Carrie Finley-Bajak
Carrie Finley-Bajak

Your social media activity can be an integral part of a successful marketing plan. Creating a winning strategy requires the time and patience to build connections that generate a positive return on investment. Knowing where to spend time online to generate the most results is top of mind for most travel agents.

A couple social media channels worthy of attention are Facebook and Instagram. Both of these services were discussed during Facebook's Q2 earnings call on July 29.

Based on the company's user data and growth plans outlined in the call, agents should continue to invest resources in marketing activities on the two platforms.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook continued to make progress in the growth of its community, with 1.49 billion people now using it each month. He reported Q2 total revenue of more than $4 billion for the first time, and advertising revenue grew by 43% year over year.

Zuckerberg said more than 968 million people worldwide now use Facebook daily, and 65% of its monthly active users are also daily active users; users spend an average of more than 46 minutes a day across Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. (WhatsApp was not included.)

The takeaway: Don't give up on Facebook marketing activities. For travel agents, there are enough people who use Facebook to justify spending the time it takes to build relationships and the resources it takes to develop ad campaigns. Together or separately, Facebook and Instagram present opportunities for agents to build brand awareness, connect with clients or reach prospects.

Travel retailers need to know that over the next few years, Facebook's main focus will be on helping its existing communities and businesses reach their full potential. Facebook's continued commitment to the user experience is achieved by delivering the right content -- posts or ads that are engaging, popular, relevant and on topic. Content is delivered via ranking on the News Feed, from ads and through Facebook Search.

Zuckerberg said the company is focused on building a better search experience for the community. He said data showed that it recently topped 1.5 billion searches per day, and the site has now indexed more than 2 trillion posts.

Think about it: Two trillion posts is a lot of user-generated content, all of it now searchable. Currently, the types of content that Facebook search looks for include people, posts, photos, places, pages, groups, apps and events.

The potential for Facebook Search is so great that some are wondering if it will eventually compete with Google.

Facebook's search potential was addressed in a recent article on Fortune.com describing how the company plans to use search as a way to keep people on the social network for longer stretches of time, which means more time to serve ads to community members.

Once a search is executed, Facebook displays results based on the searcher's connections to people, places, things and what he or she is able to see on Facebook. Give it a try with a simple keyword search -- for example, "Caribbean cruise," and spend some time analyzing the results.

Facebook marketers are always looking for ways for content to show up in search results. Although no one knows the exact science behind Facebook's search algorithm, it makes sense to make posts as relevant as possible.

The goal for travel sellers is to craft relevant and engaging content. Try sharing personal experiences related to travel as well as trying out various types of content, such as video. According to Zuckerberg, "video continues to be some of the richest and most engaging content for people and publishers."

The takeaway for travel consultants is to provide useful content to users. You should keep updates full of keywords to provide context, and the use of hashtags can help categorize posts.

Another priority revealed during Facebook's earnings call was its desire to grow the number of marketers on the site. One of the ways it plans to accomplish that goal is by making ads more relevant and effective.

Below are some examples of new ad formats that were discussed during the earnings call. A word of caution though: Some of the ad formats are not easy to find on Facebook, so I included a link for where to get more information if applicable.

Link ads might be worth exploring. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg used Booking.com as an example of a company that had success featuring "Book Now" buttons in its ads. "The ads drove a meaningful increase in room reservations for Booking.com, helping them meet their ROI goals for the campaign. They're now expanding their use of Facebook ads across multiple markets," Sandberg said. 

Dynamic Product Ads will enable marketers to upload their product catalog.

Expanded Carousel Ads display multiple images in one ad unit.

Lead Ads enable marketers to collect contact information that users share with Facebook, including email addresses (assuming the user agrees). The idea is to make it easier for people to connect with companies they're interested in. These types of ads are new, so keep Googling "Facebook lead ads" for information about when they become available.

Instagram use: 300 million a month

Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012. Since then, the photo filter app has undergone a lot of changes and now has 300 million people using the site each month. If you need inspiration about what to post, check out these accounts.

Travel sellers can build a following on Instagram or use the mobile platform to target its existing user base. Some of the ways that advertisers use Instagram are through building brand awareness or offering offline sales.

Like Facebook, the site has made the community a priority, delivering ads to users about topics they care about. Travel sellers who are not ready to launch an Instagram ad campaign can focus on building key skills, like learning how to leverage hashtags, tagging or direct messaging.

Tips for how to use Instagram:

• Use the Search button to find trending tags or to explore posts that are popular. This will reveal what other people are doing within your niche.

• Use hashtags to post to trending topics like Throwback Thursday (#TBT) where users post pictures from the past, or discover what the Weekend Hashtag Project is and post pictures or videos related to the theme.

• Make sure your Instagram site's branding matches your other social channels. Usernames and profile descriptions should be similar.

• Don't be afraid to use the video feature.

• Don't just post and go. You want to become influential, which means that you need to actively engage. Do this by liking and commenting on other people's shares.

• Tag people, brands and preferred suppliers. Ask your reps if they have an account and work together to maximize interactions for added engagement.

• Experiment with Instagram Direct. This feature is like Snapchat, enabling users to send photos or videos to a specific user or group of users.

Hopefully, travel professionals now have a few more ideas about how to leverage Facebook and Instagram for marketing. Let me know how it goes and email me at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or examples of travel agents or suppliers who are going social. 

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