There is a Chinese proverb about traveling that goes, “Don’t listen to what they say — go see.”
Visuals have always been key in the travel industry, so it isn’t a surprise that Instagram is now one of the top five travel marketing channels. Instagram has 500 Million MAU (monthly active users), with 80M photos posted per day, and 3.5 billion photos/videos Liked each day on the platform. If you are looking for engagement in a visually-rich industry like travel, you cannot ignore Instagram.
With millions of pictures being shared every day, it is challenging to get your target audience to find your content. That’s where hashtags come into play: Instagram hashtags help organize content and track related topics based on keywords, making them a powerful way to find new and relevant content.
Below, we have analyzed the hashtags used by the world’s top airlines to see how they resonate with Instagram users.
We can see that Qatar Airways’ hashtag (#QatarAirways) gets the highest mentions on Instagram with a high level of engagement. However, Emirates Airline has a much higher per-post engagement for its hashtag #EmiratesAirline (288 engagements/post, as compared with 170 for Qatar Airways).
What Is Working for These Brands?
Emirates Airline uses two hashtags – #HelloTomorrow and #EmiratesAirline. Only #EmiratesAirline was used for this report, since we tracked only branded hashtags for all the airlines.
Emirates has consistently been ranked among the top airlines in the world. They were the second airline (after Singapore Airlines) to fly the world’s largest passenger airliner, the Airbus A380, which is a much-discussed topic among frequent flyers and aviation geeks. Emirates understands that, and has made sure to tag this energetic chunk of the audience so that they find the content easily through other relevant hashtags that the airline used in the photo’s comments.
The brand’s engaging tone and beautiful images resonate with customers. Its strategy to use the hashtag in the photo, along with other popular hashtags, ensures that this content will reach the right audience, making it the most engaging post for the brand in the data period and driving the peak on Aug 19th.
While Emirates Airline has not used any influencers directly to generate engagement on Instagram, the airline has used its partnership with the LA Dodgers to very creatively drive conversations. They have painted one of their planes in the Dodgers colors, and shared a video taken by an avid aviation enthusiast, SpeedbirdHD.
This brand nails a few important elements of Instagram marketing in one post, partnering with/mentoring influencers, posting a video, and sharing user-generated content.
Qatar Airways also uses two hashtags on Instagram (#GoingPlacesTogether and #QatarAirways). We only tracked #QatarAirways, since, again, we looked only at the branded hashtags for all the airlines in this report.
The brand itself posted eight times in the data period. Four of these were re-grams from other users.
Two posts from the same influencer, Elena Pegas, with the airline’s hashtag, resulted in a peak in engagement on Aug 22nd. The pictures that Elena Pegas posted are great visuals for the lifestyle and comfort all airline users aspire to in their flight.
If Qatar Airways does not already partner with Elena Pegas, these are great opportunities for a brand to engage with their most active, impression-driving users to gain broader reach for their current and future campaigns.
While Cathay Pacific has not been very active on Instagram (they released just one post with the hashtag in this data period), their hashtag has generated a high number of mentions. Most engaging posts for their hashtag #cathaypacific have come from Lichipan, a lifestyle blogger, and TheOutbound, a travel and adventure site which posted 9 out of the 10 top-engaging posts for #cathaypacific.
Re-gramming these posts could prove to be a great strategy for Cathay Pacific to source awesome visuals for the brand’s hashtag #cathaypacific. If someone follows Cathay Pacific on Instagram, they miss the opportunity to see this content, unless it is also shared by the brand.
Cathay Pacific sent out just one post in this data period with their branded hashtag, which was a repost from food curator @inijie.
Lessons for Your Brand
Here a few things these airlines get right.
Share User-Generated Content (UGC): With credits to the original poster: Almost all these airlines are using content shared by their followers. UGC has become very important in today’s marketing space. It has the potential to convey something positive about a brand without any cost involved, and it goes way beyond simple brand impressions. It also helps create an engaged audience as customers trust and remember user-generated content a lot more than they trust traditional media.
Partner With Influencers to Share Content: Get creative about using those partnerships. Emirates’ strategy to paint one of their planes in the Dodgers’ colors and tag #LADodgers in the video drives engagement, not just with Dodgers fans, but aviation enthusiasts as well. This engages a much wider audience.
Post a Mix of Photos and Videos: With 500 million MAU’s, Instagram is an effective platform for engaging users, not just with photos, but also with videos. This is an opportunity for brands to create short stories around their brands and connect more closely with customers. Especially in the travel industry, this provides great potential for creating more immersive experiences for audiences.
Both Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways have posted videos showcasing the A380s in their fleet.
Post Regularly: Customers have so many distractions on social. Our attention spans are becoming shorter every day. It is important to keep your followers engaged often enough so that your brand stays top-of-mind. Emirates Airline posts almost daily to get and keep their audience’s attention.
Selling An Experience: Travel is an experience, not a product. It is very important that travel brands use Instagram to make customers feel a connection with their brand’s interests and attitudes, so that they are inspired and motivated to make it a part of their lifestyle. Emirates Airline used this strategy in their posts.
While it is important for brands to spotlight stunning images on Instagram, it is even more important for brands to highlight their connection to the image. For example, Cathay Pacific’s hashtag is being used in some awesome content, but they somehow do not connect the brand and the image content. The brand could re-post this content on Instagram to help create a connection between the brand and image content.
Use Hashtags with Themes to Reach a Wider Audience: Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Turkish Airlines all use two hashtags. While most use both hashtags in most of their Instagram posts, Turkish Airlines does a great job of posting themed content with different hashtags.
When Turkish Airlines is talking about flying, it uses #TKmoments.
When Turkish Airlines is discussing a beautiful destination, it uses #Widenyourworld for a more inclusive and immersive experiences for its audience.
Both the hashtags drive high engagement. It’s a great strategy to not look very commercially-driven and yet add value to your Instagram feed for your followers.
Own a Hashtag for Enhanced Measurement: One thing to note here is that, when we decide to use hashtags which are not branded, it is important to understand why. If the idea is just to stream content for a theme, say #lifewelltravelled (Cathay Pacific) or #GoingPlacesTogether(Qatar Airways), it’s great to use a popular hashtag. But if the idea is to drive branding with the hashtag, the hashtag needs to be relevant to your brand: specific, unique, simple, and easily discoverable. Though not related to this industry, Lululemon, a fitness brand, shows a great strategy behind their hashtag #thesweatlife. This hashtag is relevant to their industry, unique, and simple enough to remember for social users to deploy organically.
Which other Instagram hashtag strategies do you think work well for brands? Leave us a comment below.