We all know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and that’s saying a lot in an age where we often limit our communications to 140 characters or less, including hashtags.
Evidence of the written word’s decline is all around us. Texting has reduced the typed vocabulary of the average person to consist mainly of mono-syllabic terms that can be typed quickly and with a single digit. Acronyms have become ubiquitous and numerals have found a new role as yet another way to reduce character counts.
The picture however, that has survived and thrives. Humans are quite visual creatures and there is nothing like a big, bright photograph to get our attention. Today’s technology allows for even the most pedestrian of amateurs to snap a high-quality photo, crop it, apply enhancements galore and have it circulating the web within minutes.
Dozens of social media platforms have cropped up around this persistent desire to share photos, and no snapshot is more tempting to share than the one taken of a sunset cityscape, white sand beach or gourmet seafood platter taken while on holiday. But does this picture simply turn friends and family green with envy, or is it a first step down the path to booking their own vacation? With more than one billion global users, most would hypothesize that Facebook might rank as the most popular way for people to share their vacation photos with friends and family. It does.
In a recent online poll of 1500 Americans, travel intelligence news, data and services provider to travel professionals and frequent travelers, Skift.com, asked a single question – which is the most important service to share your travel photos? Respondents could then choose one answer from a list including Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Bing’s blogspot.com, Flickr and old fashioned printed photographs. “We were pretty certain of two things in the list,” explains Jason Clampet, Skift co-founder and head of content.
“One was that Facebook would come out on top and secondly, that printed photos would score much higher than people would expect. Facebook is very powerful, but I’m not surprised that twitter or Instagram didn’t even come close to second place.”
Skift has established that (in North America) Facebook, with 42% of votes, is king for sharing travel photos and that personal blogs, Instagram, Flickr and twitter fall behind it and printed photos respectively. But this still doesn’t tell us whether the ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ clicking through these albums are swayed by what they see. “I would say not at all,” was the reply from a Canadian female (25-35) when we asked whether the images on her various social media feeds have any pull on her travel plans.
“I look at the pictures to see what fun my friends are having, but when I’m going on vacation I base it on where I have or have not been before and how much money I want to spend. Then I check TripAdvisor for reviews.”
For business travellers, services like FlyerTalk, a frequent flyer community which has a huge membership and tons of page views are still the most widely used methods of sharing information from the best lounges in airports to the best way to maximize miles, hotel points, etcetera, says Clampet.
“I think these forums also have an influence over the holiday traveller to a great extent,” he adds. “TripAdvisor has a very social platform and reviews that people can leave as well as the opportunity to upload photos. People are very active there, helping each other solve a multitude of travel-related problems.”
One respondent to our casual user survey, a male (35+) living in the UK, said that images and comments posted by friends and family on Facebook can sparks an idea, turn him off a place entirely, or incite a mild sense of jealousy. All three of these sentiments suggest that Facebook photos might have a substantial impact on him.
However in Northern Germany, another young female (18-25) claimed total indifference to the holiday pictures of her social media contacts. “I think people don’t really make a distinction between social media and traditional media when they are looking for information,” Clampet says.
“If you think about your Facebook feed, a friend might share a story from the Washington Post and another friend immediately afterward posts a photo from a trip to Paris. As a media consumer you see those equally. But consumption habits are changing and there is more social media out there – so we’re consuming more and of course that gives it greater influence. But I don’t think people are making a conscious decision to look at Facebook or Twitter as a place to plan a trip.”
According to John Baumgartner, founder and CEO of recently launched HipTraveler.com, the character of the person sharing an item affects the persuasive value of the post. “It really comes down to trust,” he says. “Yes, you know your family and friends pretty well, but you may also know that your cousin doesn’t have the same travel style that you do and your uncle Jim is probably not a professional photographer. Sometimes beautiful imagery from an acknowledged source can have even more impact than our friend or family network.”
HipTraveler.com is a travel website and online traveler’s community which has incorporated the best qualities of social media services like Facebook and Instagram, the advice you get from popular travel forums like TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk, and the ability to build trip itineraries. Yet unlike these other services, HipTraveler comes full circle by providing every function necessary to book a whole trip.
The site is integrated with more than 30 social media platforms and features professional destination photographs meant to inspire and motivate. The user can drag and drop these destination photos into their personal itinerary and share with friends for tips or advice.
Less experienced globetrotters can choose from a host of pre-defined itineraries, ranked by other users (many of whom are well-known travel bloggers, foodies and other influencers in the travel world) based on their popularity or “hipness”. After their trip, users can create their own albums on HipTraveler and, if they choose to, share it with others.
“We paired beautiful destination imagery with powerful and intuitive planning tools and resources,” Baumgartner says, adding HipTraveler is intentionally picturesque. “We like to say that a picture is worth… a billion dollar market cap. I know that’s a bit cheeky, but users have spoken and they want short bursts of information, that are in real time and are highly visual and creative.”
A ‘hip’ user interface can make or break a new web site like this and Baumgartner points to other online travel start-ups like HipMunk or AirBnB as a couple good examples of concise, highly visual and successful page presentations. Though each is doing well, none of these “cool” travel sites or others in the same arena have even come close to the sheer size of the social media giants.
But Baumgartner does not consider Facebook, Twitter or any other social big social media platform to be competition for his company.
“What we are seeing is that consumers are trying to repurpose sites like Pinterest into travel discovery tools. The problem is that those site’s core competency is not travel and because they are not focused on travel, they have no interest in providing the other resources needed to plan a trip. They are more than happy to pass along the travellers to other sites that handle the transaction. Our research shows that the average traveler visits 22 different sites before planning a trip. We want to bring that down to just one.”