4 Ways Travel Brands Should Use Instagram to Connect With Millennials

Instagram, the default option for travelers to post their whimsically-filtered photos, could be a gold mine for marketers in the travel industry.

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By Juliet Carnoy


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With millennials setting aside an estimated $226 billion for travel during 2015, they're an increasingly valuable customer base for airlines, hotels, and other travel brands. Marketers clearly need to invest in reaching this younger cohort, but they cannot rely on traditional channels like TV or radio to forge a connection with them.

Instead, travel brands need to go to where millennials actually are spending their time. And there's probably no more important place right now than Instagram, especially when you consider that it's become the default option for travelers to post their whimsically-filtered photos.

Related: This Startup Gets You Into Spaces That Instagram Dreams Are Made of

So far, the travel industry has been relatively slow to invest in Instagram and other visual inspiration channels because of their overall orientation to direct response. Marketers in this vertical are used to setting up campaigns that deliver a clear return on investment regarding bookings, and of course, you can't book a flight or a hotel room from the Instagram feed. But to neglect Instagram, for this reason, is to miss the point entirely -- the platform should be treated as a channel for branding and inspiration, not sales.

Millennials are visual-inspiration shoppers.They're less likely than those older than them to have a clear idea of what they want at the outset of their search, and this especially pertains to travel. They're also more likely to use social media for research -- planning as much for activities as well as for where to stay.

Here are four approaches that travel brands can employ to increase their standing among millennials using Instagram.

1. Create "Instagrammable" moments.

Instagram is a platform where authenticity rules and regular people's photos have a lot more credibility than professionally-staged branded content. So while travel brands should certainly be posting photos and dedicating ample resources to their efforts, getting visitors to post pictures of relevant destinations and experiences is considerably more effective due to word-of-mouth amplification.

Easier said than done, of course, but it's important to review your assets with an Instagram-design eye. If you're a hotel brand, you could think about redecorating your lobby or common areas to make them more visually appealing for the camera. Or if you're a hiking operator, you could consider recommending a few places for your guests to take photos.

Let the data speak for itself. If hotel guests are already taking pictures of their bathrooms, a savvy marketing manager might think of ways to make the design of that particular space -- be it the arrangement of the soaps and shampoos or some other detail -- more intriguing to generate more images.

2. Listen to your guests.

Show visitors you're listening by liking and commenting on the photos of guests who post pictures of their experience with you. These small actions will go a long way toward fostering loyalty toward your brand. You can also take it a step further and offer coupons or credit to guests who tag your brand in their posts. When customers see a brand genuinely listening to their customers and engaging with real people, it helps to humanize and validate the brand's online presence.

Related: It Just Got Easier for Business Travelers to Book Rooms on Airbnb

3. Hire influencers.

Of course, not all Instagram users are created equal in their value to marketers, and a photo by an influencer with massive reach is inherently more valuable than a picture from a person with 50 followers.

Especially valuable are those influencers who seem to make a living from globe-trotting and posting beautiful pictures along the way. Marketers often underwrite those adventures, and it may be worth it for your brand to work to sponsor an influencer's trip, paying for some of their travel costs -- especially if you identify an influencer whose style and interests perfectly align with your brand values.

4. Feature content around activities.

Millennials are using social media to research travel activities, not just hotels and accommodations. So if you're a brand, such as a cruise line, you should think about how to feature events and adventures, from shore excursions to dipping a perfectly pedicured foot into the pool, on Instagram as much as possible.

This is an instance where you should let data be your guide. The bulk of your brand's Instagram photos should be of areas that are proven to be of greatest interest to guests, even if they're not as aesthetically stunning as other potential shots (e.g., the idea of your cool bathroom rather than your beautifully up kept garden).

So, keep millennials and their increasing financial power in mind. Remember that they're influenced by visual content, especially if it originated with "regular, everyday" people. It's not only less expensive than a TV spot, but it's also bound to be a lot more authentic, which goes a long way with the "kids" these days.

Related: 9 Tools to Improve Your Instagram Marketing

Juliet Carnoy

Marketing manager at Pixlee

Juliet Carnoy is a marketing manager at Pixlee, a visual marketing platform that helps brands to market and sell with real customer photos and videos. She is a Scripps College alum and California native.

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