Agents get hands-on experience with social media for marketing

By Kate Rice
CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent ShowFORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Social media is such a quickly evolving medium that no one is an expert. That was the message Vicky Garcia, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Cruise Planners/American Express, delivered to agents attending her Social Media Revolution Workshop at the Travel Weekly Cruise World and Home Based Agent Show being held here this week.

What that means, she said, is that agents can be as effective in using social media as anyone. And agents proved that during an exercise in which they were tasked with creating a marketing campaign using Facebook, Twitter and any social media site of their choice.

One group of agents planned a campaign promoting a cruise but without identifying the type of trip being promoted. Instead, they opted to generate interest by posing questions centered on a variety of activities, such as spa treatments or a spinning class, on Facebook and posting photos on Instagram. 

Social Media Revolution WorkshopA group promoting an African safari made their campaign interactive. Their proposed campaign included posting photos from Micato Safaris--a giraffe poking its head through a window, photos of romantic tent camps and roving elephants. They made it interactive by asking people questions about their ideal African safari and then tweeted about how to prepare for a trip to Africa. Their social media vehicles: Facebook, YouTube videos of safaris and Instagram photos.

A group of agents from the South put together an "Escape the Heat" marketing plan for an Alaska cruise using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They proposed tweeting temperature comparisons between Alaska and Texas in July, as well as using videos from YouTube to paint an image of a cool Alaskan cruise as an antidote to summer heat. And they offered incentives such as credits and photos to the first customers to sign up for the cruise.

"Tie the Knot at Sea" marketed weddings at sea by creating a campaign that included photos of weddings at sea and partnered with other bridal suppliers. They proposed using a Pinterest board to share photos that would lead back to the agency's website and using a Twitter hash tag to post tips about honeymoon cruises.

Cruise and host agency executives worked with the agents on their fictional marketing campaigns and shared some of their tips

Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales and trade support and services for Celebrity Cruises, said Celebrity's social marketing mantra is "make it personal." Garcia encouraged agents to find their own "voice" and be personal, and recommended that agents also use social media to get their followers to talk about themselves.

Andy Stuart, executive vice president of global sales and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line, compared social media to a cocktail party. "You walk in, you don't know anyone, you're a little bit nervous. Find people with a common interest," he said. "Figure that out and the conversation becomes more interesting. It's a powerful tool."

Ellen Bettridge, president of the Americas at Silversea Cruises, reminded agents that suppliers have marketing resources to help them get their message out. Michelle Fee, president of Cruise Planners, said that all she does on her Facebook page is post photos of trips she takes and agent awards, and that alone generates queries from long lost friends who want to plan a trip.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president for sales and trade support and services at Royal Caribbean, said agents should talk about attending the CruiseWorld conference to establish their professionalism and commitment to education.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 
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