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Expedia: Bringing #TBT to Life

Posted on December 8, 2015, at 6:50 p.m.
by Kristen Ellis.

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving vibes are in the air, autumn leaves are falling and holiday cheer is all around. In the spirit of the season, I’d like to express my personal thanks for the Shorty Awards.

Brought to us by the Brooklyn-based Sawhorse Media company, whose personal mission is “uncovering the best of the social web,” the Shorty Awards are a gold mine for everything PR. The purpose of the awards is to “honor the best of social media, recognizing the people and organizations producing content on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, and the rest of the social web.” Winners are chosen by the Real Time Academy. For those interested in doing content creation the way it was meant to be done, this is your guidebook.

This year, the seventh-annual ceremony took place on April 20 at The TimesCenter in New York City. With a plethora of categories giving a nod to everything from best multi-platform campaign to best social good campaign, a number of entries caught the well-deserved spotlight. However, one in particular captured my attention: the “Best Brands on Instagram” winner, Expedia, for its #ThrowMeBack campaign.

Everyone who’s up on their social game knows our old friend, the fourth-most popular hashtag on Instagram: #TBT. It’s been used for years now to tag a photo that makes the user feel nostalgic or wistful for a certain time and place, as well as a convenient excuse to post those adorable baby photos or embarrassing Snapchat screenshots. “Throwback Thursday” is nothing new; however, the way Expedia revived a fan favorite and gave it new life through its campaign was commendable.


In order to achieve the strategic goals of increasing summer travel bookings and growing Expedia’s follower count, it leveraged its social channels and began the #ThrowMeBack campaign. Playing off a hashtag already familiar to most people, the campaign was a step ahead of most because it needed no explanation of the point it was trying to get across. Those interested, however, could investigate Expedia’s accounts and easily find the reward for the 10 most fabulous user-submitted posts: a chance to literally be “thrown back” to the place in their picture and the vacation that had sparked those happy memories.

The results “for a small, low budget campaign” speak for themselves:

“-Over 5 million impressions and 300K total engagements (at 92% positive sentiment) with our
#ThrowMeBack content, leading to almost 5K submissions — and ten lucky winners who each got a
chance to travel back to the place in their picture.

-Just as important, we nearly doubled our Instagram following (+96%) over the 10-week campaign, with growth happening at a rate faster than Expedia had ever seen before.”

Why did this work?
I’m not too surprised by Expedia’s success with an already-popular hashtag; in fact, I think this is one of the main reasons the company did see so much success with it. Virtually everyone is already familiar with the concept of a #TBT, so why not build upon it a little bit and use it to your advantage?

It makes perfect sense because people often use the hashtag to refer back to and reflect upon the most important moments in their lives, which inevitably include either those closest to them (i.e., family and friends) or their favorite places — or both. Since Expedia is all about selling the means to get to those places (with those people along for the ride), why not capitalize upon this and make it into a fun, “pay it forward”-type of campaign that does a number of great things for the brand?

It encouraged more followers because they were eager to keep up with the newest announcements from #ThrowMeBack and see the 10 lucky winners as it progressed. It also encouraged user-generated content that could be pushed out and used to further promote the campaign on Expedia’s multiple social channels.

Additionally, #ThrowMeBack increased “good karma” points for the brand, since people likely saw Expedia as a friendly and fun brand personality that was willing to bring back those wonderful travel memories they had from before. By helping people go back to that special trip that they’ve always held close to their heart, Expedia also found a special place in their heart. Expedia is forever sewn into those memories now, too, as the brand that made it possible to do it all again.

The PR takeaways
First, it’s great to tap into something people are already familiar with, but don’t just piggyback off of the campaigns that have already been used before. Morph it into something unique to your own brand that really speaks to its personality.

Additionally, recognize and celebrate the human element of your customers/key publics. This campaign worked because it provided a medium to share important and happy moments in Expedia customers’ lives, and then it actually brought those happy days to life one more time. That’s good PR if I’ve ever seen it, and it’s also just a mark of a great brand run by genuine people.

Expedia, I celebrate you for the stellar social media move and also for remembering to put your customers first (while also still promoting your brand — genius). And thank you to Sawhorse Media and the Shorty Awards for making us all aware of some of the best viral campaigns out there.

This holiday season, I challenge you to remember how this awesome campaign brought the human element of its business to life. As you gather around the table with family and friends, take a moment to reflect upon the power of a brand providing those same warm fuzzy feelings for you through an innovative social campaign.

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