“Have you seen those smoothie bowls on Instagram that Natasha Oakley ate in Seminyak?”
It’s December 2016, and I’ve been exposed to 11 travel blogs today. Yes, I’ll admit that this is probably because I spend far too much time on social media, but it’s an undeniable reality that travel bloggers are being put on a pedestal as “online celebrities.” Therefore, I ask: Are fickle, trend obsessed teenagers falling into the trap of endorsement naiveté? Or do these bloggers offer real value in terms of competitive advantage in such a noisy market?
The last five years have seen rapid development in the use of blog content in travel marketing. In an industry that offers so much choice and increasing opportunities for creativity, it’s appropriately assumed that recommendations and “consumer to consumer” feedback are influential.
Research suggests that, in particular, user-generated content (UGC) is on the rise due to its consumer perception as a conversational and trusted information source. This recognition of its power and impact on purchasing decisions creates a significant competitive advantage in terms of online marketing. Allowing consumers to “see” how the experience looks from a real life perspective (whether it’s an Instagram post or a YouTube video) creates a more comfortable and confident decision making model.
However, in contrast, technological advancements have also made market research and information regarding choice more readily available to consumers. As a result, people are not only more informed, but they are requiring a greater need for “corporate transparency” and therefore in an industry where paid-for bloggers and vloggers are on the rise, consumers are developing scepticism. In the past, I have (rightly) been accused as being at the mercy of online endorsement. However, I am now guilty of being overly conscious and always suspicious of paid for blogging.
“It just so happens that someone snapped me with my new Nikon DSLR, when I’m travelling totally alone and I probably would’ve taken this exact picture WITH the Nikon DSLR that I’m currently holding oh so naturally” – Really?
The internet has become an essential tool in the travel industry, as it allows consumers to search for information on products and services, make comparisons, and evaluate alternatives. As a result, the internet promotes consumer centricity, and therefore provides consumers with the option to select and customise their experiences.
UGC is a rapidly growing vehicle for interaction with brands and insights into the consumers’ needs and wants. The developmental trends in online brand communities, including social media, has strongly supported the growth of UGC. Consumers often depend on these opinions and suggestions from other consumers in order to evaluate purchases in order to reduce risk and uncertainty in buying. However, bloggers that endorse multiple products or those that appear to be endorsing as a paid-for service, lose a degree of credibility and likeability, and therefore negatively influence the consumers’ attitudes towards the piece of content, product or service.
It is clear that travel blogs offer an emotional pull and a “real life” perspective, but only when the blogger is a reputable source. It is therefore up to the consumer to decide the degree of trust that they can put into the content and if their word is enough to alleviate all doubt.
It’s December 2016, and I’ve been exposed to 11 travel blogs today. But I am only influenced by 3.
Beth McClements is a fourth year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @bethmcclements and on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/beth-mcclements-69811b94.