The social media 'marathon'

By Tom Stieghorst

Social media expert Rich Tucker had some eye-opening numbers for franchise owners last week at the Cruise Holidays annual conference aboard the Allure of the Seas.

InsightTucker works for Cruise Holidays' parent company, Travel Leaders Leisure Group. He said that targeted Facebook pages for six Travel Leaders brands have increased their fan count -- the number of "likes" -- from 49,000 a year ago to 263,000 today.

By way of context, Tucker said the number is about 30,000 higher than the population of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A big driver was a two-month free cruise sweepstakes that rewarded site visitors for liking the Facebook pages at All Aboard Travel, CruiseDeals.com and Cruise Holidays. The contest yielded 59,378 entries.

"That's 60,000 e-mail addresses we got through Facebook," Tucker said, translating into 60,000 sales leads.

Travel Leaders also logged 74,382 visits to booking visits from the Facebook pages.

Tucker said it took about two years to develop a social media sweepstakes that benefitted individual franchises as well as corporate headquarters, and which could be done at an attractive price.

At Cruise Holidays, the sweepstakes cost $3,500 since April and has generated 18,000 e-mail addresses. Tucker figures that Cruise Holidays can break even on the contest if it gets just 14 of the 18,000 e-mailers to book a cruise.

He expects to easily exceed that threshold.

On the micro level, 46 Cruise Holidays franchisees participated in the sweepstakes through their own Facebook pages. At a cost of $46, not including a small amount of conventional advertising for the contest, Cruise Holidays of Shelby, Mich., went from 96 likes to 1,700 while Cruise Holidays of Oakville, Ontario, went from 667 likes to 1,300.

Of course, once you have a users liking a page, continued engagement through more comments and more likes is needed to keep Facebook showing your posts to those fans.

Tucker had two takeaways for travel agents seeking new business through social media. First: step back and form a strategy rather than diving in willy-nilly. Second, remember that the payback comes over time, not right away, so stick with it. "It's a marathon," he said. "Not a sprint."

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