Going Social Tips for Facebook success By Carrie Finley-Bajak / August 14, 2013 Share 1 -- When it comes to Facebook, it seems everyone has an opinion. For a travel agent who is trying to establish a digital marketing plan, filtering out the noise and trying to determine how to use the world's largest social networking site can be confusing. Hopefully this column will help travel agents avoid missteps that could result in unnecessary spending of marketing dollars. What's good for large brands on Facebook might not be what's good for smaller agencies trying to capture leads. It's my opinion that travel agents need to learn how Facebook works before committing to large ad spends. I recommend sticking to the basics while learning how to use Facebook, which does not have to cost money (though it requires time and labor). Once the basics are mastered, travel sellers can think about spending money on Facebook ads. I have hesitated to write about Facebook because it seems like everyone has something to say about the platform, and I hate to contribute to the noise. However, I believe there are a lot of beginners who can benefit from a quick-start guide to help them ramp up their Facebook marketing plan. I recommend that travel sellers focus on building their Facebook presence in two phases: The first is to create an account and build an audience; the second is to advertise on Facebook, setting a budget and targeting potential leads. Phase I: Getting startedTo get started on Facebook, travel professionals will set up a personal account. Use this account to connect with friends, relatives and anyone on your email lists who you feel would be good "friends." These people will be your biggest supporters and will help your word-of-mouth advertising through interactions with your posts. The next step is to create a Facebook page for your business (www.facebook.com/pages/create). Once you have posted some content to your business page, you can invite your clients to "like" it. Most travel agents will want to interact with their clients and leads on the designated business page rather than on a personal page. Business page setup tipsWhen setting up your Business page, decide if you are a "local business or place" or a "company, organization or institution." Most travel agencies choose the company option because it has a category that designates a business as "Travel/Leisure." However, those travel agents who actually have a storefront location might want to select the "local business or place" option, which helps them get found on local searches. Build your audience through content that drives engagement. Facebook hopes that businesses will use the platform to create a brand voice that invites members to interact. In fact, one of the guiding principles at Facebook is to encourage business users to nurture relationships through strategies that are "social by design." Types of content that are social by design include anything that results in a recommendation by friends, in the form of shares and likes. Engaging content that is social by design tends to be 250 characters or less. In general, photo albums, pictures and video get more response than straight text. Here are some things you should consider for building an audience and promoting engagement: • As a Business Page administrator, you can access Facebook Insights. These reports will help you determine how well your posts are working. • Post once each day based on the Facebook Insights data that show you when your audience is most active and what posts they like the most. • Use the "pin" command to put important brand messages at the top of your timeline. Research how to "pin" since this technique helps keep branding messages and calls-to-action at the top of your timeline. • Ask open-ended questions to increase engagement on your Facebook page. • Respond to people who leave comments on your page. • Add a "Like us" Facebook link to your email signature. • Add the Facebook social plug-in to your website to drive traffic from your site back to Facebook. Phase II: A Facebook ad campaignIf you have done your job populating your page with content and engaging your audience, it might be time to consider an ad campaign on Facebook. Facebook Ads are paid messages coming from your Business Page (www.facebook.com/advertising). Like any marketing campaign, you will want to have distinct goals and a target audience in mind before spending money. Identify your goals. What are you selling? Are you nurturing people you know or are you selling your products directly? Perhaps your goal is to build branding awareness. Target your audience. Facebook gives advertisers the ability to use "precise interest" target keywords to help you reach your audience. Your goal is to find people who are most likely going to respond to your ad. Agents can drill down and get exactly the people you are looking for by location, gender, age and pages they like. Create different ads for each target audience to maximize results. Example of a basic Facebook ad setupWhen you start the ad campaign, Facebook is going to ask what you want to advertise. Your choices are to search by URL, which can direct traffic to your website, or to search by destination ID, which can be your Facebook page, a Facebook app or an event you are trying to promote. Once agents have selected the destination for where they want to drive traffic, the next step is to choose the type of ad. There are two basic Facebook ads to help travel agents accomplish their goals: Either get more page likes to build a bigger audience or promote page posts to get people to see and engage with your messages. Sponsored Stories are another form of Facebook ad that allows for the promotion of a post from your page's timeline. These ads show up in the news feeds of people you target. (Tip: Sponsored stories work best for Pages that have been liked by at least 100 people. If you're not there yet, create an ad to build your audience and continue posting interesting content.) Carrie Finley-Bajak is a social media consultant who specializes in building travel industry branding online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.