Outreach to clients: Travel sellers' preferred marketing platforms

Within the past year, use of paid advertising on social media and online in general has grown significantly. Managing editor Rebecca Tobin spoke with Sam McCully, senior vice president of marketing at Avoya Travel, about the trends in social media marketing.

Q: Overall, what do you consider to be your travel advisors' most effective marketing platform?

A: Social media really has become the new norm, not just for consumers but also for businesses. It's a proliferation of social and this connected world we live in. So for both users/consumers and then businesses  in this case travel advisors  it's become really critical. I would put that one at the top of the list.

Avoya as a brand, and our ICs, is highly active in social media, because of the reach, the large population of users and the sophistication of the type of marketing capabilities of those platforms. I'll call out Facebook and Instagram.
Social media is powerful because it can be very interactive, unlike an email. And it fits what we sell perfectly. 

Q: For an advisor, what's the difference between an organic and paid post; why might they use one versus another?

A: Best practices that we're sharing are: Organic posts really should be designed to be less overtly promotional and really more helpful for their prospective customers  destination knowledge, for example; new and emerging trends in travel; how to best prepare for a cruise.

Best practices for paid are: You can be a bit more promotional. If there's a sale or some added value or new destinations or new offerings that a travel advisor might have. Both have specific purposes, if you will.

Q: Do you think users are still expecting to see a casual, fun interaction in an organic post, while in a paid post it makes more sense to see a promotion or ad? 

A: Within these big platforms, they're intentionally evolving their algorithms to have businesses pay more to get more reach. So oftentimes the paid mechanisms enable you to get more reach. There's a lot of marketing capability in Facebook, a crazy amount actually in terms of the targeting you can do, the reporting you can see and the optimization you can make based on the paid placements.

Sam McCully
Sam McCully

We [at Avoya's head office] are full-time marketers, so we understand these channels really well and different levers you can pull to accomplish your objectives. Now our independent agencies are small businesses that don't have very large, full-time marketing operations. We're helping, sharing our intelligence and experience on how to do things well.

Q: The trend line of respondents who use paid ads on social and online has been pretty static over the years, and just this year it went from 19% to 26%. In this past year, have the social giants made the paid tools easier to use or more sophisticated? Or has the market just grown?

A: It's kind of a combination. So Facebook and Instagram are the same company. For advertisers or marketers or travel agencies, there's power, there's a lot of synergy, and [Facebook] designed it that way.

Yes, the user base continues to grow. And in particular in the type of business vertical we're in, leisure vacations, there is a gold mine of potential customers. There's huge opportunity, and Facebook and Instagram know it. They continue to innovate and open up new types of promotional advertising opportunities on their platforms, and they're making it easier for smaller businesses to advertise on those platforms.

Not everyone can sit down and sign up for Facebook advertising and be an expert right away. It takes some learning, some experience, and it can be somewhat expensive. But, yes, the platforms are growing in their user bases, and the new capabilities of the type of advertising opportunities are expanding.  If you add all those things up, I'm not surprised in the uptick you're seeing in the adoption of travel advisors using social media advertising, in particular paid advertising.

Q: Have any social channels grown in importance? Have others dropped off?

A: The key players are still Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat. Facebook is still by far the largest player out there. It has the biggest reach and the most advanced capabilities for brands and businesses to leverage.

But you also have to look at the type of demographic you're reaching. For example, YouTube and Snapchat are more popular with the younger demographic.

You can't just look at these social platforms as all being the same, because they're not. You have to understand that and set up your marketing plan accordingly to reach the kind of people you want, to achieve your objectives.

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