Going Social Twitter tips for travel agents By Carrie Finley-Bajak / May 15, 2013 Share 1 -- I will be the first to admit that using social media can be a challenge. Not only do I have to learn new tools, I also need to invest a minimum amount of time each day to maintain my digital footprint. To be successful at social media, I suggest that travel agents choose a couple of sites to master, committing to a minimum amount of time each day to curate, comment and share travel information. Ideally, to expand reach and meet potential new customers, focus on sites that have large membership numbers, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter. Of these five sites, Twitter is probably the hardest to learn but the most powerful. Travel professionals can establish themselves as authorities about topics on Twitter and become go-to sources of information. In addition, they can use Twitter as a news feed for lead generation. Whatever path your Twitter journey takes, the following tips and ideas will set you in the right direction: Tip 1: Automate to save timeSocial media posts should not take the entire day. If you have not explored tools like HootSuite or Seesmic, these applications help individuals and groups manage and organize their Twitter tasks. Spending 15 minutes a day to reply, share and schedule tweets can be a realistic goal. Tip 2: Create Twitter listsAs you begin following more people, the timeline can be hard to manage. If you're reading every tweet, the feeling of becoming overwhelmed is almost certain. One workaround is to create custom lists, which enable you to see tweets from members even if you're not following them. Besides serving as a way to categorize and segregate information, doing surveillance of other users' Twitter lists is a good source for finding people to follow. I keep a good collection of travel-themed Twitter lists available at https://twitter.com/CruiseBuzz/lists. Travel Weekly also maintains some lists that you can use to find interesting people and suppliers to follow; check out https://twitter.com/TWtravelnews/lists. Tip 3: Become a search expertThe Twitter search box and # Discover tab are tools to help users find leads and information. Unless users have private accounts, all tweets posted on Twitter are public. A fast way to find leads is to use search. Type in keywords, phrases or hashtagged words. Try variations of phrases like "looking for vacation" or "need Disney help." You might be surprised what shows up. Keep in mind, though, that it takes a lot of time before someone on Twitter makes a purchase. That said, it is to your advantage to jump in and offer your expertise if there are questions being posted that you can answer. Tip 4: Join Twitter chatsTwitter chats might look like contests in extreme tweeting, but engaging with others about a shared interest or topic offers a lot of benefits. Twitter chats can be useful for expanding your audience, gaining new followers or discovering something new about your favorite topic. Travel Weekly hosts a chat on the second Wednesday of each month (www.travelweekly.com/twchats), and there are hundreds of other events taking place weekly. Google "Twitter chat list" to discover events that might be of interest. Here's one to get started: the Twitter Chat Schedule (http://tweetreports.com/twitter-chat-schedule/). Tip 5: Think quality, not quantityDon't get hung up on how many people are following you. Instead, find active people within the industry with whom you can work to create strategic partnerships. You need retweets, mentions and replies to your tweets to increase your influence. Extra CreditTo check out your competition and how your social network compares with others in travel, visit Kred and Klout.To get more people to follow you, add your name to the travel category at Wefollow or Twibes. To monitor who is following you or to look for influencers, try TunkRank. Analyze your Twitter account with Followerwonk. What to tweetTrumpet your travel niche with enthusiasm, mention your favorite suppliers; hopefully they will respond. Post links to relevant blog posts, articles or helpful resources on your website. Set up these tweets at the beginning of the week to post later with an auto-schedule feature. Besides tweets, also tweet images or video. Best practicesWhen writing a tweet, use hashtags to increase reach. Don't use the full 140 characters in your messages, so that when someone retweets you, there is room for their handle. Use DM (Direct Message) for one-to-one conversations. Use a URL-shrinking program such as Bit.ly or Tinyurl.com to save characters and to keep track of how many visitors click your links.Make sure your Twitter profile includes a photo, a keyword-rich description about you and a link to your website. Increase traffic by commenting on current Twitter trends (and make sure to include the hashtag to have your tweets post on trending streams). Bookmark tweets you want to save or reshare later by using the Favorite command. GlossaryTweets refer to posts or status updates on Twitter. Timeline is a real-time list of tweets by people you follow on Twitter. Reply refers to a public message sent from one Twitter user to another by putting @UserName at the beginning of the tweet. Mentions are tweets that include the Twitter handle of another user anywhere except the beginning of a tweet. Follow means you have subscribed to someone's tweets. Follower is a Twitter account holder who is subscribing to your tweets. Hashtag (#) is a tool to aggregate Twitter conversations surrounding an event or theme that are created by combining a # with a word, acronym or phrase. Direct Message (DM) is a private message between two people who follow each other. Retweet (RT) is the act of reposting a tweet to share with your own network of Twitter followers. Carrie Finley-Bajak is a social media consultant who specializes in building travel industry branding online. Contact her at email@example.com.