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When TravelAge West featured a cover story on social media marketing in 2009, the story included the following statistic: “social media sites, from Facebook to Twitter, logged 2.1 trillion page views in 2008.”
Less than two years after the article was published, Facebook alone was generating some 1 trillion page views — per month.
The dramatic increase in users and usage should no longer come as a surprise. Still, for the travel agents who have not yet developed or defined their own social media presence, the data should serve as a cautionary tale — especially since travel planning is such an important component in social sharing.
So then, just where should a travel agent start?
It goes without saying that Facebook is an important tool for any online marketing plan. The Pew Research Center estimates that 67 percent of adult respondents use Facebook. The sheer volume of users means that any small business not using the tool properly sets itself at a disadvantage.
For travel agents, an important first step is creating a distinct page for your business. Even agents who share an agency should consider creating their own business page, unless corporate policy forbids it. On Facebook, it is important to keep your personal life and your business separate. Rather than add clients to your personal page, send them to more professional content, catered specifically to them.
The best aspect of a company page is the analytic information users receive once their page has reached 30 fans. Administrators can see how many likes, shares and clicks each post has generated, providing valuable information on what your audience is looking for.
Buying advertising on Facebook is a surefire way to boost business and can be set up with a just a few easy clicks. Facebook allows users to promote a post, such as “Five Reasons to Visit Florida,” or a page, such as “Like My Travel Agent Page,” and allows businesses to target their advertising to specific demographics.
Ad campaigns start as low as $5, which means agents have the ability to test small campaigns to see the response rate before launching larger, more expensive campaigns.
LinkedIn is more important for developing business relationships than it is for generating social connections — an important differentiation for travel professionals who earn their reputation through the contacts they keep.
“My LinkedIn connections are true professionals that I can reach out to whenever I need them,” said Arlene Feen, a travel consultant from Protravel International based in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.
Recently, LinkedIn has started to delve into the content business, and users can now receive curated content, including valuable articles about running a small business. Agents can also post their own content, both on their personal page and their company page, making the content searchable throughout the network.
One of the platform’s major strengths is the massive activity it provides through its groups feature. Travel and Tourism Industry Professionals Worldwide, for example, is an incredibly active group of more than 150,000 members. With discussion topics that frequently cover the best things to see and do in destinations around the world, joining the group is an easy way to extend your personal network.
Twitter gained fame as a tool that constrains posts to 140 characters, forcing users to be creative and concise. All that brevity, however, has generated a lot of chatter.
While Twitter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it does excel at pushing out breaking news. If a client is in a disaster-ridden area, the fastest way for travel agents to find updates is by searching Twitter posts for links to media outlets and other information providers. Agents can use the search tools to find a wealth of other valuable information as well.
According to LeadSift, a technology company that sifts through social data, Twitter is an important tool for travel inspiration. During a five-day tracking period, LeadSift found that nearly 1.1 million Twitter conversations involved some form of travel planning, of which more than 19,000 were identified by LeadSift as “relevant business opportunities.”
A quick search for “can’t decide vacation,” for example, will provide a wealth of information on people in the vacation-planning process. Savvy agents could even set themselves up as a help desk of sorts, providing answers to people’s travel questions.
While this might result in many new leads, it also provides an interesting way for agents to market themselves with implications that could extend beyond the boundaries of Twitter.
Images Are Important Tools
If there’s one trend that has defined social media in the immediate past, it’s a shift to more visual platforms.
Twitter and Facebook have both recently changed their platforms to allow larger images, but users are also rapidly turning to other tools such as Pinterest to communicate in more photo-friendly environments.
Designed as a social bookmarking tool, Pinterest has a visual scrapbook-style interface that is easy to use and has made it a supremely popular way to share content.
Many travel agencies are using Pinterest to create travel wish-lists for their clients and the general public. Valerie Wilson Travel, for example, features a variety of “boards,” such as “For the Love of Fall,” “Destination Weddings” and “Pools With a View,” which all have links back to hotels and destinations that can be booked by the agency.
Flickr, the original photo sharing tool, was recently purchased by Yahoo and rolled out a new, more visual interface. The tool allows users to upload their own photos, give them brief descriptions, organize them into sets and groups and share with other users. Much of the photography is organized around destinations, making Flickr an excellent tool for small-business marketing.
Instagram, on the other hand, is a tool that strictly caters to mobile photographers. Designed for iPhone and smartphone users, who snap their favorite pictures, upload and add a brief description and a few search terms, the tool makes it easy to connect over common interests, travel destinations in particular.
Video also continues to be an important way to share social content, and YouTube remains the top video-sharing website. Interested in marketing to millennials? According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults from 18-34 than any cable network.
Here, people can share, watch and discover the world around them though original videos. Travel agents need not create their own videos, they can just select favorite videos from other users to create their own page.
Vine, now owned by Twitter, is the newest social network to take the Internet by storm. The service, currently only available on iPhone and iPod Touch, lets users capture and share short, six-second-long looping videos. Like Twitter, the brevity of the videos forces users to be more creative in how they communicate.
While the preceding examples are just a few tools that can be used to extend a travel agent’s marketing efforts, travel agents taking their first steps into social marketing should start small, by selecting one or two tools that sound the most appealing.
While all the tools offer easy-to-use interfaces, the key to social media success is frequent, consistent use of the tools you utilize best.
Tools to Maximize Social Media Marketing
The Nimble platform allows users to bring together all their contacts in one place so they can easily connect with them. The real genius is that the tool tells you how long it has been since you last connected with favorite users/clients. $15 per user per month.
At its core, HootSuite allows users to pre-set their posts and tweets on a variety of platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It also serves as an excellent “listening” device that allows users to follow numerous conversations simultaneously. Free and paid versions are available.
HootSuite is a robust platform, but all the information it provides can be overwhelming. Buffer also allows users to preset content but in a much simpler platform. Users line up a series of posts and tell the tool how often they want content to go live, and Buffer does the rest. Free and paid versions are available.
Users who want to create unique company pages on Facebook can utilize ShortStack, an easy-to-use tool for building custom social media apps. A popular product is “Fan-Gating” — designated content like special coupons and offers that can only be seen by people who have liked your page. Free and paid versions are available.
As the name indicates, SurveyMonkey is a tool for creating surveys. In addition to querying your audience for their
insights on a certain topic, SurveyMonkey allows users to ask for, and download, customer contact information, which can help extend social media marketing into a lead-generation product. Free and paid versions are available.
Social Media by the Numbers
699 million daily active users on Facebook
3 million LinkedIn business pages
1.5 million LinkedIn groups
400 million tweets sent per day
16 billion photos have been shared on Instagram
500,000 business accounts on Pinterest
6 billion hours of YouTube videos are watched each month
13 million people use Vine