Yet another social media tool has emerged, one that the travel industry in particular is being advised to take note of.
Pinterest, the much-buzzed-about scrapbooking website, might be the social media tool best suited to agents and suppliers alike, because it is all about images. Members "pin" photos and other visual representations of things they like (or dislike) and set them up on various themed boards for their followers to see and share.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest is not about telling. It's about showing, which plays to travel sales.
"Travel is very visual," said Patrick Evans, social media manager for STA Travel. "People love taking photos and videos, and that is what Pinterest is all about. It is having a conversation with pictures. Pinterest lets users tell their travel stories through photos rather than words."
Andrew Hickey, social media manager for G Adventures, said Pinterest enabled the company to expand on the popularity of the images it puts on Facebook.
"Travel and beautiful images go hand in hand," he said. "So when Pinterest launched, we saw immediately that this was something we needed to invest time in. And so far, we've seen amazing results, with positive feedback coming from our customers."
Travel agents are also catching on to the power of Pinterest.
"Images are key for an effective social media plan," said Lisa Cohen, social media coordinator for Voyages Groupe Ideal in Canada. "Over 50% of Facebook users make buying/brand decisions based on photos on their friend's pages. This is especially true in the travel industry, and so Pinterest is an excellent platform for us."
Other parts of the industry are not sure about Pinterest. Cruise lines have been slow to adopt the technology: Neither Royal Caribbean International nor Carnival Cruise Lines uses the platform.
Norwegian Cruise Line, long a cruise industry leader in social media, says it was the first cruise line to use Pinterest. Currently, Norwegian has 12 boards featuring its fleet, unique aspects of Freestyle Cruising and destinations.
"We liked Pinterest because cruising is so visual and photo-driven that we thought it would be a good way to showcase our ships and Freestyle Cruising," said Annemarie Mathews, a spokeswoman for Norwegian. "When someone clicks on one of our photos, it takes them to our website where they can find more information and hopefully book a cruise."
People in travel are also excited by Pinterest's demographics. According to digital advertiser Modea, using data from online analyst ComScore, 68.2% of Pinterest's users are women, most ranging between the ages of 25 and 44, and 28.1% have a household income exceeding $100,000.
Sophie Bujold, who coaches companies in the use of social media, said that makes it a valuable travel sales tool.
"When you compare this demographic to the average travel decision-maker who is also female with some discretionary income, this is a very interesting audience for travel marketers," Bujold said. "What's more, Pinterest also boasts a large audience of baby boomers and their 'boomerang' children who have been shown to be highly likely to pin travel plans and photos."
Many industry experts predict that Pinterest will have staying power.
Meghan Peters, community manager at Mashable.com
, the social media news site, said new social sites often have trouble taking off because users are overwhelmed by having to update yet another status box.
"The advantage Pinterest has is simple: pictures," Peters said. "Its photocentric design appeals to even the most casual social media user. I believe Pinterest is here to stay. The site has quickly struck a chord with a mainstream audience, a difficult feat for a new social network."
Peters said there are "plenty of monetization opportunities with brands," particularly when it come to travel companies.
"They can create boards for vacation packages, products, tour/activity opportunities, city guides and more," she said. "It's good to have a bigger number of boards with more specific topics rather than only a few boards that cover broad areas. Boards organized by specific cities, countries or regions would likely be of interest. Most people I follow on Pinterest have a board for places they'd like to visit someday. Tapping into these folks' interests would be key for travel suppliers on Pinterest."
That ability to take note of travelers' aspirations is another key to the predicted success of the platform.
G Adventures is planning to ask people what boards they would like to see in the near future and has already started region-specific boards to help the company gauge what trips its audience is most interested in taking.
Hickey said it's too early to tell whether Pinterest has generated any business, but that only two months into using it, the company has 700 followers.
"It's helping us build brand awareness," he said. "And we believe over time it will benefit us greatly via [search engine optimization] and just become another outlet for us to promote our tour offerings." Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.
Best Pinterest practices
Travel Weekly asked social media experts and travel sellers and suppliers to share Pinterest best practices with our readers. Here's what they advised: Sophie Bujold, social media coach:
Use the "About Me" section to mention your agency's name and provide links to your website, Facebook page and Twitter account. This is your chance to tell people more about who you are and what you want to focus on with your boards.
When pinning your own content, focus on providing a visually engaging photo to attract attention to your content.
Vary your content. Posting nothing but your links will get your shunned pretty quickly. Try to pin things from other people in addition to some of your most popular or captivating content.
Use the pin's description area to include keywords that people might be looking for. This helps your pins be more findable to new people. Andrew Hickey, G Adventures:
Come up with themes that resonate and are open to interpretation. ... We posted our "Colourful" board last week, and in just a few hours saw dozens of photos added by top travel bloggers, other travel companies and our customers. Patrick Evans, STA Travel:
We've learned that you have to repin and participate in the community, you can't just create boards of your products. ... We focus a lot on re-pins, and by that measure, our "Favorite Destinations" and "Travel Love" boards are the most popular. But our "Favorite Travel Products" board has a lot of followers, so we make sure we update that board, as well. Lisa Cohen, Voyages Groupe Ideal:
Use various themes in creating boards so you can share and engage with as many different people as possible. Engage with friends and fans, whether they are existing clients or potential clients. If someone follows you, you should follow them, unless you have good reason not to. -- J.J.