How to grow your business through social media
An article written by, David Armstrong, CEO of travel search platform, HolidayPirates.
Today’s society, and how we choose to communicate, now dictates the way all of us run our businesses. As entrepreneurs and business owners, we no longer have a choice over whether we actively play the social media game; the question now is how well can we play it.
HolidayPirates, as an organisation, has social media running through its veins. Since our foundation in 2011 we have grown into the world's largest online travel community with 9.3 million Facebook fans. At the time of publication this number is increasing by 4.25 fans per minute.
There are a number of reasons for how and why we grew so quickly on social media, but one of them is due to our target audience; Millennials. In the travel industry, it has become necessary to know exactly how to communicate with Generation Y, and in our digital world, this communication happens almost entirely online.
According to IMRG, online travel sales in the UK increased by 16% in 2016 to £130bn, a trend that is evident worldwide. In our experience, traditional marketing techniques are no longer effective on Millennials. They grew up in a tsunami of advertising, making them sceptical about promotional material of any kind. It has become clear to us that they are infinitely more likely to listen to recommendations from their friends and independent reviewers on social media, than to be influenced by obvious marketing material. Embracing this behaviour requires us to be unconventional in our approach to attracting the Millennial crowd. We have to put our customers first, because if we don't, as a social media-driven company, we will receive negative comments that will be out there in public. It's like a self-regulating system. If we were to do something tasteless or post a deal that's uninspiring, they will let us know immediately on our Facebook page or on other social media channels, such as Twitter. This transparency helps us and our customers, making sure that we really try to do the very best for them.
One of the strongest arguments for growing your business predominantly via social media is the huge budget issue that many startups face when it comes to marketing. A common trend for startups is to use their Series A funding directly for traffic acquisition and most commonly via Google AdWords. This creates a vicious circle for most players, and they see themselves caught in a Google AdWords trap: they have to pour in more and more money in order to get traffic, and if you stop putting the money in, you end up with less traffic and thus, little or no growth.
The story of HolidayPirates is a perfect example of how you can use social media to overcome this problem. We decided to attempt to grow without VC money so that we could keep maximum autonomy, but this meant that we also had to find other ways to finance our growth. During this process we found that social media was a great way to build the brand sustainably.
The most important revelation for us, and what many startups still don't understand, was that you can really build trust in your brand via social media if you invest time in authentic content.
Don't be tempted to just post random deals or products because you have them in stock and need to sell them. The conversion rate and sustainability of our traffic keeps improving because people are in touch with our brands more or less on a daily basis, via their News Feed on Facebook or through WhatsApp messages, Facebook Messenger chats or app push notifications that they've specifically signed up for.
As for us, we don't spend a single penny on Google AdWords to acquire traffic. Instead, our team is constantly searching for awesome value-for-money travel deals – often things that people aren't looking for – and publish them on our blog and social media spaces inspiring our followers to potentially book them. That's how we grew and continue to grow on social media, because the deals we find are so unique that people naturally like and share them. A single ‘like’ on a Facebook page or a WhatsApp subscription has infinitely more longevity than a click after a Google search as the user is somewhat locked in to the brand, and we aim to keep them there with authentic content on a regular basis. As a result, the content we post is rated as highly relevant by Facebook and other platforms, providing us with great organic reach on social media.
In a nutshell, you need your brand to be popular on social media. However, it is key to find an equilibrium between popularity and business. We strive to post a well practiced mix of highly authentic travel deals and relevant travel-related content. You need to be able to mix the more fun side that attracts virality with the serious and informative side that increases the reputation of your business in order to keep your fans clicking and spreading the word.