Using a combination of social media mentions and word-of-mouth conversations among consumers, data and analytics company Engagement Labs has identified the top-performing online travel brands.

TripAdvisor came out on top, followed in the rankings by Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline.com and Orbitz.

In order to rank the brands, Engagement Labs used its proprietary TotalSocial data, which combines offline conversations and social media conversations. CEO and director Ed Keller said that what consumers discuss online tends to be different from what they discuss offline, making it important to measure both.

"We kind of think about an image of an iceberg," he said. "Social media is the visible tip of the iceberg. Just beneath the surface is word-of-mouth, and if you don't know both, you run the risk of running aground, not realizing there's something big and important under there."

Engagement Labs monitors about 500 brands in some 15 categories on an ongoing basis, one of which is travel. Keller said the algorithms and metrics used are predictive of sales.

To track the social media side of the equation, Keller said Engagement Labs uses platforms like Twitter (which is largely public), some facets of Facebook (more difficult because much of it is private), blogs and forums.

The word-of-mouth side of the equation is determined by online consumer surveys polling participants about conversations they have had within the past 24 hours touching on different categories, like travel, Keller said.

Each year, 36,000 people are surveyed, reporting on more than 350,000 conversations. The participants surveyed are urged to think about whatever kind of conversations they might have had, including face-to-face, talking on the phone, texting or emailing.

Then, if participants have had a conversation about a particular category, they are asked if they discussed any specific brands. The question is open-ended and unguided, Keller said, presenting consumers with an opportunity to talk about any company.

Keller said in the case of the travel websites, the brands chosen were the ones that consumers talked about when they reported having conversations about travel.

According to Keller, those were the most popular brands among consumers. Other travel websites, such as Trivago and Hotwire, also were mentioned, he said, but they were "considerably below the other seven that we reported on."

Engagement Labs has four metrics it looks for in both online and offline conversations that contribute to a brand's overall performance: volume; sentiment; how well a brand does among influencers and brand sharing; and the extent to which a company's advertising makes its way into conversations.

According to Engagement Labs, TripAdvisor was the "clear leader" and performed better both online and offline. It pulled in both strong online volume and sentiment scores, with positive conversations about it on social media; its offline brand sharing could have been helped by its recent return to advertising on TV, Engagement Labs said.

In a statement, TripAdvisor said it was "flattered" by the accolades from consumers. The company also said Engagement Labs' findings were consistent with the findings of other research.

TripAdvisor pointed specifically to a Harris Poll study released in April that named it brand of the year in the online travel service category. In that study, U.S. consumers were asked to rank brands, with each one receiving approximately 1,000 ratings; the data was then weighted to be representative of the entire population of U.S. consumers.

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