Training hundreds of Cruise Planners independent owners to use social media marketing is a priority for COO Vicky Garcia, who walks the walk. ("If I'm going to tell agents to try this, I have to do it.") She spoke with managing editor Rebecca Tobin about current social media trends for travel professionals.
Q: Which social media platforms do the majority of your agents use?
A: Across the board, the most popular is Facebook. It lends itself so well to travel in terms of the photos of travel. As agents themselves travel and they post their experiences, it shows they're an experienced travel adviser. So it really goes hand in hand with the business.
Q: Earlier this year we did a survey of consumers that showed that almost 90% of travelers have a Facebook account, but platform use in other areas is growing strongly. The numbers are even higher among travelers who used a travel agent recently. But in the Travel Industry Survey, only 37% overall said they use Twitter for business, 33% said they use Instagram and only 22% said Pinterest. What do you think accounts for the difference?
A: We're seeing Twitter on the declining statistic. People can't elaborate that much in 140 characters or less about travel; it's a complex thing. Pinterest, I think, is a great opportunity. However, I caution agents because if you start pinning and making boards and all those links go right back to suppliers, it does you a disservice. We teach Pinterest, and we [say]: "You can use it, you just have to be a little more technical, and you have to think your strategy out." Facebook is a lot easier to go, post, here's my picture, I traveled, I'm going on a river cruise, I can't wait to tell you about it.
Instagram, we're definitely seeing on the rise. I think it's making some changes to make it a little better. We're seeing even the age group get higher on Instagram ... We teach our agents, look: wrap your arms around one or two of these main tools and be avid on it. Post a lot on it so people follow you because you're giving them good information. [And] if that one client might want to Snapchat you, know enough about it to be able to respond, [even if] it's not your main way to promote yourself.
I think your question is: What are they doing for business? I think, especially, our agents use social media also for their lifestyle. Where they're pinning their own things or their own vacation, their destination inspiration, but they're not necessarily using it as a hard sell for business. ... And maybe they're using [platforms] more socially and more personally, and that is ultimately helping their brand and their business, but it might not be a business selling tool the way other platforms are.
Q: According to our survey, social media is the second most-popular medium agents use to attract new clients; email is first. Is social media that powerful?
A: Oh, yeah. We're seeing it. I mean, our most successful agents most of the time attribute [success] to it, especially Facebook, just because they're posting.
Q: What kind of training, resources or advice do you offer your agencies with regard to social marketing?
A: We do regional boot camps [with] some social media training. We annually hire a social media expert to do webinar training, so we'll incorporate that into our online university. We hired a social media expert she did an online series that we paid for the content, and then she offered a one-on-one coaching product to take on the next 30 days. So for those who wanted to dig deeper, they hired her as an add-on. At our convention there's always several components of social media We have a platform that we provide our agents. It literally ties their business page to ours. We post on their behalf two to three times a week, so that if they're busy traveling or just to give them more content, their Facebook page won't go dark. It's mainly on Facebook, but now we're launching where if an agent wants to attach their Twitter handle, their LinkedIn and their Instagram, it will also post there.
Q: Social media co-op is last on the list of importance of support from suppliers. I wonder if that will change as social continues to be so prevalent?
A: One of the things we do to help our preferred sales is when a supplier comes in to do a lunch-and-learn with our business development team we'll do a short video, whether it be an announcement or a short training about product, and then we push it on our social media, closed Cruise Planners groups. Just to help share, "We just got a great training delivered here." Say there's a call to action, they have an offer going on right now, let's get it via video. Because we know video is a great source; we're in travel, we can talk about destinations and show pictures.
Q: Which platform do you like the best?
A: [Laughs] Obviously. Facebook ... And Facebook Live, I think, is so cool now.
We're seeing our agents now really adopt it. [During the Regent Explorer naming] I did a tour of the cabins, I was up on deck and showed where they were setting up the christening. I had Andrea Bocelli live, and everyone back at the office was like, "That's so cool!" It was a great way to bring someone on a trip and talk about what you do.