Social media is an intrinsic part of most brand marketing or customer service strategies, but no more so than in the travel and tourism industries.

The consumer journey now has the potential to start and end on social – from inspiration through to booking – meaning travel brands must create a meaningful presence on multiple networks in order to capitalise on it.

For Meliá Hotels, a Spanish hotel chain with more than 350 hotels in 40 countries, social media has been integral to the success of its overall digital strategy.

I recently spoke with Santiago Garcia-Solimei, global director of social media for Meliá Hotels, about the company’s journey to becoming social-first. Here’s what he had to say.

Aligning to a shift in consumer behaviour

Garcia-Solimei explained the importance of mobile and social within the context of the travel industry, specifically how consumer behaviour has shifted in the last three to four years.

“Roughly 85% of users are actually enquiring about their next trip on a mobile device” he says. What’s more, “about 40% of these users are also using mobile to book”. This means social has taken on an all new importance.

“[Social] is an entry point” he says, “allowing new clients to find out about our hotels, and for existing clients to get informed about our offering. It’s also a transparent platform, where they can see the experience of other users, and the experience of influencers at our hotels.”

Garcia-Solimei even suggests that social is equal to or perhaps even more valuable than a hotel website as a place to research and enquire. This is also due to the fact that consumers use social channels to interact in real-time (when they arrive at a hotel).

Social media is also part of the digitisation process that Meliá has been immersed in for the past ten years. According to Garcia-Solimei, the company is now at the stage where 60% of its global revenues are digital, proving the value of investment in online strategy.

“In about 10 or 15 years, the industry has gone from one that was heavily offline, relying on press and tour operators, to a place where most of our revenue comes from the Meliá website and online travel agencies like Expedia.”

Melia hotels website

Executing a channel-by-channel strategy

As of September 2018, Meliá Hotels has roughly 6.5 million fans across social media. Five million of these are on Facebook, meaning it is the company’s first priority. However, with nearly 800,000 followers, Garcia-Solimei suggests that Instagram is now becoming a focus – particularly when it comes to engaging younger consumers.

“We’re seeing the highest growth (on Instagram), largely thanks to the millennial segment, which heavily uses Instagram and Instagram stories.”

Meliá Hotels also has a presence on Twitter for customer service, as well as using a YouTube brand channel and Weibo in China.

However, Garcia-Solimei stresses that merely having a presence on multiple channels does not guarantee success. Rather, what is important is utilising each channel in an intelligent way. So, core to the company’s strategy is devising entirely unique and specific content for each social channel.

“Our Facebook and our Instagram have completely different strategies, content production, and material. What we do is analyse very carefully who our global audience is, how we want to impact them, and on what networks they can be reached.”

“In the case of Instagram, Stories is one important element, but our feed has a completely different format, and the same with our ads – we have a completely separate strategy that’s adapted for each social network.”

Being a KPI-driven organisation

One of the biggest challenges for companies investing in social media is being able to prove ROI, with softer metrics like engagement and awareness making it difficult to build a concrete case. The key, according to Garcia-Solimei, is to be as data-driven as possible.

For Meliá Hotels, the first metric is fairly standard – it is the number of sessions coming from social media into Meliá.com, which is the company’s transactional website.

“Just last week, for example, we saw about 12% of our global traffic come from social. If we then narrow it down in terms of a region, such as EMEA, that number goes to 16%.”

From this, the company delves deeper into analytics to measure the number of sessions from each separate social network. It currently sees about 10,000 sessions a week coming from Facebook, again followed by Instagram, which averages about 1,200 sessions a week, plus 500 on Stories.

Another good indication of social success is follower growth, which is rising at a steady rate. Garcia-Solimei uses an interesting analogy to highlight the responsibility of having such a large social following.

“If you look at our total audience of 6.5 million, we say that it equals the New York Times worldwide digital subscribers plus 1.4x their offline readership.”

Indeed, this perspective highlights the importance (and pressure) of creating content that is worthy of so many eyes and ears.

Meliá also uses an attribution model to measure the conversion of social media traffic. It works by following each user through their journey, assigning them a conversion value and a transactional value. With this the company is able to gain an indication of the performance of its regions, in terms of how much each one is converting from social.

It also looks at revenues by week, individual social campaign performance, as well as how content is performing in terms of clicks and traffic.

Far from focusing on follower number – it is clear that much of Meliá’s social success stems from its KPI-driven approach.

The importance of influencers

Nearly 90% of consumers say that they trust third-party content more than a company’s own, meaning that influencers can be highly effective for generating brand trust.

Meliá Hotels takes it influencer marketing strategy seriously, using software by Traackr to measure, approach, and evaluate influencers and their campaigns.

Again, Santiago stresses the importance of this data-driven approach, explaining that it helps the company ensure its partnerships are as authentic and valuable as possible.

“We work with a network of approximately 1,000 influencers across all of our six brands, and our methodology is based on developing long-term relationships – we do not just pay influencers to come to our hotels.”

For Meliá Hotels, it’s all about selecting influencers who share the same values and point of view as its brands. As Garcia-Solimei says: “what makes a great influencer is their audience, how authentic their content is, and how it can connect with what we want to express”.

All of these elements allow Meliá to create campaigns that resonate with niche audiences, ranging from consumers interested in luxury, to families looking for more affordable hotel stays.

Converting big data into big information

I finished by asking Garcia-Solimei about the biggest challenges or trends he think will impact Meliá Hotels’ social strategy in the near future.

With data proving to be a big theme throughout our chat, unsurprisingly, he suggested that it will be finding ways to use the large amount of data that is being collected on social channels, and to convert it into relevant information that can be used in an intelligent way.

Rather than treating travellers in segments, he says, it’s about creating more personalised content for social. “With artificial intelligence and machine learning, the challenge is to find a way to analyse all that data with a system-based approach, and create a unique offering for each individual.”

Meliá Hotels has already started on this, utilising a personalisation engine that actually integrates with social. So far, only its platinum gold loyalty members have received personalised content.

Garcia-Solimei reiterates, “to do this on a large scale will be one of our key challenges in future – it’s clear that we are approaching an age where it’s all about the individual.”