This is a wrap-up of a Curalate/Skift webinar held on June 16. The full webinar recording is available at the bottom of this article.

Sure, Instagram is great for fashion and e-commerce brands, but some companies in the travel space still aren’t convinced that they should be on the channel. Perhaps they should read the following stats from eMarkeker and MediaPost:

  • 60% of travel companies are now using Instagram as part of their marketing strategies. Your consumers are on Instagram right now looking for travel inspiration. Your competitors are there too.
  • 70% of travel brands are increasingly incorporating user-generated content into their websites. Not only is this cost-effective, but using these authentic photos increases conversions — and Instagram is really the best place to collect all that fan content.
  • 48% of Instagram users use the app to help them choose travel destinations for vacations. It’s visual. It’s aspirational. We’ve all seen those travel photos from friends which gave us a sense of wanderlust and a 5-second mini-vacation at our desk. If your brand wants to be in on that action, you need to let consumers know that you are on Instagram to engage and serve up inspiration.

Travel brands are starting to serve as mini digital magazines and they’re creating massive brand awareness — sometimes more than established publications. Here are just a few examples of travel brands that curate and share travel-specific photos to tens of millions of people everyday. (If you have the budget, these are accounts you should look to work with for sponsored campaigns.)

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Notice that @Wonderful_places (bottom row, second to the left) has a whopping 6.7 million followers. It was created specifically for Instagram — they don’t even have a website!

Brands are also on Instagram to cultivate communities. Consumers are going out of their way to interact with travel brands, asking questions and endorsing them. Here are a few examples:

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Take the Ritz-Carlton for example. A traveler, @heatherboux, is thanking them for reposting one of her photos and said she “loved every minute spent on property and in room #687…what a spectacular view.” You really can’t pay for this type of brand affinity. This is an authentic endorsement that drives awareness and inspiration.

Meanwhile, JetBlue uses Instagram for customer-service outreach, opening up the brand for conversations around operations and logistics. Traveler @moelmiar has asked whether or not she can bring a guitar case in the cabin — and she’ll get an answer without spending time calling the airline and waiting on hold. That frees up time at company’s call centers and lets other travelers easily see the answer.

Now that we’re in agreement as to why travel brands should be on Instagram, let’s dive into some best practices:

Tell Your Brand’s Story

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Airbnb puts out a very aspirational vibe on its ads and social media channels, encouraging people to live somewhere, even if it’s just for one night. So when Mother’s Day rolled around, it asked hosts and customers to tell stories about their mothers. Sure, this content could just live on Instagram, but Airbnb leveraged Curalate’s Like2Buy product to drive people to even more content through the link in the Airbnb bio. It also put the best images together for a touching YouTube video.

The lesson here is that social media campaigns can’t always be about sales. Fans are on Instagram because they’re looking for inspiration and hoping to engage with compelling content. Yes, that will eventually lead to sales but it’s crucial to raise brand awareness and engage people first.

Utilize UGC for fresh, authentic content

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The social team at Conrad Hotels spends lots of effort promoting the hashtag, #Conrad135. Not only do they use it in all of their posts, they have calls to action throughout their different hotels, which mention and encourage customers to share stories about their travel experiences.

It’s added massive value for Conrad. Consumers have shared more than 700 photos using #Conrad135. That’s 700 different endorsements for Conrad Hotels — and they’re organic from fans and followers. Now they have 700 different photos they’ll be able to share on their Instagram account and across other digital marketing properties like email. Think about how expensive and time consuming it would be for Conrad to take all the photos themselves? It would be unrealistic. In this case, fans are just doing it themselves — and they’re very authentic.

Leverage influencers to extend reach and cultivate brand voice

Every brand wants more followers and more engagement with their content. The biggest way we’ve seen brands grow their followings is by leveraging influencers. It’s cost effective, especially for a travel brand. Give an influencer a free stay at one of your hotels and you’ll be pleased with the photos and social media engagement you get out of it.

It reminds me of a project I did with Kimpton Hotels at their Philadelphia property. I took 10 photos over a weekend and posted them to the @KimptonPHL account but also to my own accounts to drive awareness to the campaign. 

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It generated 10,445 likes across a 3-day weekend — that’s more likes than Kimpton experienced in total during the entire time it’s had an Instagram account. Their follower base increased by 13.3% with 200 new followers. It’s difficult to tie the campaign directly to bookings, but those 200 new followers are in the sales funnel and can be marketed to in the future. Also, during the takeover, photos on the @KimptonPHL account received 40% more likes than photos posted prior to the campaign. The engagement continued after the campaign ended, with average likes per post increasing by 65%.

How Curalate Can Help

Using Curalate’s Like2Buy feature, Airbnb followers can book a home just by searching the company’s Instagram feed. It recently shared a photo of an apartment in Stockholm, with a caption telling people to click the link in our bio to see more of the “impressively decorated space.” Now followers are one click away from booking a stay in that Airbnb. They can go from the point of discovery to the point of purchase that fast.

Plus, Airbnb can track conversions and bookings from Instagram. Which locations are garnering the most interest? Which photos get clicked most? Now the company can leverage those insights to figure out how to feature the most-clicked images in future marketing campaigns, in email marketing or even in advertisements.

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When people travel, they’re very likely to brag about it on Instagram. It’s sort of engrained in the millennial mindset that nothing really happens unless it’s posted to Instagram. There are a ton of consumers who are going out of their way to show awesome content and tell the story about their travel experience. Curalate makes it very easy for brands to leverage all that content and bring those stories into the e-commerce experience. Curalate makes it very easy to find this content, get permission to use it, then easily integrate it into the e-commerce experience.

Curalate can also help you optimize content around blogger relationships. Many brands are working with bloggers and affiliates to take photos, share them to Instagram and eventually share them to the influencer’s blog. It looks good on social but on the influencer’s blog, it’s just a photo with a bunch of hyperlinks underneath — not very pretty.

With Curalate’s Reveal, that blogger can have actionable photos on their blog. Here’s an example from Nomadic Matt, with three links embedded into a photo. (Notice that it’s done in a way that doesn’t ruin the user experience and keeps the visual appeal live.)

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Listen to the entire webinar here: