User-Generated Content to Fuel Expedia's WOM, SEO and Sales
A company could sit back and wait for customers to post something nice about its products and services on its social media pages. But why not be proactive and help stimulate and facilitate this word of mouth? That's the concept behind the test Bellevue, Wash.-based travel firm Expedia recently launched with the support of Compendium Blogware, a blog software company in Indianapolis.
Ami Packard, Expedia's director of database marketing strategy and new initiatives, and Chris Baggott, CEO of Compendium, shared details on the launch during a Target Marketing webinar last month, "Blogging and Social Media: Perfect Together."
Because a key driver behind the phenomenon of social networking is people's desire to become what Baggott termed "micro-famous," Expedia set out to solicit experiences from customers who had just returned from a trip to Hawaii. This group was sent e-mails that encouraged them to share their favorite moments, restaurants, sightseeing spots from their Hawaiian adventure. The goal, says Packard, was not to garner reviews of the hotel or travel company booked through Expedia, although the inclusion of such information in customers' stories is not a problem. Rather, she explains, her team was hoping to capture the enjoyment of the trip, experiences that help other travelers decide whether to visit a particular locale. As such, the e-mail provided the audience with topic suggestions (a great restaurant, scenic area) to make follow-through to the landing page a no-brainer; it also encouraged the customer to share a trip photo.
On the Expedia landing page, customers found a highly structured form via which to enter their content. Using such a form not only takes the guesswork out of the process for the customer but also allows Expedia to control some of the tagging to leverage keywords. For example, a drop-down menu for the trip type includes meta tags that Expedia optimizes throughout its site content.
Once the customer input his content and uploaded his photo, he submitted his post for Expedia's review. Using the Compendium software interface, Packard's team was able to review the post before making it live. In addition, says Packard, one of the key benefits of this review process is the ability to add hyperlinks, where applicable. If a post mentions a hotel, particular travel package, flight or other travel service that can be booked via Expedia, her team can hyperlink the corresponding text.
"We know that conversion rates increase as a person gets further down the booking path," says Packard, so Expedia's goal is to always link deeper into its site to improve sales and be of help to people looking for more precise information.
After Expedia approved the post (almost all submissions get the greenlight), the customer received a follow-up e-mail to notify him that his post was live in the Travel Stories section of the Expedia site and to prompt him to share his story on his social media accounts. Again, to help customers take action, Expedia provided links to major networking sites and the structure to easily add the posts to their network updates.
Because this program is still in the test phase, Packard doesn't have the full results. But initial customer response is positive she says, and so testing will continue.
Recency and social influence are critical factors to how people conduct research and make purchasing decisions these days, Packard says, explaining that the social media component really is more important than being able to feature the customer-generated content (a kind of blog, actually) on the Expedia site.
"For us, we felt that it was important to expand our universe. We have a core set of customers, and hopefully they're loyal customers, but we want to tap into that ... acquisition portion of [social media] and who else can be influenced by the people who leverage our services."
Baggott adds that as Expedia gets more and more customers to post their travel experiences to, for example, their Facebook accounts, then the Facebook search engine is likely to favor Expedia content when users search its network for trip destination information. And that ranking will give Expedia yet another bite at the awareness and acquisition apple.