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How can travel brands win fans?


Steve Wheen set up distillery in 2014. It’s a content studio that helps “brands win fans” through social media and now has offices in London and Singapore. Steve and his team have worked on campaigns for the likes of cruise company P&O, Swedish bakery Gifflar, Silver Spoon, JustGiving, celebrity chef Eric Lanlard, charities such as Oxfam and Disasters Emergency Committee and many of the major tech giants.


I chatted with him recently to ask for tips that small tourism businesses and those in travel can use to up their social media game and turn fans into clients.

So, explain distillery to us?

We help brands use content in smart ways to find new customers; to engage with audiences and to win new fans. We’ve got a number of content creation services – we write copy, we make videos and we manage social channels.


What are the best ways for a small business to engage with the public and win fans?

Create content that’s relevant to your audience, that sells your product and adds value. Think about the questions your potential audience are asking that relates to you product, and consider ways you can answer those questions with great content.


A great tourism-related example that was recounted at an event we held: in the US, Hilton Hotels set up a Twitter account, which was along the lines of “Hilton helps”. From that account, they’d look for questions that people were asking about travel in areas around their hotels, so it might have been ‘where’s the best hot dog close to your New York property on such-and-such street’, and Hilton would respond to that tweet with recommendations.


So, that’s about adding value for your audience. Hilton saw an uptake in bookings in areas where their hotels were answering questions. Maybe people are asking about what to wear at certain times of the year if they stay with you, or landmarks or restaurants close by, so think about making content relating to that.

What are some practical ways of growing your social media if you’re a small business?

The value of your social media isn’t always about the number of followers that you’ve got, because it takes a lot of time, energy, resources and money to build up a large following and you’re never actually guaranteed that your followers will see your content (thanks to ever-changing algorithms)


If I was a small tourism business, say a hotel, then yes, I’d have to have a presence, but rather I’d think about targeted paid campaigns, that can really drive revenue.


By using free-to-use tools, such as Google Trends, you can see when people are searching for content related to your business. When you combine this kind of data with Google Ads, or social ads, it can be incredibly impactful for your business. For example, searches for beach holidays might go up in February, so running your campaign during February might yield the best results.


Also, simple tactics such as retargeting campaigns to remind people of your service might help get people over the line to book, who may have looked at your site and not completed a purchase.


Following on from that, if you have a limited budget, which social media do you think it’s worth spending money on?

Put your money where your audience is. If I was going after a younger audience I’d be putting my money into TikTok or Instagram, but if I was going after my parents’ friends I’d probably think about Facebook.


Digital marketing is marketing to people so there’s no harm asking your customers what platforms they’re on, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook etc. It’s also asking them what sort of content they’d like to see - what did they also search for when they were researching their break, what influencers or related brand they follow on social.


Don’t spread your marketing budget thinly by using a scattergun approach. Listen to your clients are telling you they primarily use Facebook…use Facebook.

How important is strong imagery or video of your property?

I’d never underestimate great imagery and video to help you get noticed, trusted and booked. You’ve got to have strong images, that’s pretty much expected, and everyone loves to see a video too, especially if it’s a “high ticket” purchase. The video does not need to be a feature film; focus on short, bite-sized and focus things people want to see (food always wins).


To push people down that sales funnel, people want to see the experience, especially with travel.


Solid, trustworthy reviews are really important too.


What’s your view on influencers?

If I put myself in the shoes of a hotel owner, I’d think about who my audience are already following on social media, that it would make sense if they were to be talking about my product.. For me that’s always the best way of explaining influencers.


Everyone is influenced by someone.


People get hung up on metrics and numbers of followers and who’s an influencer or a micro-influencer, but I think to explain influencers to someone like my dad, I’d ask him who influences his thoughts and he’d probably say journalists.


In terms of micro-targeting, you may get that person who has just a few thousand followers but who has the audience you’re specifically looking after and who are engaged, so they can influence their followers’ purchasing decisions.


After a torrid year for hospitality businesses, any ideas how they can go forward and new fans as things hopefully improve?

Authenticity is an over-used word in marketing but I really believe that authentic marketing and real stories are the key to success. Don’t be scared to create a real story about your highs and lows over the last year and your challenges as a business. For example, at distillery we’ve been transparent with our clients and talked about challenges in content creation during Covid because some things have slowed down, and then some things have sped up because we’re all remote.


So, if you own a hotel for example, you could give people valuable information such as a photo of your restaurant and food, and the precautions you’re taking to make it Covid-safe. I saw a great picture on instagram of a hotel restaurant that had placed mannequins in every second seat in the restaurant to help with social distancing - funnily enough it was shared by an influencer I follow.


Photo credits: top photo = Steve Wheen; all other photos = Unsplash

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