Opinion Going Social A 2016 social media kick-starter By Carrie Finley-Bajak / January 07, 2016 Share 1 -- We live in a social media-centered world. When a travel agent posts social media updates from his or her travels, followers are able to partially experience the journey. Facebook status updates, Instagram and Twitter posts can tell a story unlike any travel brochure. Thanks to an interconnected global network of friends, family, clients and prospects, travel agents can leverage technology to engage with others to capture the attention of consumers while increasing brand awareness, engagement and reach.If your social media marketing has fallen short, here are 10 bite-size tips to get it off to a great start in the year ahead:1) Do social media audits regularlyExplore your digital footprint and that of the competition to gain valuable insight into what people are saying about your brand or your industry. Some of the advantages of an assessment include the ability to chart audience growth, resonance, traction and lift from social media interactions and campaigns. Also, an inspection of trends and data can help prepare for future campaigns based on customers' wants and needs. Addict-o-matic is a free search tool that quickly delivers results on a consolidated dashboard page.Icerocket is a real-time search tool that helps you keep watch over Twitter, blogs, websites, news, images and more. Social Mention, a social media monitoring tool with metrics that include reach and sentiment. Searches can be saved as an RSS feed so you can easily stay up to date.2) Leverage contentTravel agents have to compete with the big brands, and that is a huge challenge online, especially for advertising. Trying to get independent contractors to use and leverage social media is a challenge due to time and budget restraints. Big brands have it easy, with more money and resources to allocate to connecting with consumers online. The pathway to a positive return on investment is more likely for those with brand recognition and large ad spends, but for travel agents it is a lot harder. The challenge for independent agents is to find the right balance between paying for ads and leveraging content posted on social media for free. To help stretch marketing dollars and to increase the likelihood of posting actionable information, keep the following points in mind.Emphasize storytelling around unique travel experiences. The buzz these days is about selling the experience. Use social media to show and tell your unique brand story and to showcase expertise. Focus on authentic and local experiences to connect with clients and prospects.Use a variety of content types to determine what resonates with your audience. Visual content and travel are made for each other. Use supplier-provided imagery, or better yet, post your photos from fam trips or inspections. Incentivize clients to share photos and to tag your business on Facebook and Instagram. Experiment with photo-on-text apps that enable you to put text on top of photos to add context to imagery. Try Quipio.Create short-form videos on Vine or Instagram.Make longer videos to post on YouTube via iMovie (the app for your iPhone is easy to use) or create a movie or story using Google Photos. 3) Cross-promotePost updates across multiple channels for maximum visibility. Some broadcast email services will post links of email marketing pieces onto social media, but that is not enough. Instead, use a program like Hootsuite or TweetDeck to manage advanced message scheduling and analytics, to push updates to one or more profiles or to assign tasks to team members. 4) Use social media to sell add-onsCreate custom lists on Facebook and Twitter or boards on Pinterest of potential strategic partners to promote add-on services and activities for clients. Build relationships with hotels, spas, restaurants, tour companies and local experts who want to work with you to cross-promote their services to your customers. 5) EngageOne-to-one relationships are the best, but social media is also a good tool to help build or strengthen relationships. Be active on selected social channels and make it a point to interact. Influencer marketing is a great way to build brand recognition and can be helpful in building an online audience. Ask open-ended questions, leave comments, reshare interesting updates and mention people. 6) Stay activeOut of sight, out of mind. If time is keeping you from reaching social media marketing goals, scale back the number of channels and focus on quality instead of quantity. Facebook is still one of the best networks to connect with friends, family, prospects and clients. 7) Maintain ties with travel suppliersKeep a pulse on trends by following and engaging with travel suppliers online. Use LinkedIn to connect with sales reps and preferred suppliers. Once you are connected on LinkedIn, send messages to your network to spark conversations about product news and updates. 8) Social media as customer serviceThere are many ways to leverage social media to help with customer service. In the wake of missed flights, canceled trips or natural disasters, social media can be used to help customers or prospects who are in a bind. Monitor Google Alerts for news items that can have an impact on travelers. Travel advisers can really showcase their expertise by anticipating the needs of travelers who turn to social media to vent or look for answers when away from home.9) Use travel influencersOne of the goals of social media marketing is to build an audience of connected consumers who are planning a trip, buying a trip, traveling or just returning home. Since competition to capture leads is fierce online, travel professionals need to get as much help as they can to reach clients and prospects. One helpful strategy is to use online influencers for "growth hacking."By definition, growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups to sell products and gain exposure. Travel advisers can borrow the concept to increase brand awareness and to find leads. Conduct an online search with the words "travel influencer list" to get started finding people with whom to interact, but make sure to note the date of the list (opt for lists created no earlier than 2015) and check out their social media posts to ensure that your potential influencer shares the same lifestyle and interests as your brand.10) Make your website mobile-friendlyNothing is worse than trying to access a travel website that is out of date and unresponsive. Make sure your Web pages are rendering properly on smartphones and tablets and that a social sharing widget is embedded into the site design. If you are not sure what your website looks like on smaller screens, go to the Apple Store or a cellphone provider and use their demo devices to pull up your website.