Social media maintenance: Sharing Travel Experiences on Social Media

Tourism Experience and Storytelling During their travel experience tourists hear and create their own stories that then, in turn, can be...

Tourism Experience and Storytelling

During their travel experience tourists hear and create their own stories that then, in turn, can be told to (shared with) others as memories. In the tourism system, stories can be produced at different levels: stories of residents (traditions, heritage, etc.), of destinations (history, culture, etc.), of the tourist staff (employees, tour guides, etc.), and of other tourists at the destination (Moscardo 2010). The action of telling stories is called storytelling and has been defined by The National Storytelling Network as “the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.”According to this definition, storytelling “involves a two-way interaction between a storyteller and one or more listeners.” Therefore, listeners have an active role, being co-creators of the story, because they actually create the story in their mind on the basis of the performance of the teller filtered by their personal features (past experience, beliefs, etc.).



Research on storytelling in tourism focuses mainly on two areas: a management approach that studies how travel operators and destinations can employ stories to improve marketing strategies and branding (Hsu et al. 2009; Woodside et al. 2007, Woodside 2010), and a customer approach that investigates how stories can influence the tourists’ choices, and the role played by stories told by other tourists, especially with the development of Web 2.0 and social media (Litvin 2008; Kozinets et al. 2010). In this paragraph, we will focus especially on this second stream of research, trying to understand the link existing between word-of-mouth and storytelling and the prerequisites that transform a travel experience in a story to be told.

Word-of-mouth and storytelling are concepts considered at the origin of folklore, religion, and myth, therefore telling stories is one of the most ancient ways to transfer contents from one person to another (Denning 2006; Sassoon 2012). However, word-of-mouth, as defined in Chap. 2, could sometimes simply concern telling factual and informative contents (i.e., telling others which is the best airport for that destination, or the right season to visit it). In these cases,WOMcannot be considered storytelling. However, some scholars found that generally WOM communication is
expressed in the narrative form of a story (Delgadillo and Escalas 2004). This structure creates surprise and emotional engagement that, in turn, produce a discourse about the tourism experience rather than a mere person-to-person recommendation (Solnet et al. 2010; Fontana 2013). Moreover, the repetitive positive WOM about a travel experience (that includes obviously destinations, travel
operators, etc.) can actually become a “story” (folklore) that can be told by anyone, even someone who had never had that experience (Solnet et al. 2010).

With the development of ICTs in the tourism sector, we notice the proliferation of these narrative discourses on social media; they are travel stories that create meanings combining texts, images, and videos (travel blogs and communities, Facebook, etc.).Travelers can at first listen to stories by other tourists or travel operators, etc. and then perform and create their own. These first-hand stories can
then be shared with other people during the trip and in the post-trip stage, influencing other travelers’ behavior and affecting the brand image of the tourism operators and/or destination. Moreover, as mentioned in the previous chapter, the presence of a first-hand experience is perceived as a cue of the message validity and credibility (Schindler and Bickart 2005; Doh et al. 2009). According to Hsu et al. (2009), “first-hand visitor reports of experiencing destinations indicate that tourists tell stories that offer clues of how they interpret and enact the myth that these destinations enable”. But to become an experience that travelers desire to tell, obviously it has to be registered in their memory (the autobiographical memory). This process can be very different from one person to the other considering some demographical aspects such as age, gender, stage of the life cycle, etc. Tung and
Ritchie (2011) identified four dimensions which enable experiences to become memorable:

• affect, concerns the valence of the experience: positive emotions and feelings are more recalled by  negative ones. Starting from positive emotions, travelers are more likely to provide more details about their experience;
• expectations, a not planned, unexpected event (a surprise) can reinforce the recall of a certain experience;
• consequentiality, refers to the possible results of the trip. For example: social relations created during the experience (e.g., friendship, love), intellectual development acquired thanks to the visit (e.g., learning the history and the culture of a destination), self-discovery (e.g., a change in the state of mind of the traveler after the experience occured during the trip), and overcoming physically
challenges (e.g., developing skills and expertise in a sport);
• recollection, refers to the effort made by travelers to remember the tourism experiences. They can help themselves with a photograph, a video, a story, a souvenir, etc.

Therefore, a memorable and engaging experience can be easily recovered from the memory becoming narratives of a storytelling activity.

Moreover, as mentioned before, the increasing opportunity to connect to social media during the trip, thanks to mobile technologies, encourages instant sharing of travelers’ stories that, in turn, can produce real-time feedbacks of friends, eventually changing “the story” (suggesting maybe new activities and interpretations of the tourism experience) (Kozinets et al. 2010). This concept is called Mobile storytelling that can be defined as “the structured and shared presentation of visual material produced with a mobile device, supplemented by text and/or music and sound” (Klastrup 2007).21 People, through mobile devices, can tell and share “small stories” about their lives. But the development of Mobile storytelling lead to a new interpretation of “interactivity” with a story, different from that intended within the traditional concept of Storytelling. Namely, in this case, the narrative co-creation is not only the result of a process that the listener activates in his or her mind filtering the story on the basis of personal features. Mobile storytelling entails that the narrative is produced by means of multiple social interactions and a co-creation among people generally of various groups (i.e., the friends on Facebook) generating a “dialogue of stories” (Klastrup 2007).

Finally, we notice the development of the so-called Transmedia storytelling that concerns the action of telling stories across multiple media platforms (Jenkins et al. 2006). The narrative structure develops through various languages (verbal, iconic, etc.) and media (TV, smartphones, Internet, video games, etc.) (Scolari 2009), changing accordingly.

The Dimensions of Co-Creation Through Technology

The increasing use of technology during the travel planning process, especially in the during-trip stage, and a more and more interconnected tourist, affect the way experience is created. Co-creation is no more related to a process that involves the company, the customer, and other consumers at the destination but also people at home or based elsewhere should be seriously taken into account. In fact, the opportunity to share UGC allows tourists to be connected with their social network of friends and with the family, being influenced by their responses and comments.

Tourists can co-create their experience through technology at different levels. A study of Neuhofer et al. (2013) identified six dimensions of co-creation, considering the grade of involvement and the social intensity of the connection: social connectedness, social intercommunication, social intercommunication, social interaction, co-participation, and co-living. A key prerequisite for co-creating travel experiences through technology is the opportunity to be connected (social connectedness). Tourists maintain their social relationship with the network (family, friends), even if physically in another place, by using various mobile devices. Actually, this could also be interpreted as interference in the tourism experience. In fact, some travelers prefer to be socially disconnected during the tourism activity in order to live an authentic experience different from everyday life. Anyway, in case of social connectedness, tourists can be linked with people at home or based elsewhere in different ways: from a more light contact based on messaging (social intercommunication) to a more intense dialog in which both sides create and exchange meaning (social interaction). The authors identified also a deeper level of connection between tourists and online social networks that increases the intensity of co-creation of the tourism experience. In this case, technology represents the facilitator media that allows travelers a real-time sharing of what is happening with people of the online social network that become co-participants of the travel experience (co-participation). Sometimes, sharing activity is so intense that people at home or based elsewhere are not only participants but live the experience through the eyes of the tourist (co-living).   An example of this last case could be a video call during a concert that allows people at home to see part of the show, living real-time the same emotions of the friend that is physically present.

Motivations for Sharing Travel Experience

A work of Hennig-Thurau et al. (2004) pointed out the motives that drive customers to spread word-of-mouth online, combining economic and social activities within virtual communities. They identified five main motivational categories: focusrelated utility, consumption utility, approval utility, moderator-related utility, and homeostasis utility.23A recent study of Munar and Jacobsen (2014) reviews the literature on the topic related to motivations for sharing tourism experience and identified three main reasons: individual action and personal cognition, self-centered motivations, and community-related motivations.

Therefore, on the basis of these previous studies, we can identify two main groups of motivations for spreading the travel experience online: community related and self-centered motivations.

The first group is related to the purpose of adding value to the community. It comprehends the concern for others (Engel et al. 1993), that is the intention of travelers to help other customers (altruism) telling them about their favorable experience (Sundaram et al. 1998; Cheng et al. 2006; Yoo and Gretzel 2011), as well as the intention to “to give something in return” to the company for the good experience (Sundaram et al. 1998; Cheung and Lee 2012). Another reason for consumers to engage in eWOM is the need of social integration and of belonging to a community (McWilliam 2012; Qu and Lee 2011; Cheung and Lee 2012). In fact, the level of online interaction and engagement of people changes also according to how they perceive themselves in relation to other members. As stated by Lee et al. (2012), individuals with interdependent self-construal perceive themselves in connection with others and part of a larger community. Therefore, they are more likely to engage and interact with community members but differently conformity to the kind of brand community: in consumer-brand communities, the intent is related to brand likability and interpersonal relationships while in marketer-brand communities, the main objectives are brand liability, convenience seeking, and incentiveseeking (coupons) (Lee et al. 2012). The sense of belonging generated by means of the active participation in a travel community can increase the action of knowledge sharing (Qu and Lee 2011). Moreover, online word-of-mouth gives the opportunity to people to exert a collective power over companies (i.e., criticism and complaints). In this case, negative feedbacks refer to unfavorable experiences and are meant to dissuade other people from buying that product. Customers can have an attitude of aggressive complaint or a more moderate behavior trying to alert other consumers for the risk of that product (Cheng et al. 2006).

The second group of reasons for sharing travel experiences concerns individual, self-centered motivations. Online sharing could have the objective of gaining respect and recognition (approval utility). In this case, customers who post a comment desire to have an informal or formal approval on their feedbacks usefulness. Informal approval derives from private or public online conversations while formal approval is granted by a ranking system that assigns a score or a status to each reviewer (i.e., top or expert contributor) according to the usefulness of the feedback. Reasons of this behavior could be a self-enhancement motivation, based on the need to gain a reputation on a consumer opinion platform (Lampel and  Bhalla 2007; Gretzel and Yoo 2008; Munar 2010), or on the intention to obtain a reward from the operator that manages the platform, generally an economic benefit.

Sometimes travelers desire to have a third-party actor that mediates his interactions with the companies (i.e., staff members for complaints management) or want to stimulate others to give advice on a certain topic. In this last case, the main objective is saving time and costs of holiday planning (functional benefits) (Wang and Fesenmaier 2004). Customers could also have the intent to restore balance to extremely satisfactory experience (positive comment) or, on the contrary, extremely dissatisfactory experiences (negative feedback). Therefore, eWOM communications may have the objective to share joy with other people or to reduce frustration (social benefits). A recent study found that sense of belonging, enjoyment of helping others, and reputation are the reasons that have an high impact on the customer intention of spreading online WOM (Cheung and Lee 2012). Finally, a strong reason for creating UGC is also hedonism: to have pleasure and fun interacting with other people (Nonnecke et al. 2004; Parra-Lòpez et al. 2012). However, according to various studies of Yoo and Gretzel (2008, 2011) travelers’ income level, nationality, culture, age, involvement, as well as personality are key factors that influence travelers’ social media use and engagement.

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