. They can enhance a brand’s positioning, trust, and improve its visibility. Now that 77% of the TikTok demographic find travel inspiration from TikTok, 49% of them have booked a trip. TikTok is here to stay and marketers need to pay close attention. Japan, South Korea and France are fantastic destination examples, with a rich portfolio of influencer-led TikTok and Youtube content centred around hero itineraries and locations with a clear cultural identity.

The recent news that TikTok has partnered with ReachTV, to showcase TikTok content on airports around the world highlights the synergy between the platform and the travel industry. Here is a captive audience in holiday mode killing time by watching TikTok content broadcast directly to them. For tourism boards and travel companies, this represents a golden opportunity to spend hyper-targeted marketing pounds.

There are no “accidents” on social media anymore, the algorithms are too refined towards engagement. The social search features of TikTok and Youtube are the undisputed champions of social platforms, so marketers must activate influencers to populate these search function results.

During this cost of living crisis, people may be travelling less, but they will be travelling. Where? Wherever they search. What results will pop up? That’s up to you.


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