Does Social Media Influence Consumer Choice?

Does the content of social media really influence the choices made by active travelers, Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of the Ypartnership, a major industry research firm, asks in the November edition of his Insights commentary. He believes the question is a source of spirited debate among marketers of travel services and offers insights in his e-newsletter that could help practitioners make the call.

“Social media are the rage among marketers of travel services. And for good reason: there has never been an easier, more interactive way to reach and engage large audiences who maintain similar interests at such a modest cost," Yesawich says. "That’s precisely why social media have captured the imagination of marketers who are now experimenting with novel ways to ‘join the conversation’ and, where appropriate, try to sell something in the process,”

“The theoretical “reach” of social media does, in fact, boggle the mind: Facebook alone now boasts in excess of 500,000,000 members globally. The incidence of adults who report posting on other popular sites pales by comparison. But to what extent do active travelers visit these sites, consult the content of these sites when evaluating travel service options and, perhaps most importantly, report that the content of what they find on these sites influences their actual behavior?”

The answers, Yesawich says, are revealed in the Ypartnership’s 2010 Portrait of American Travelers, and may surprise many in the travel industry.

Among all active travelers in the U.S. (those who took at least one trip that required overnight accommodations during the previous 12 months), just under half (an estimated 46%) have a page posted on a social site. Facebook has achieved the highest rate of market penetration (91%), followed by LinkedIn (24%) and MySpace (23%).

“But, theoretical reach doesn’t necessarily translate into influence, particularly when it comes to commercial communications,” Yesawich reports. "In three separate national surveys conducted by Ypartnership, fewer than one in ten active travelers reported the content to which they have been exposed on social sites has had any significant influence on their final choice of a destination or travel service supplier.”

Only 6 percent have made a destination or travel supplier selection based primarily on information or feedback from a social networking site, Ypartnership research shows.

“One is left wondering why. And the answer probably derives from two additional insights," Yesawich says. "First, when asked about their primary motivations for the use of social media, active travelers cite the expected: a new and novel way to stay in touch with old friends, to find and make new ones, and to share information, photos and other content about life events. Very few, if any, mention activities of a commercial nature such as sourcing good deals, comparison shopping for products and services, and the like."

Second, Yesawich says, “the perceived credibility of the content of social media is low relative to the degree of credibility ascribed to other sources of information travelers typically consult when making destination and travel service supplier decisions.”

This is demonstrated by the percentage of active travelers who are “very/extremely” confident in the information they receive from the media sources listed along the Ypartnership’s “credibility continuum.” Family and friends (81%) top the credibility continuum, while online agents score 54 percent and travel agents 46 percent, the research shows. In contrast, Facebook/Twitter score 19 percent.

Yesawich’s conclusion: “The true power of social media derives from their ability to reach large numbers of travelers who share some common affinity in an engaging and dynamic way. Traditional sources of information about destinations and travel service suppliers appear to continue to exert greater influence over consumer choice, however, even though their reach is generally substantially less and the composition of the audiences they deliver tends to be more diffuse.”

“But, it is important to append this statement with the following caveat: this is true today, but may not be tomorrow. Whether and how the influence of social media on travelers’ actual behavior grows may be an entirely different question two years from now given the rapidly evolving nature of the manner in which consumers are discovering and engaging with its content,” Yesawich says. Visit

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