Opinion Going Social How to use social media to generate leads By Carrie Finley-Bajak / February 19, 2016 Share 1 -- Lead generation using social media is a hot topic and one that is in a continuous state of change. User habits evolve, and marketers respond by discovering new ways to reach travelers online. If you want to capture more leads with social media, consider implementing the following best practices.The big picture: Prepare for successHenry Ford said, "Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success." Travel professionals looking for leads online need to undergo some basic prep work before investing time and resources into social media marketing. Strive for brand consistency across social channels. Before building a relationship with a potential customer on social media, make sure that accounts and branding are current: Logos, signature colors, tag lines, bios, avatars and headers should all match. Taking this concept a step further, make sure that social media posts, updates, links and comments also reflect the brand's personality. Consistent posting that reflects the tone and voice of the brand are vital to creating a sustainable social media presence that is attractive to potential customers.Forms, traffic and conversionsThere are three ways to reach leads on social media:First, a fan/follower sees an update and performs an action (ie: provides a response to a call to action or asks for information); second, by referral when a friend "likes" or shares a post; and third, through a targeted social media marketing ad campaign.One of the biggest mistakes people make with social media marketing is emphasizing quantity, not quality. Instead, strive to maintain a steady stream of updates on a few social media channels instead of spreading yourself too thin by trying to be on every social media site. Putting quality over quantity is sound advice if creating a sustainable digital footprint is the goal. Post updates regularly without spamming. Updates should add value, provide customer service or lead people to a travel agent's sales funnel.Getting referral traffic to an agent's website from social media is done by creating links to calls to action to a dedicated landing page where visitors can learn more about a specific offer. The most crucial element of the landing page is a lead-capture form that will enable visitors to give their contact information and consent to subscribe to your email marketing program. Savvy marketers will generate a "thank you" follow-up sequence that includes more product offers.Informational content on websites is popular as long as the topic generates interest and continues to be relevant. However, social media updates have a shorter life span, and travel advisers need to know that boosting posts to amplify reach via ad campaigns might be necessary to find new leads. Build it, and they will comeDon't waste time. Know which social media channels your customers use and forget the rest. Target people who like to travel via a combination of paid ads and engaging content. Poll, ask and survey existing clients to discover where customers hang out online. On Facebook, build a custom Fanpage and run "like" campaigns that target people interested in travel. Post a variety of content formats that include photos, text, videos and outbound links to an agent's website.Twitter is good for real-time engagement. Share industry news, photos, text updates and links to landing pages. Consider paying for Promoted Tweets for highly targeted campaigns.Pinterest works for pinning photos, videos and infographics of products, destinations and tips. Create custom boards to showcase one's expertise and travel niche. Pay for Promoted Pins to target a specific audience.Instagram has a lot to offer. Ads are available for businesses that want to share their images or video stories with a highly engaged audience. YouTube videos and ads can help generate leads and provide a platform to drive more website traffic while helping increase brand exposure. Any video uploaded to YouTube can be an ad. Google+ is a great option to increase searchability while promoting a travel professional's expertise. Since Google owns Google+, it makes sense to use the social network to expand your online presence. Link a Google+ page with an AdWords campaign to share +1's between ads and your page.Build trust first, then ask for the orderWould you rather spend money on a product or service from a stranger, or would you prefer to do business with a trusted adviser? Most people prefer to do business with people they trust or with someone who has been referred by a friend. The first step to building a relationship with leads is to create a social media dialogue through posting engaging content. Practice the art of engagement. Don't just post updates; rather, ask open-ended questions, "like," reshare and comment on other people's updates. Don't be a spammer. Keep posts about deals and overt solicitations for product purchases to a minimum. Post relevant content that offers answers to questions or solutions to problems or adds value to online conversations. Social media is the perfect platform for a travel brand to showcase its expertise. Be responsive. Monitor social media mentions and reply within a reasonable time frame. Monitor online mentions and conversations about your business by using tools like Google Alerts or the ones listed below.Finding leads through social mediaThere are many ways to find individuals who are planning a trip. The easiest is to do a search with the phrase "planning a vacation" to see who is thinking about a vacation. Reaching out to these people with an open-ended question is a great way to start building a relationship. In addition to performing searches directly on each social media channel, save time by using one of these tools: Search for leads using Social Searcher. Monitor keywords found in Web mentions: news, blogs, forums, comments and videos on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. There is a free version that offers 100 real-time searches per day and two email alerts.Try Uvrx, which is a free custom search engine worth exploring. Mention is a tool to monitor anything on the Web and social media in real time. Rules of engagementIf you have been under the impression that reaching out to people on social media is rude or invasive, now is a great time to rethink your strategy. Travel advisers need to be aggressive and willing to reach out to strangers to spark conversations and build relationships. The easiest way to find qualified leads on social media is to "like" posts and comments left by consumers on suppliers' social media accounts. Another option is to jump into conversations on Twitter during a Twitter chat (#TWchats, Travel Weekly's monthly travel chat on Twitter, is a great starting point). Tag up to 10 people in each photo you share on Twitter. Every person who is tagged in a photo will receive a notification in their interactions tab. This feature is available to all mobile Twitter users.Use Instagram Direct to send photos/videos. Search for and select the person or group you'd like to send the video/photo to (up to 15 people).Tag people and groups in Facebook.