Carrie Finley-Bajak
Carrie Finley-Bajak

Web 2.0 is the second stage of development of the World Wide Web, characterized by the shift from static Web pages to social media and other user-generated content. Online social networks in particular have changed the way consumers discover and use travel information. Instead of heading to the neighborhood travel agency, they can use Google search, TripAdvisor, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest to find inspiration and planning advice.

It makes sense for travel agents to have a presence online to connect with clients and prospects. However, because of smaller budgets and lack of resources, some agencies find themselves at a disadvantage when deploying strategies to reach consumers, making it hard to compete.

A common reason agents cite for not having a social media presence is a lack of time. Although some agents I talk with express a desire to be more active on social networking sites, digital marketing takes a back seat to other, more pressing business matters. If this sounds like you, then keep reading, because I have created a list of the top three social media time savers that will help you take action.

1) Glean sharable information from suppliers

While big brands, ad agencies and PR departments are executing social marketing campaigns, travel agents can insert themselves into conversations that take place in the wake of a social media push by suppliers.

Being able to anticipate how consumers will react to content and then providing insight to help a supplier keep conversations going is a valuable skill. Travel agents can help facilitate conversations by acting as an expert when fans and followers need a little extra information.

Below are a few examples of ways I organize social media updates from suppliers so that I don't waste time searching for their current news:

  • Use the Interest List feature on Facebook, which enables you to quickly see a summary of recent posts from the members on the list. The Interest List feature is for your personal Facebook page, but the information can easily be shared with a page you manage or on your news feed.
  • Google Plus enables users to create circles, which are a great way to segregate suppliers, media, prospects and clients on Google's social networking platform.
  • Use Twitter lists to organize tweets from suppliers by categories. I have them set up for cruise lines, airlines, hotels and people with whom I like to engage.

2) Stop trying to grow a fan base; instead, nurture relationships

Some travel agents mistake social media success with the quantity of people in their networks. As social networking evolves, more emphasis is placed on the quality of the people in your network: Do they engage, act, share and follow your lead online? If so, then you're on the road to becoming influential, which is more valuable than the number of fans and followers in your network.

Make sure you are doing everything possible to maintain and nurture the relationships you already have. Have you asked the people in your database to like, follow or friend you? If not, make it a priority to reach out to your existing mailing list and invite them to share, comment and become a vital member of your online brand.

Develop relationships with brand advocates and influencers who share your passions. For example, I am a cruise travel influencer. I place a high value on relationships with cruise lines, travel media, other travel agents and influencers who actively post updates about travel.

The reason I choose to interact with people whom some might consider my competition is because the more people with whom I interact, the stronger my network is. Building strong connections with brand ambassadors, brand advocates and influencers increases my visibility and helps expose my business to new leads while gaining new followers.

Below are a few tools to identify influencers who can help boost your engagement and increase your reach.

  • Klout Score, a number between 1 and 100 that represents influence. If you don't have one, get one. Also, it is a good place to identify people with whom to engage.
  • Try a few social intelligence programs to find influencers. One application I have tried is Little Bird, an influence marketing platform that makes it easy to find people and content. It costs money, but it's worth a trial to see which people are considered influential in your travel niche, then engage them in conversations.
  • On Facebook, create a series of posts or make a shared photo album highlighting one of your suppliers. For example, use photos from a fam trip or office event and make sure to tag everyone, including suppliers. Consider making a shared album, which enables you to add friends as contributors. Be sure to use keywords and provide a lot of context to add substance.
  • Don't let up on your Twitter marketing. Mention and retweet posts from travel influencers regularly, especially when they are active during Twitter chats. To make it easier to monitor, use a social media manager program like Buffer, Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to help you schedule tweets.
  • Instagram Direct is worth exploring. It lets you choose to whom you send photos and videos.
  • Use Pinterest to reach out to people who already re-pin your content. These brand ambassadors might want to help curate content on a shared Pinterest board.

3) Curate content

Social media can help travel agents gain more exposure through engagement and increased traffic. However, trying to find the time to consistently generate new content can be a drain on time. Instead of thinking about creating new content, consider "content curation," the process of collecting and displaying information from multiple sources on a relevant topic or interest.

The practice of resharing or repurposing popular content from the Web and sharing links to it on social media is a good way to provide value to your audience and at the same time keep you top-of-mind.

Try Flipboard to see how you can quickly curate relevant information from your social networks, publications and blogs. I use this app to share content with my social networks, plus it enables me to keep my social media updates in a magazine-like format.

BuzzSumo is worth a try. The site will display the most shared links and key influencers for any topic or website.

Google Alerts are a good way to find new mentions of specified keywords. If you have not set up email notifications for updates regarding your niche, now is a good time to start.

Content curation can also be used by travel agents looking for blog ideas. Mind you, content curation is not copying other people's work; rather, it's preparing summaries of information about a specific topic. The goal is for the travel agent to use his or her expertise to scour the Web to find the freshest and most relevant content for clients, prospects, fans and followers.

Give some of the time savers I've listed here a try, and let me know how it goes.

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