The job? Visiting some of the world’s great cities while posting videos of your travels. The pay? $10,000 a month for three months, plus a $7,500 travel allowance.
“If this sounds like a dream job, that’s because it is,” reads the job posting on LinkedIn by Blueground, which offers furnished apartments to rent for a month or longer around the globe.
A gimmick? While the callout has won an outsized level of publicity for the 10-year-old company, the promotion provides another high-profile example of the travel sector’s efforts to embrace social commerce – both to build brand affinity and, maybe someday, boost bookings and sales.
It’s a move industry experts like Phocuswright researcher Robert Cole believe is overdue. In his recent report Influencers and Social Commerce in Travel, Cole warns of how a changing digital advertising landscape threatens to leave travel behind.
A greater focus on data privacy and increasing restrictions on third-party cookies are making digital advertising more cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, social media’s importance keeps growing, at least for some business sectors. By some projections, U.S. social commerce will more than double from $37 billion in 2021 to $80 billion in 2025.
“The fashion and beauty industries are already far ahead of travel in social commerce, making considerable headway and reaping the benefits,” Cole wrote in the report. “Travel marketers must take note, or risk losing further ground.”
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The message is already out. Travel companies have been turning to video-sharing app TikTok to build brand awareness. As the most downloaded app two years in a row, TikTok promises global reach, especially with younger generations of travelers.
“We’re big believers in the platform,” said Matt Clarke, vice president of North America marketing for Kayak. “The numbers don’t lie. It seems like a smart thing to go where [an estimated 138 million U.S. users] are. At Kayak, our goal is always to entertain, to inform, to delight, and TikTok as a platform does that exceptionally well.”
Booking.com, Expedia.com, Airbnb and others have all made social media an integral part of their marketing efforts. Blueground saw the same potential while developing its plan to hire a summer content creator.
“We’ve recently launched our TikTok channel, and we wanted to give it a boost,” said chief marketing officer Yorgos Kleivokiotis. “What better way than reaching out to the experts: creators that have been using the platform for a long time and can produce interesting content that brings our apartments to life.”
TikTok’s pros and cons for travel
A bearded young man in a T-shirt and khaki shorts sits alone in an oversized airline seat. An angelic chorus provides the soundtrack as he looks right, then left, and smiles broadly while settling in. The caption over the seven-second video captures his bliss: “When the plane door closes and the seat next to you is still empty.”
The name of the company behind the video is tucked into a corner, as if an afterthought. Yet it was the first example that came to mind when Kayak’s Clarke was asked to name a favorite video his company had produced.
“I don’t think there are many brands that are doing particularly well by giving the seven reasons why our brand is the one for you,” he explained during a video conference call. “Instead, it’s the human, relatable moments or just trying to connect on a personal level – especially with something like travel, where there’s so many small, little moments of honesty that you can pick up on.”
Helping companies build those connections is the strength of TikTok and social media in general, at least for travel companies, he said. It’s not like fashion or retail, where a celebrity influencer can rave on a favorite eyeliner or pair of shoes.
“We are still honed in on just trying drive affinity on the platform,” he said. “We look at that as a step in the right direction for hopefully what will be a lifetime relationship with a number of different travelers.”
And therein lies the platform’s weakness for travel. Skeptics wonder if it will ever be more than a captivating sideshow, better at enticing engagement than boosting bottom lines. Even if social commerce in travel succeeds in doubling in the next few years, it will account for barely 5% of total e-commerce sales.
Yet boosting brand loyalty through social media may be enough for travel, at least for now. To Phocuswright’s Cole, the travel industry hasn’t done enough to build a meaningful bond with consumers.
“There’s no such thing as loyalty in travel,” Cole said. “Loyalty programs are rewards programs. They have nothing to do with loyalty. An airline or hotel reward program, all it is is converting [the traveler’s] employer’s business travel spend to personal leisure travel benefit. Loyalty doesn’t have much to do with it. It’s a transactional relationship.”
There’s no such thing as loyalty in travel. Loyalty programs are rewards programs. They have nothing to do with loyalty.
Robert Cole – Phocuswright
At their best, social media provides platforms to display an identity that motivates consumers to pay a premium to use a preferred brand. The fragmented market makes it even more important to engage consumers directly on social media, Cole said.
It also creates opportunities for smaller brands – or even individuals – to make an impact. In travel’s social media world, Cole doesn’t expect to see celebrities thriving as influencers but rather “trusted individuals who have specialized expertise.”
Like travel agents?
“That’s kind of the way I look at it,” he said. “Really good travel agents and destination experts are incredibly valuable. There’s this whole potential ecosystem of people who could really develop inspiration and really activate a lot of people and connect those dots of here’s the experience they’re looking for and here’s how to get it.
“That’s the secret sauce. That’s loyalty.”
Headquartered in New York City, Blueground boasts a portfolio of nearly 10,000 properties in 31 cities spanning the globe. They plan expand to more than 50 cities by 2025.
The company’s followers on TikTok stood just shy of 2,800 this week. By comparison, Booking.com has nearly 362,000 followers, Taylor Swift 17.4 million, so, yeah, the company has room to grow that number too.
“TikTok has become the most popular social media platform among younger users,” Blueground’s Kleivokiotis said. “It is a great platform for brands to gain higher visibility, and also its algorithm aids new brand discovery.”
But that visibility doesn’t happen without great content. The company’s job listing calls for a “TikTok extraordinaire” with the comedic timing and technical know-how to produce 15 to 20 videos a month of “scroll-stopping” quality. The successful candidate will be showcasing some of the company’s best properties while serving as the face of the brand.
A homegrown influencer, you might say.
“Influencers allow brands to relate with a target audience in a more authentic way, rather than talking at them with nothing but brand and product messaging that won’t resonate,” Kleivokiotis said.
With that in mind, he sees social media as part of an integrated approach that complements the company’s other marketing efforts. Blueground is already basking in the glow of a media spotlight over the job listing. Applications close April 6.
“Seeing the attention and excitement definitely validates the idea, and it has also helped attract some really creative applicants in just the first week since the job was posted,” Kleivokiotis said. “When the content of the ‘Resident TikTok Creator’ goes live, we expect to reach a fresh new audience of guests who would be interested in flexible accommodations like we offer at Blueground.”