Carrie Finley-BajakHave you been keeping up with the latest trends in social media? There have been a couple developments that would suggest social media is here to stay. Yahoo's purchase of the blogging site Tumblr and Facebook's announcement that it has added hashtag searching to enhance content discovery are big news. If you have been waiting to get started with social media, now is definitely the time to start.

I've spent a lot of time in past columns describing social media platforms and where travel agents are most likely to find leads. Now it's time to address the topic of what to post to make the best use of time and resources online.

Content, as the saying goes, is king.

The key to any social media strategy is content. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Instagram and Tumblr are full of users liking, sharing, resharing and creating massive amounts of content. People like to share their experiences, and those experiences could make any agent lose sleep at night trying to figure out how to get in on the conversation.

One way travel agents can grow their influence in online communities is to develop a content marketing plan. Most people in sales know the importance of establishing expertise and cultivating quality relationships. But did you ever think that your expertise could be leveraged as the foundation of a winning content marketing strategy?

Take what you have learned from supplier education programs, webinars and firsthand experience and share it online as part of your overall marketing strategy.

Content marketing includes a vast array of resources that you create to acquire new clients and to maintain loyalty from your existing clients. Marketing materials can include news, infographics, videos, photos, how-to guides, e-books, case studies or Q&As. Content should reside on your website or company blog. The strategy is to share links to your content on social media sites to help validate your expertise and to drive traffic back to your website for lead generation.

A good place to begin creating content is to answer your clients' and prospects' most frequently asked questions. Think about the conversations you have had with people and write articles for your blog, and then share links to those articles on social media sites. Heading straight to social media to share ideas will not load your pipeline or generate enough leads. Having original content on your website that is shared on your social media accounts is ideal.

Plan to devote a couple hours a week to your content marketing. Your time will be spent on research, writing and responding to comments about your content.

Begin your strategy by knowing where your prospects and clients are spending time online. Most likely, your target audience is on Facebook. Setting up a Facebook Fan page and inviting your contacts to "like" your page is the first step. You can run some simple Facebook ads to increase your fan base or to drive prospects to your website. Use Facebook Insights to help see how well your ad campaigns are doing and what posts your audience responds to.

Travel agents who can't find topics to write about can use social media for inspiration. A good place to find content ideas is to search Twitter for people asking questions about your travel niche. Facebook is another great source for content ideas. Use Graph Search to drill down specific topics or look at what's trending on your suppliers' pages for ideas.

But don't overlook the obvious. The most authentic source for content are your own experiences. Agents can write about their journeys before, during and after their trips. Fams are a great way to get fresh content to share with your audience.

As an agent, you can help encourage sharing about destinations, travel news and your favorite suppliers. According to Facebook, "hundreds of millions of people use [the service] to share their thoughts on big moments happening all around them." If you want to influence people online, you need to get involved. Here's how:

  1. Post the majority of your content on your website and then share links to your posts on social media channels.
  2. Attend Twitter chats like #TWchats to increase your reach and to build an audience. We are drawing big numbers and a lot of supplier support. Join us once a month to interact.
  3. Maintain a steady presence. Be top of mind and offer your expertise to the community.

The fastest way to generate content is to use photos. Besides uploading photos to your website, a quick way to get images online is to use a smartphone. Try Instagram on your smartphone and PicMonkey.com to layer text on top of images.

Your smartphone can shoot video that can be uploaded to Facebook, or try Twitter's new video site, called Vine. Upload longer videos to YouTube or Vimeo.

Also consider location-based content, which uses the GPS technology in a client's phone to enable you to customize content in real time. Try Foursquare or Foodspotting. These social networks enable users to "check in" to venues. Your check-ins will create a digital footprint of where you have been and will also serve as added branding for your business.

When it comes to music sharing, try Spotify, which is a digital music-streaming service that gives you on-demand access to millions of songs. You can create custom playlists that can be embedded into your blog. Give it a try; it's a fun way to offer something different to your audience.

In summary, here are the steps to follow when creating a content-marketing strategy:

  1. Develop an annual marketing plan and commit to it in writing.
  2. Define your niche, know your audience and keep content focused to maintain consistency.
  3. Research where members of your target market spend their time online and focus on those channels. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are good places to start.
  4. Listen and monitor. Be prepared to organize new content while listening to what others have to say via comments on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or at online communities like TripAdvisor.
  5. Engage. When people respond to your content, take immediate action. Ask open-ended questions that help you reinforce your expertise about a destination or give another travel tip.
  6. Review your website traffic with Google Analytics or Alexa; if you manage a Facebook page, use Facebook Insights.

Let me know how your quest goes to capture the attention of hyperconnected consumers via your content strategy. If you have some good examples you would like to share with us, email me at [email protected] or post a comment.

Carrie Finley-Bajak is a social media consultant who specializes in building travel industry branding online. Contact her at [email protected]. 

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