Travel professionals use several methods of marketing -- the Travel Industry Survey tracks the relative use of a dozen approaches -- but one thing that's stood out over the past few years has been the rise of social media. Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin spoke with Jean Newman Glock, the owner of JNG Worldwide and Signature Travel Network's social media consultant (and a social media influencer with several thousand followers), on the role of Facebook, Twitter and more among sellers.
Q: The 2015 Travel Industry Survey asked respondents to pick up to four marketing approaches they consider most important to attract or keep clients, and "social media" rose from 57% last year to 64% this year. It is now the second most popular approach, after email. Does that surprise you?
Jean Newman Glock
A: Social media is fueling the sharing economy. Travel is one of the most impacted sectors from the sharing economy. I don't mean to be glib, but social media is the new word-of-mouth -- on steroids.
The conversations about travel are happening on social platforms between consumers, suppliers and all sellers of travel, including OTAs. Everyone needs to be part of these discussions to remain relevant in selling travel.
Q: In 2011, only 39% of agents said they considered social media important to attract or keep clients. How do you think agents' use of social media in business has changed over the past five or so years?
A: Many travel advisers have done a 180-degree turn on social over the past year alone. When I jumped into social media four years ago, only a few of us [were] discussing luxury travel. Now most realize that having a strong Facebook page is just as important as having a website.
Q: According to our research, social media use is most important to home-based agents and the largest travel agencies. Why do you think that is?
A: Larger agencies and home-based have embraced the marketing opportunities offered by social media. The larger have the resources to devote manpower to social to extend their reach. Home-based agents are recognizing that by skillful use of social media they can punch way above their size in influencing and attracting travelers.
Q: When respondents were asked about the importance of support services from suppliers, "social media co-op" overall ranked the lowest, at 11%. Do you think the trade would benefit from more co-op opportunities over social?
A: I wonder if the low rank is the result of the question? Social media does not align with traditional "support service" models. I would like to ask if they would value a supplier, say VisitBritain or Crystal Cruises, interacting with them on social media. Would they value either mentioning them on Twitter or sharing their photograph on Instagram? The value of a global supplier recognizing the expertise of a travel adviser on social media is gold.
Q: Is there any supplier who comes to mind who is doing something unique to engage the trade on social media?
A: There seems to be a dual evolution. First, some travel suppliers are morphing from pure customer service on social channels to engaging with consumers and advisers to inspire travel. Not with booking offers but with original content, photos and copy.
Second, many are also reevaluating "blogger" campaigns. Early on, suppliers looking to gain some exposure on social media would look for the early leaders in the social media world who had huge followings but no travel expertise and who lacked the target audience of the supplier. Photos of many martinis followed, but the only successful metrics were "impressions."
Over the past six months, I have received over 50 requests from top luxury suppliers for names of "travel experts who are also proficient on social media," not "social media experts who want to take a trip." They are recognizing that the former ...have the right demographic engaging with them.
Q: You are a social media consultant to the Signature consortium. How do you work with Signature or its member agencies on boosting or refining their social strategies?
A: We are working with several suppliers at Signature and developing some very exciting initiatives for social sharing. My goal is to make advisers social influencers in travel. I feel that social media is a tool for all to use, not a numbers game for a few to lead.
The best advisers are already experts; they just need to learn to use the tools to shout it from the virtual rooftops. It starts with the individuals at each member agency learning to take good photos. Photos and videos are the new capital of travel.
Q: How do you use your various social media accounts? Do you have a favorite?
A: It is Instagram, by far. For travel, it is perfect: inspiring and visual. I have one-sixth the followers on Instagram that I have on Twitter, but the engagement is 100 times higher, and the questions are all about travel. Daily, I get questions about how to book, etc., and I refer them to travel advisers. I can't quantify the return on investment, but the return on your brand exposure will be high.
Q: We asked this question of Douglas Quinby of Phocuswright last year: Is there a way to have a business that is off social media long term? What do you think?
A: I think the sharing economy, fueled by social media, is the biggest challenge that travel advisers have ever faced. To ignore the very channel that everyone is tuned into to discuss travel is very dangerous.