Social Brands 100 Q&A: STA Travel (Part One)

Since the seventies, STA Travel has been helping students and young people travel the world. Content Marketing Manager Ant Stone talked to us recently about the brand’s approach to social.  In Part One, Ant talks about what STA Travel’s been doing on various platforms and how the brand responded to Facebook introducing Edgerank.

SB100: Travel is an industry with no shortage of inspiring content to share, but it’s also a highly competitive one, in which people will shop around for the cheapest deal. How do you strike the balance between providing inspiring content, engaging with your community, and making sure the latest deals are communicated across your social platforms? 

Ant: As you touched on, travel is one of the most emotive subjects of conversation, online or offline, with diverse opinions on every last detail. We’re very aware of how price sensitive our customers are, which is one of the reasons we created our Price Beat Guarantee, which promises unbeatable fares on flights, tours, and accommodation.

To get this across on social, we tread a fine line between inspirational content, and our more commercial messaging. One upshot of Facebook cranking up their EdgeRank algorithm*, was that it forced us to revert to a more engaging approach, with less emphasis on “sell sell sell”. Today, we’re much more conscious about what, and when, we post on Facebook.

On Twitter, we’re much more liberal, but still very aware of our how we come across. Balance is the key, so we avoid standing on the soapbox banging on about how good we are, or our deals. We’re very responsive to trends in the market and on the street, and marry those with our customers’ and business needs.

[*SB100 side note: If you’d like to know more about what EdgeRank means for brands, read Brian Solis’ post on the topic]

SB100: What would you say was your biggest achievement of 2012 and why?

Without a doubt, it was a shift of focus from Facebook to Twitter, which yielded a 470% increase in the number of followers, and myriad benefits in terms of traffic to the site and engagement.  2011 had been a big year for us on Facebook, thanks to a concerted effort generally and a 12-month competition, that took us over the 100k fan mark and gave us a real voice in the travel market. However, it also resulted in a hollow community that wasn’t as engaged as we would have liked.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, I noticed that customers were turning to us more and more for support at all stages of their journey, and so we took the decision to grow our presence there. I’m glad we did, because when EdgeRank bottomed out our engagement levels on Facebook in late summer 2012, we had a Twitter community to catch our fall. As a result, we invest more heavily into Twitter, as it’s a more natural fit for our conversational style. Also, and importantly, Twitter doesn’t operate an EdgeRank system, which really damaged us. We found Facebook less than helpful at that time, with paid channels being the only solution they had, which was hard to swallow given the investment we’d already put into the platform. The bottom line is, I couldn’t justify a five figure spend to our senior team to recover the engagement levels we once enjoyed for free. This created an opportunity to grow our presence on Twitter, and we continue to do so.

SB100: STA Travel is also active on Pinterest and Google+. What have you learned from using those platforms?  

Ant: We only dabble on Pinterest, really. In fact, I wouldn’t even say dabble these days. We’ve never seen the levels of traffic that we often hear about, and as we’re such a lean Online Marketing team we tend to avoid getting sucked into new platforms without a very clear ROI.

We’re certainly turning our sights on Google+. We believe in the platform, its vision, and the opportunities that are being presented. We don’t see anywhere near the engagement levels on G+ as we do elsewhere, but it is a good fit for our brand and I hope we can eke more benefit from it throughout 2013. To do that, however, we’ll need to see a big shift from the UK population and maybe, just maybe, Facebook are providing that exit route for the next generation. Just listen to any 15-year-old, and they are seriously unenthused by Facebook. We are very mindful that those very people will be knocking on our doors in three years time. Whether that same demographic is turning to Google+ is yet to be seen, but the real clue to why we invest in Google+ is in the name.

We’ll post the rest of this conversation tomorrow. Ant talks about how STA Travel uses social media to drive footfall in its stores, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

We’ll be sharing other conversations with Social Brands 100 nominees ahead of the shortlist announcement on 23 April. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

One thought on “Social Brands 100 Q&A: STA Travel (Part One)

  1. Pingback: Social Brands 100 Q&A: STA Travel (Part Two) | The Headstream blog

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