LAS VEGAS — Social media is a tool to engage and communicate with consumers, but not necessary for selling to them.
That was the answer given to travel agents interested in monetizing social media at Travel Weekly’s LeisureWorld 2011 and Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference on Wednesday.
"Don’t start with goal of trying to get someone to buy something," said Carrie Finley-Bajak, co-owner of CruizeBuzz in Orange County, Calif. "Start with a personal [Facebook] page, and a fan page can develop over time. What you’re trying to do is get content to reach new customers and engage with your existing customers."
Finely-Bajak was one of four social media experts who gave agents tips on how to harness the power of social media for their businesses. They also talked about pitfalls to avoid.
Margie Jordan, CEO of ASAP Travel in Jacksonville, Fla., said she uses her Facebook page not to try and make sales, but to engage clients and try to find new ones.
"If I’m trying to sell something on Facebook I’ll buy Facebook ads," Jordan said. "What’s nice for me is I get lots of referrals from Facebook. People will share things on their page that I posted and get referrals that way.”
Jordan said agents should look to their local community Facebook pages for opportunities, too. She said she posted information on a Carnival ship inspection on her local Jacksonville Facebook page, and she got hits from people with group business.
Finley-Bajak encouraged agents to "go where the people are."
"They are on the cruise lines’ Facebook fan pages. ... If you’re a destination specialist, you should be a fan of the different destinations.
"You need to be where the consumers are — the consumers are interacting with all of our brands directly."
The panel made it clear that when it comes to social media, there is no right or wrong way to do it.
Some of the panelists use Twitter, others don’t. Some found success with Facebook ads, while others felt they were a waste of time.
One panelist prefers texting to all else, and another says the power of local referrals trumps anything you can do online.
The good news for travel agents is "you can teach an old dog new tricks when it comes to technology," said Amy Hobbins, owner of Journeys Unlimited Travel in Green Bay, Wis.
Hobbins said she learned from her kids, and now uses texting to keep customers in the loop.
"It's hard to stay engaged with new young customers by phone or email," said Hobbins. "But they respond to every text."
Rey Alton of Almeda Travel in Houston said that as powerful as social media is, it shouldn't take the place of traditional communication.
"You can't beat a local presence," he said. "The key to staying in business is referrals."