How Zostel fires a passion for backpacking with creative content marketing on Instagram

The backpacker hostels chain makes creative use of Instagram to weave vibrant stories of life at its hostels, the cities it is at, while building an engaged community of backpackers

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Backpacking is steadily on the rise in India. While backpackers from many corners of the globe have been discovering the country through its many interesting urbanscapes or for the more adventurous, its smaller towns, centuries-old monuments, scenic villages, and remote settlements in hills, young India is now warming up to the idea of ‘backpacking’ as the ideal way to self discovery and liberation.

Backpacking in India is easy on your wallet and fun with friends, add to that the social network credits the millennial generation earns every time they post selfies from breathtakingly beautiful places, it is no wonder then that more and more young Indians are keen on backpacking their way to fun, fame and adventure.

Catering to this growing demand is the rising backpacker industry in the country. One of the biggest chain of backpacker hostels in India, Zostel has been inspiring young people to backpack ever since its debut on Instagram in 2014. The Facebook-owned photo and video-sharing network served as an excellent medium to reach out to the avid travel buffs in the country.

Although Facebook was its main content sharing platform all the while, as Instagram served as an alternative platform, the brand stumbled upon a distinctive brand edge on Instagram with its very first campaign – #InspireIndia. Asking folks to share theme based pictures, earned the brand new followers, from less than 50 followers Zostel quickly jumped to more than 500. And, then came the #NextZostel contest for the launch of each of its hostels and more engaged followership, and no looking back.

Presently, the Zostel Instagram account stands strong at 14.8K followers, earned majorly through experimentation and creativity. “The primary purpose of using Instagram is to showcase the life at our hostels and to convey information about the cities we’re present in,” Akshat Jain, Head of Marketing at Zostel said. “Our focus is not to hard sell our product, but to inspire and educate our audience about the best ways to explore the new Zostel cities.”

“You can truly engage with your audience and the backpacker community and ask them to spread your message among their followers only if the posts are true to the idea behind traveling and not a blatant showcase of your product.”

The content team follows a three-pronged guide for the Instagram page: maximizing reach, engaging as many users as possible, and truly impacting the follower’s minds and inspiring them to travel more and better. Zostel shares original pictures of the hostels and the cities they are in, it reposts the best pictures/videos taken at various Zostels as well as pictures by travelers wandering in Zostel cities.

In fact, over the period of time, the hashtags #Zostel and #ZostelXYZCITY tag have become synonymous to travelers wanting the brand to share their pictures of traveling or them experiencing Zostel.

“In the past two years, we have had more than 10K+ use cases of the tag which is an amazing number for any commercial brand,” Jain revealed.

This is what one of the worlds HIGHEST HOSTEL looks like after a snowy winter. With temperatures falling to -40 only few dare to cross the snowy treacherous road to reach this paradise. These words by Rudyard Kipling seem even more truer for the frozen Spiti Valley. “At last they entered a world – a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains. Surely the Gods live here. Beaten down by the silence and the appalling sweep of dispersal of the cloud-shadows after rain. This place is no place for men.” . P.S: Zostel Spiti will be up and running by April 2017. You can make your bookings now at Zostel.com \z/ Thanks to @vishaltharangzak for the picture – Winter ZOSTEL SPITI

A post shared by Himalayan Journey with Zostel. (@zostel) on

Besides, Zostel also makes use of Instagram Stories, either to support existing content or use it independently for short duration content.

The most appealing, however, is the creatives designed for promoting new marketing campaigns. For building awareness for its 5 new Zostels: Chennai, Kathmandu, Dalhousie, Mcleodganj, and Leh, the brand recently embarked upon “The Journey” – a unique, engaging and informative campaign. Users have to book their seat, they will receive a boarding pass, now all they need to do is travel along the journey – by looking for hidden clues and answering questions. Story templates were sent to all the registered participants which they then needed to customize and share.

The campaign has sparked participation with some cool prizes – a 2-night free stay at any Zostel, goodies, and also a grand prize for most engaged person – a trip to Next Zostel!

Now is the time to show us how much you followed The Journey all along. and tell us about all the places YOU would love to explore in the new #NEXTZOSTEL city. Post your “Journey Map” on your InstaStory and don’t forget to mention us @zostel We are giving away a 2-night stay in ANY ZOSTEL across India to 3 lucky winners. Here is what you have to do to win it- HOW TO SEND YOUR ENTRY 1- Download the “MY JOURNEY MAP” attachment with mail sent to you. 2- Put The Map as your Instastory TODAY and DRAW a ROUTE of ONLY TOP THREE (3) PLACES you would want to visit in this Zostel city by choosing them from the list of things you can do. Make sure you put STICKERS/ Emojis/ Emoticons on the names of the places to tell US what these places are famous for. In case you cant put stickers just write the thing the place is famous. For Example, you can write Coffee, To Pray, Surf etc 3- With the auto-rickshaw as the starting point, draw your path on the map and place the respective stickers along with each place. Your last stop, apart from the THREE you choose, will be your new home i.e. ZOSTEL CHENNAI. 4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: TAG us @ZOSTEL on the image so that we can get your entry. #Contest #TheJourney #Grid #InstaGrid #HootSuite #InstaContest #GiveAway #Instagram #NextZostel #Chennai #Travel #Marketing #Backpacking #HostelWorld #illustration #game #design #art #video #hyperlapse #backpacker #india #hostel #backpack

A post shared by Himalayan Journey with Zostel. (@zostel) on

The one-of–its-kind “Insta Story Share” aspect of the campaign helped Zostel garner maximum reach. The Journey is ongoing, and at the moment has received over 900 story shares. The brand estimates a projected reach of 1.5 million users.

For The Journey, Zostel leveraged influencers too. The brand partnered with influencers with a combined reach of half a million subscribers who shared some of the stories, resulting in a purely organic increase in followers and engagement. The brand has earned 3700 followers from this campaign, With over 2634 registered participants, the campaign has generated 289166 Impressions, 15056 Reactions, and 955 comments.

Aside this, the creatives are noteworthy. The use of the Instagram grid for each of the new hostels, has been made  more visually appealing with an artistic touch. Explore each grid along The Journey and come to discover the hostel and its vibrant culture through multiple images and videos.

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For marketers, numbers do the talking; in social media metrics measurement terms, it is evident that organic reach has been the best for the brand. Zostel did experiment with Instagram ads for a couple of posts earlier but wasn’t satisfied with the ROI. Regular interactions with followers and incentivized contests worked better than advertisements. Tracking the positive response of users for The Journey campaign, has been an enriching learning for the brand.

Jain emphasized the brand’s most significant insight –  “You can truly engage with your audience and the backpacker community and ask them to spread your message among their followers, only if the posts are true to the idea behind traveling and not a blatant showcase of your product.”

Truer words have not been uttered, the insight can be extended to any brand in any sector, and the results will follow. Content marketing done right, always reflects in numbers, perhaps slowly at first. Zostel’s content pieces flow along a common brand narrative. Visual stories serve to captivate the viewer while continued engagement helps build affinity and grow its follower base of backpackers and woo potential suitcase travellers to turn into avid backpackers!

Brands looking to capitalize Instagram to appeal to Gen Z, could certainly check out Zostel for valuable takeaways.