January has been called the most depressing month of the year. 'Blue Monday,' the third Monday of the year where your woes feel larger than life, has just passed. Your bank balance is running on empty, you're still adjusting to the office after two weeks of festive fun and to top it all off, the weather is awful.
What could cheer you up? Easy: booking a holiday.
The travel industry has two peak booking periods - summertime and post-Christmas. According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) 2.8 million people booked their summer holiday last January; this month, it has predicted that will rise by 525% (12.5 million bookings).
With a wide range of choice and budgets to consider, it can be difficult to decide which travel brands to book with. My choices are heavily reliant on the travel company and how they interact with consumers online; knowing that I'll get a response is essential, especially if I want information about delays or holiday hitches.
KLM leads airline industry customer service with highest response rates
With over 4.8 million fans worldwide, KLM has the largest Facebook community of the brands we're looking at. The 'About' section on its Facebook page states the page has 24/7 social listening which is invaluable when you're managing a community across different time zones.
Bold imagery of KLM planes coupled with short, to the point statements makes their content quick to interact with, and easy to understand - regardless of your mother tongue.
To me, the airline's high-quality images reflect the confidence in its ability to provide a first-class service and ooze luxury.
This isn't everyone's cup of tea though, as KLM's content has featured on every community manager's worst nightmare - Condescending Corporate Brand Page more than once.
Say what you will about its content strategy, the airline certainly knows how to make an impression when it comes to customer service. No surprise from a company that helped pioneer 'surprise and delight' brand advocacy a couple of years ago, by responding to customers' tweets with a real-life gift at the end of their plane journey.
Coming in at #2 on Socialbakers' Q3 2013 list of Socially Devoted brands, KLM leads the airlines industry with a 97% response rate on Facebook. With a page that is monitored 24/7, you'd expect nothing less. Even more impressive is the fact that user queries receive a response in their native language, which has no doubt helped build a loyal and active community.
Thomas Cook taps in to Pinterest and Google+
While other travel companies have pulled out all the stops to attract bookings this month, Thomas Cook has sat back and relaxed. You won't find the words "January sale" on its page; the British travel company markets year-round. This is a bold and brave approach. Bold because it demonstrates that Thomas Cook knows its audience vary their booking times; brave because this strategy exudes confidence in year-round bookings.
Thomas Cook's content is made up of daily deals, vouchers and competitions; no matter what your budget is or what month it is, the UK travel company aims to offer a value-add, such as cost savings or the chance to win a holiday of a lifetime.
Its stunning, aspirational photos not only show off the brand's extensive portfolio but is successful in attracting interactions too. A pic of a palm-fringed beach, AND a code to redeem £100 off your next booking. Tempting? Definitely. Shareable? Of course.
Its Facebook page notches up a healthy 289,073 likes, while its Google + page has a similarly impressive 218,000 followers. Interestingly, however, the brand sends followers on Google+ over to Facebook to take part in competitions. Perhaps it's hedging its bets on platforms.
Thomas Cook takes a very personal approach when its team respond to their users; every reply is 'signed off' with the name of the person that wrote it and a call to action if necessary. Nice touch.
And the Facebook page's House Rules are laid out in a clear, friendly but firm tone. With so many bikini shots, the brand needs to set out expectations about what is and isn't acceptable flesh to be on display.
Even with the inevitable customer complaints on the page, fans of the brand have taken it upon themselves to respond to queries or share a more positive experience. That's advocacy at work.
The travel brand is also building a substantial presence on Pinterest, with stacks of stunning snaps of its holiday locations, vintage posters from days gone by and links to travel guides. It also pins more factual content, such as company results, details of last year's rebrand and new recruits.
With a rich brand heritage to mine, and multiple languages in which to communicate with customers, I'd expect to see more activity on this platform in 2014.
American Airlines leads the way on Instagram
The community manager or managers at American Airlines make me want to simultaneously weep and applaud. Weep because its Facebook and Twitter content is identical. Why would anyone want to read the same update twice? And applaud because it has integrated another social media channel into the mix.
With over 85k photos on Instagram tagged with American Airlines, the company has certainly laid a solid foundation. And that's by posting just 8 photos a month to its 22.9k followers.
The travel brand has also taken advantage of Instagram's 15 second video limit by uploading short clips that showcase life behind the scenes and international locations.
These charming, natural videos make the brand more accessible by adding a personal touch, a world away from the corporate tone used on its Facebook page.
Thankfully, the same dry tone isn't used repeated on the airline's consumer responses.
In the past month, American Airlines has gone back to every wall post, within one hour, with a personalised response. That takes a serious commitment to customer service.
American Airlines is not the only travel brand that's tapped in to the Instagram market. With one in five 20-34 year olds updating their social media channels during their time away, First Choice has set up #AllInclusive. This allows fans to share holiday snaps which are automatically showcased on the Instagram tab on Facebook. Smart thinking.
Tapping into holiday memories is a really effective way to make a lasting connection with your audience and travel brands have incredibly rich visual media to take advantage of.
I guarantee fans will not remember how quickly they were able to book their holiday, but the pre-holiday airport excitement, lazy days in the sun or adrenaline-fuelled days on the pistes gives you a great start to lasting brand engagement.