How Hamilton Island doubled social ROI with user generated content

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Social engagement may be a double-edged sword but a pristine Australian island is making it work

Being beautiful isn’t everything but it helps. Well, it certainly helps destinations to build a highly shareable Instagram account. Australia’s Hamilton Island, which was first settled by the Ngaro Aboriginal tribe nearly 8,000 years ago, quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers after launching its page. What’s more visitors quickly began using hashtag #HamiltonIsland to share the content.

According to Aida Merdovic, Director of Online for Hamilton Island the tourism body sees about 4,500 hashtagged Instagram posts each month about the island.

“We’ve been very lucky that visitors have always wanted to share and interact with us,” says Merdovic of the island that was purchased by Australian winemaker Bob Oatley in 2003 and has since become a popular holiday destination.

Social engagement – a ‘double-edged sword’ for travel vendors

Social media has become an essential part of the travel experience, but it’s a double-edged sword. “When travellers share every intimate detail of their holiday, it leaves very little room for surprise and delight,” says Merdovic.

So although Hamilton Island wanted to make Instagram central to its marketing efforts, it realised that in order to constantly reinvent itself and innovate it needed to take a fundamentally different approach. “We’re no longer just a brand telling our own story in our own words,” Merdovic says.

Here are some of the steps it has  taken.

1.  Weaving in user-generated content

The Hamilton Island team is working to weave user-generated content (UGC) throughout its communications. Its strategy: spotlight guest perspectives, allowing their voices—and especially their photos—be the focus of brand communications throughout the travel-purchasing funnel.

2.  Creating a social hub provides a real-time view of authentic visitor experiences

The island’s aim is to inspire prospective guests and build purchase intent with returning visitors. So UGC is now a central component of the redesigned Hamilton Island website. A curated Live from #HamiltonIsland social hub, powered by a content marketing platform, Stackla, features posts from current guests and gives potential visitors a real-time view of the island’s scenery.

Also here you will find blog posts and other content generated by the marketing and online team. Filters for activities, accommodations, events and so on also help guests find the content they care most about, making it easier for them to plan their own stay. Not only does user-generated content reinforce the brand messages through guest endorsement, it also strengthens the destination’s social following. According to Merdovic, this community is made up of over 150,000 dedicated fans across both our Hamilton Island and qualia accounts.

3.  Increasing engagement with live event displays to deliver a 3x increase in engagement

Throughout the year, events are taking place on the island. One of the most prominent is Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, which draws hundreds of yachts from around the world for a series of regattas. The 2014 event marked the first time Hamilton Island incorporated live UGC displays into the proceedings.

Social posts of guests were aggregated, curated, and displayed throughout the week on large screens around the island. This strategy helped to boost engagement with the #hamiltonisland and #AHIRW hashtags. “Engagement with our hashtags increased threefold versus the previous year, and we attribute much of this success to the visibility of the public feeds,” she says.

Social and strategic benefits – and selling the dream  

It seems the strategy has paid with social ROI nearly doubling after launch of UGC-powered website. ROI for Hamilton Island’s investments in social media and UGC are based on three key metrics:

  • Leads and conversions received from social sources

  • Equivalent media value of social mentions and traffic

  • Content production savings

Based on this, the island nearly doubled ROI for social in the month following the launch of our new website. “We have seen the growth rate of guest engagement and follower numbers on social media almost double week on week across all platforms as well,” Merdovic says.

UGC is helping to inspire not just prospective visitors, but employees on the island too. To help remind its Sydney-based sales team of the experience they are selling, Hamilton Island displays unfiltered social content from guests on large screens in its reservations call centre.

This real-time view of what guests are experiencing on the island enables sales consultants to engage more authentically and deeply with prospective guests beyond the transactional process. “The consultants love having a constant reminder that they’re not selling nuts and bolts—they’re selling the dream,” says Merdovic.

So what next? Based on the success and ROI it has achieved so far, Hamilton Island plans to expand its use of UGC throughout the marketing mix including managing competitions, UGC-powered ad campaigns, and the use of live UGC-driven signage within airports in the coming months.

“The sharing of and commenting on inspiring images is a great way to harness the power of storytelling,” says Merdovic. “Through our new website and social media activity, we want to continue empowering people to showcase the beauty of Hamilton Island’s Great Barrier Reef destination—and in return, inspire others to come and experience it for themselves.”

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