Social networks have been quite successful in capturing the attention of consumers online. As the level of interaction consumers have with this group of sites continues to grow, the opportunity for travel marketers to leverage these sites to drive brand awareness grows as well. Moreover, social networks are becoming increasingly well-positioned to drive traffic to brands in the online travel industry. From February 2008 to February 2009, the number of total monthly visits to social networking sites jumped 60%; just over 2.5 billion visits were made to social networking sites in February 2009.
As the volume of visits to social networks grows, it is not surprising that many online travel sites are experiencing increased traffic coming from this segment. We find first that the share of referrals from social networks to hotel websites is growing rapidly (up 151% since February 2008). Indeed, a similar trend (with respect to social networks’ share of referrals) exists for many other segments within and outside of the online travel industry. The more interesting finding is that the conversion rate of the referrals from social networks to hotel websites exhibits a similar growth trend, growing 98% year over year. Taken together, these findings indicate that social networks are increasingly a source of in-market traffic for hoteliers.
To be sure, as the role of social networks as a traffic source for the online travel industry continues to rise, the opportunity for savvy marketers to tap into the potential of these sites to generate incremental business value also grows. Competitive digital intelligence is a great tool for travel marketers in this respect and can be used to analyze which social networks resonate with a particular brand and to assess the conversion performance of social network referrals at competing brands to discover unexploited opportunities. It can also be used to investigate brand shopper engagement with various social networking features to ascertain which features and functionalities would align with a brand’s own social media implementations.