Social Media Habits During Travel Experiences – A Brief Study of the Summer 2015 Isenberg South Africa Trip

southafrica_optAfter returning home from having spent 20 days traveling abroad in South Africa with 30+ Isenberg students in the Ubuntu and Business in South Africa course, I began thinking how different the experience would have been without access to social media. Perhaps there would have been less of an impulse to capture 2,000 pictures/videos and an absence of the constant struggle to find working Wi-Fi to connect with friends and family back home.

According to a report by Deloitte and Facebook (2015) on the use of digital marketing channels for travel companies, leisure travel came up as the third most popular topic among 10,500 social media users surveyed from 12 countries. The travel industry is behind the curve and needs to catch up with the digital revolution. While this study is aimed at evaluating social media business potential for companies in the travel and tourism industry, it also covers the influence of social media on consumers throughout the travel process. One conclusion drawn from the study is “They [consumers] use specific [social media] channels before they travel, others while they’re away, and yet others after they return home.”

Digital channels were found to be a source of inspiration, ideas, and planning for travel experiences, which ranked third in the study behind “friends and family” and “word of mouth” in this area. Deloitte and Facebook (2015) also found that consumer social media habits reportedly “return to normal” while on holiday, but usually do not involve further interaction with travel brands (perhaps an area of opportunity for a marketing intervention). It was also concluded that after consumers return home, photos, videos, and reviews are often shared through digital channels, although in my experience this also occurs during travel.

In my opinion, mapping the “travel process” (e.g. travel idea, plan trip, travel, return home) is essential to understanding the customer experience and allowing travel brands to more effectively target consumers with the right content at the right time. As described in Organizing Around Your Customer’s Journey, a blog post by John Abraham (2013) of the Medallia Institute, “It [customer journeys] helps you organize a customer feedback program, so you can understand how you are doing and take action to improve the customer experience.”

The socio-digital world may or may not distract from the present moment of travel, I decided to investigate the matter by surveying my friends from the trip on their social media sharing habits and attitudes while abroad in South Africa. A short survey was constructed in Qualtrics and distributed through direct messages via Facebook to 30 people from the South Africa trip, 18 of whom completed it, yielding a 60% response rate.

Survey Results

Below are brief summaries of each survey question and responses:

Question 1: In South Africa, how often did you use social media?

The survey showed that the majority of respondents (89%) would access social media whenever possible while abroad in South Africa. Internet connection and quality was inconsistent, but the habit of being “connected” to a social network seemed to remain strong. The following question attempted to dig deeper into potential reasons for social media use abroad.

Question 2: How important to you were each of the following uses of social media while abroad?

Based on a mean importance score (max possible mean=3, min=1) taken from the options “Very Important,” “Somewhat Important,” and “Not Important,” the following five categories represent the order of which social media uses respondents found most important:

Rank Category Mean
1 Checking in with family 2.78
2 Communicating with friends 2.39
3 Messaging students on trip 2.28
4 Sharing my experiences 2.06
5 Uploading pictures/videos 1.78

“Checking in with family” topped the list as most important, and “Uploading pictures/videos” was shown to be least important for the survey respondents.

Question 3: Please choose the social media sites/apps you used over the course of the trip (click image to enlarge).


Among eight of the most popular social media sites, Facebook (94%), Instagram (89%), and Snapchat (89%) topped the charts as most used during the South Africa trip. Twitter (39%) came in fourth and the remaining choices were shown to be relatively insignificant during travel.

Question 4: Please rank each social media site/app in terms of overall usefulness during our trip (click image to enlarge).


Similarly to the previous question, the usefulness of these eight social media sites were evaluated by respondents using a sliding scale of 0-100 (averages shown above). Results yielded slightly different perceptions of usefulness with Facebook receiving the highest usefulness score (80.3), followed by Instagram (63.3), Twitter (55.9), and Snapchat (48.2), etc.

Question 5: Please provide an estimate of pictures taken on [your] phone/camera.

With a minimum of 100 pictures and a maximum of 1,200 pictures (excluding my own 2,000), the average amount of pictures taken was roughly 450 per person with an estimated total of 8,100 pictures. The proportion of pictures actually shared on social media is most likely a small fraction of this.

Question 6: Social media was important to my experience in South Africa.

Using a five-point Likert scale (Strongly Agree=1; Strongly Disagree=5), respondents produced an average value of 2.33, which most closely represents the answer “Agree.”

Question 7: I believe social media enhances travel experiences.

With the same method as the previous question, the importance of social media was presented to travel experiences in general. Respondents produced an average value of 2.28, again most closely representing the answer “Agree.”

Key Takeaways

  • Social media is perceived as important for communication while traveling
  • Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are most used, however, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are perceived as most useful while traveling
  • Respondents agreed that social media is important to the experience in South Africa and believe that it enhances travel experiences in general


Abraham, J. (2013, April 25). “Organizing Around Your Customer’s Journey” [Web log post]. Medallia – The CEM Blog. Retrieved from

McCabe, L., Jennings, S., Weissenberg, A., & Murali, R. (2015). Social? That’s for consumers. For travel companies, social media means business. Deloitte and Facebook. Retrieved from

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