Carrie Finley-Bajak
Carrie Finley-Bajak

Plato once said, "Those who tell the stories rule society." If Plato could have seen about 2,000 years into the future he would have seen quite a lot of stories being told on social media.

The rulers these days online are called influencers, people who are considered knowledgeable and can be relied upon to boost reach, drive engagement and help change mindsets. Travel agents want to be influencers, employing a variety of media to tell their stories, with the power to drive others into action.

"Digital storytelling" is a term used to describe the practice of using technology to tell stories. By using it, travel professionals can increase brand awareness, serve existing clients and generate leads.

Successful marketers are the ones with a detailed plan. The golden rule is to make sure that every tweet, retweet, status update, comment, share, reshare, direct message, blog post, forum question, pin, Vine, video, snap or ad should always serve the travel adviser's brand.

Steps to a digital story

To begin, find the subject. The easiest way to do this is to feature an experience. Provide depth by layering in details about a destination, amenity, restaurant, attraction, activity or hotel. Chances are that whatever you sell, there are countless stories to be told. This is where you can use supplier content and unique selling propositions to your benefit. Infuse your own opinion about the product into the overall campaign.

Once you have an idea about the topic, create your assets. What types of content will you use? Images, text, video or a combination of all three?

Having created your assets, it's time to share. The best place for your content is a blog, where hosting your information is good for search engine optimization (SEO), and it can also serve as an archive. Once the information is on a blog, share it via social media for maximum lift.

Be data driven. Each quarter, check in with projects and make sure they are still relevant. Review the analytics and performance.

Tech-savvy travel professionals are figuring out ways to differentiate themselves online through digital storytelling.

Design your plan with distinct goals

It goes without saying that the shotgun approach to social media marketing does not work. A carefully thought-out strategy will yield far better results. Review the current state of your marketing plan and then use your content to help meet goals.

Most social media marketers are looking to gain visibility and brand recognition, increase user engagement, improve search rankings and get leads.

Next, create stories that are keyword-rich. People who use technology to search for travel information have plenty of results to pick from. To stand out in the crowd, use keyword-rich content in posts, blog posts, comments and on websites.

The goal is to provide quality information that shows up in consumers' search results. Knowing how people interact with search engines can provide valuable clues about how to target customers using content.

Anticipate your users' actions

Travel professionals need to know the ways that buyers look for information so they can leverage content appropriately. Understanding this is the cornerstone of a good digital strategy.

Moz, a service that sells inbound marketing and marketing analytics subscriptions, advises in its Beginners Guide to SEO that there are four types of online searches. If a travel seller can anticipate the way a user searches for information, then he or she can create content that is easier to find.

Navigational searches are by topic, company name or an exact phrase.

Commercial searches are investigative, leading up to a purchase.

Informational searches are queries looking for answers.

With transactional searches, users are looking for products to purchase.

Use various content to tell your story

While text seems like the best format for getting travel professionals' branding messages and unique calls-to-action to prospects, there are also images and video content that can be leveraged.

Text does well on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn, while images work well on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

Short videos work well on Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat, while long videos work well on YouTube channels and Periscope, which is streamed live.

One of the oldest tried-and-tested formats are animated GIFs, attention-grabbing moving images that can be inserted into social media posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Helpful tools for working with images and video include; Quipio, an app that is easy to use for creating images with text overlays; iMovie; and Google Photos.

Set up accounts on as many social channels as you can manage, but always think quality, not quantity.

Due to the size of its network, Facebook is the most obvious place travel sellers should spend time. Agents who work independently might have better results on their personal Facebook page, where they can be more casual and conversational. However, a Facebook page for your business is also a necessity to access insights about engagement, to develop ad campaigns and to deliver calls to action.

Twitter, on the other hand, is great for engagement. Use open-ended questions and include links to your website to drive traffic.

Because it is highly visual, Pinterest can be a great source of referral traffic back to your website. When you upload photos, edit the pins so you can add your website address.

Instagram is for sharing images and connecting with consumers who are passionate about travel. Use hashtags to infiltrate sub-groups in the community.

Recently acquired by Microsoft for more than $26 billion, LinkedIn is useful for cultivating a network of business connections, and you can use your profile to reinforce your business expertise.

At a minimum, use Google+ to share photos of your favorite travel products. Ideally, you will use it to plug links to offers and content on your website.

By posting videos to YouTube, travel agents can increase audience reach to attract potential clients and improve their presence on search engines.

Vine, which is owned by Twitter, is a service that enables users to share 6-second, looping video clips across multiple channels.

And finally, Periscope is an app that lets you share and experience live video streams direct from your smartphone or tablet.

Always track performance

Throughout the life cycle of a story, make sure to circle back to the goals to track performance.

When you take a high-level view of the digital footprint, a quick scan should reveal one's travel niche, area of expertise and products. Monitor engagement with products such as Google Analytics for website traffic or with analytics programs available within each social networking platform.

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