Carrie Finley-Bajak
Carrie Finley-Bajak

A travel agent can use social media throughout the entire life cycle of a buyer's journey: From the planning phase through welcoming a customer back home, social media is a great platform to generate leads, build brand awareness and provide customer service.

When it comes to social media marketing, it is definitely not business as usual. Those who embrace change are moving ahead of the competition.

Technology has evolved, and businesses have had to adjust to remain relevant. Vijay Gurbaxani, the director of the Center for Digital Transformation at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine, teaches about this trend, and it got me thinking about the 21st century travel agency and the need for a digital-age reboot.

Travel agents no longer need to be convinced that social media can help grow their business. These days the emphasis is more on how to use social media to remain relevant.

Liz Cherne, a senior trainer for Travel Leaders, has noticed this change in the way agents use social media. She put it this way: "The 'social' part of social media has evolved. In the early days it was a useful tool to help stay in touch with family and friends. Now social media is a place where we look to see what our friends like, where they go, where they've been."  

Here are five tips to create a quick-start reboot plan to keep current and stay ahead of the competition.

Reboot Tip 1: Leverage best practices

Social media is a treasure trove of user data that is useful for building brand awareness and generating leads. User-generated data and information left in the wake of social media actions (status updates, shares, reshares, likes, mentions and comments) are helpful when creating deployment and strategy tactics.

Sam McCully, the vice president of marketing at Avoya Travel, offers the following practices:

  • Be customer-centric by knowing your clients and how they shop for your services.
  • Have a plan. Think through the way customers shop from you, write it down and determine how you should best reach them.
  • Define what success looks like. For example, how much will you invest? What is your expected return? How will this improve your business?
  • Social media marketing activities are about adding value to customers. Think quality over quantity and less is more in terms of tactics and touch points.
  • Test and learn. Don't be afraid to try new things (especially with social media). Stick with the stuff that works and quickly table the stuff that doesn't.

Reboot Tip 2: Take ownership

Influence is a measure of a travel agent's ability to inspire action. "Travel professionals have always been influencers," Cherne said. "Back in the day, customers would walk into an agency and ask: 'Where do you think I should go?'

"With social media, customers are now seeing where their friends go and think, 'I should look into that.' "

Here are some steps to becoming an online influencer:

  • Have a keyword strategy and stick to it. Pick five keywords that best describe your business and make sure that social media updates and posts serve your brand by sprinkling your keywords throughout bios, posts and comments.
  • Be consistent, predictable and active. A steady stream of quality content will have long-term benefits. Friends, fans and followers will know who you are and what you are about.
  • Always keep in mind that your audience has an audience. Engage with others, and don't be afraid to reach out.
  • Enter a discussion forum or join an online travel community like trippy.com to reach consumers and others looking for answers to travel questions.
  • Join Facebook Groups and participate in discussions with communities that share interests that match your travel niche or are located within your area.

Reboot Tip 3: Leverage Facebook

If a travel professional is looking for a one-size-fits-all social media channel on which to spend time and resources, then Facebook continues to be the answer.

Listen to Facebook's fourth-quarter conference call that took place on Jan. 27 to discover how the social network is planning for the future.

On the call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reported that Facebook had 1.59 billion monthly active users in the fourth quarter. Besides posting impressive audience-share numbers, Zuckerberg mentioned the company's commitment to growing a connected global community and the mission to improve their existing products and businesses.

"Our strategy here is to deliver better, more engaging experiences for our community," he said, "and to give people better tools for sharing different types of content with different groups of people that they care about."

Here is a summary of the products Facebook will focus on that would benefit travel professionals:

  • Create-and-share video is an important part of the Facebook experience. Zuckerberg reported that 100 million hours of video are watched daily on Facebook. The company is testing new options such as "suggested videos," which enable people to discover additional videos that might interest them.
  • Create and use Facebook Events. There are now more than 500 million people who use Events each month, and more than 123 million events were created on Facebook in 2015.
  • Participate in a group. Zuckerberg reported that more than 1 billion people used Groups in a single month on Facebook. Groups enable agents to connect with subcommunities (aka ready-made affinity groups).
  • Travel agents can use Facebook ads to create highly targeted campaigns. Zuckerberg said there are more than 2.5 million active advertisers on Facebook. More than 50 million small businesses use Pages on Facebook, and people post more than 2.5 billion comments on these pages each month.

Reboot Tip 4: Create and share

Leveraging content is an effective way to engage online communities and increase traffic to grow your customer base. Use a mix of messaging types like text, images and video for the best results.

  • To increase lead-capture capabilities, include links to custom landing pages on a travel agency's website.
  • Make an editorial calendar and a social-media deployment plan.
  • Make sure that messaging reflects the voice of the travel brand.
  • Experiment with video capture and apps designed for mobile devices to simplify video editing and uploading.
  • Try to record live using Periscope on your next fam trip or special event.

Reboot Tip 5: Build a community

Besides Facebook, there are many places online to build or participate in communities.

Start with your own client base and explore other places where potential leads congregate online. Here are a couple of sites to start:

  • Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.
  • Theneeds is a content-discovery platform that helps its users discover media tailored to their specific interests.
  • Listly might be a great place to share lists of travel tips within the community.

Here's to happy rebooting.

If you have a question, concern or tip to share with the Going Social community, make sure to leave a comment or email me at [email protected].

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI