The rise of visual media: Instagram tips and why it should not be ignored

Travel is by its nature a visual business and the fastest growing social media networks today are visual ones. With this is mind Pamela Whitby examines some recent trends and explores how Instagram can work for the travel industry

Developing creative, clever and targeted campaigns using visual social media platforms is becoming an increasingly important tool for brands.

The numbers tell the story well. According to EyeforTravel’s recent consumer report, the most popular way to use social media in the US is to share travel photos and videos which they are doing via their mobile phones. In fact today most people in the US and UK have a smart phone, which is the device of choice for photography because of significant improvements in quality over the past few years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then EyeforTravel’s report also finds that 55% of travel company directors are planning to increase their social media budget in the third quarter this year.  But the question is: where should they be focusing their energy and resources?

One thing seems certain: spectacular, inspiring, visual content should be playing an increasingly important role.   

Of course many people will say focus on getting it right first on Facebook; doing so can increase engagement by as much as 180%.  Then there are visual platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest to consider Today Pinterest is said to be the fastest growing visual platform and the second biggest referral of traffic to businesses after Facebook.  Finally there is Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook last year for £1bn. This platform is interesting for its online and offline communities and also because, unlike Pinterest and Tumblr, it asks that users post their own original content.  Here are some other reasons to look closely at Instagram.

•    It has grown to a user base of 100 million in less than a year

•    There is an online and offline aspect to it

•    It is more widely used than Twitter and people spend up to 50% longer on the network and that doesn’t include editing, image capture and so on.

•    It integrates very well with all other social networks including: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, Foodspotting and Foursquare.

•    There are 330 Instagram communities worldwide and it is growing fast.

Legacy and longevity

Early successful adopters of Instagram include Burberry, Red Bull, Asos and WaterAid. But if you want to see how the platform can work for the travel industryconsider the #myeurope campaign by Britain’s bmibaby before Europe’s smallest low-cost airline closed it doors to business in September last year.

The #myeurope campaign resulted in:

•    67,000 tagged images

•    100 pieces of news coverage

•    BmiBaby being the most talked about airline on Instagram across the world

For an airline with just 14 planes, and under financial strain, that was a significant achievement, says Zoë Baker, digital account manager at the Rabbit Agency, which worked with bmibaby on the campaign.

So how did they do it?  Well according to Bakerthere were several stages.

Stage 1

First it was necessary to set up a feed. There was some serious content planning, images were sourced and set up the #bmibabygram was set up. The creative team looked closely at how other ‘Igers’ were already working and sharing content and then took it cue from that, says Baker. What they discovered was that every big city in the world has an Instagram group that shares interests and uploads photographs. These communities also have a presence on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook but they even meet up in the real world to organise things like ‘Instawalks’.  For Baker one of the most interesting aspects to Instagram are opportunities for engaging with communities both online and offline.

The team then started following other travel influencers and creative sorts (eg.@joshjohnson) as well as developing relationships with community managers.

Then came the challenge. By working with different regional Instagrammer feeds they asked people to create visual inspiration guides in exchange for flights. For example: show us the sights of Holland #myholland to win flights. There was a different route focus each month and six different destinations involved in this leg of the campaign. The challenge paid off. Among the successes were: #myGermany (18,000 posts), #mySpain (8,000), #myHolland had 2,000 and #miItalia had 6,400.

Interestingly some people even continued posting after the challenge had closed which proved that it really did have life.

Stage 2

With the smell of success came the desire to keep up the momentum. So the airline and its agency decided to embrace the trend of meeting offline. They sent Instagrammer campaign leaders in each of the six destinations to other cities for an ‘Instameet’.  So London ‘Igers’ were set to Venice and so on.  In exchange for their flights and accommodation they were asked to photograph and tag images of those cities to create a visual destination guide. #MyLondon had 4,300 images tagged over the course of 48 hours and was featured in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. #myVenice and #myAmsterdam achieved over 1,300 tagged images.

Stage 3

This involved creating a visual destination guide for each destination, country and city on the bmibaby blog which saw a stream of images being updated in real time.

Stage 4

Now the team began to explore further PR opportunities for the campaign. The campaign, which Baker describes as “a world first for its ongoing regional, social and travel angles”, was entered into competitions. #myEurope has won one award, been a finalist five times and had three nominations. To gain further awareness it sponsored the first offline Instagram Exhibit – My World Shared and continued to look for coverage in mainstream media.  To date there have been 100 pieces of coverage.

Stage 5

Sadly an award-winning social media campaign was not enough to keep bmibaby in the air but Baker says they wanted to give something back to the community and also to ensure that the campaign had “legacy and longevity”. So they ran one last competition for the chance to win limited edition photo book showcasing the best images collected of Europe. 

With hundreds of new images still being added each week, #myeurope certainly proved that the campaign had life. The trick, of course, was in setting competitive benchmarks, keeping it simple, understanding how the community works and creating challenges to hold people’s interest. Most importantly, however, in any visual campaign is to ensure the content is captivating.

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