Boost your social media returns with these photo tips.

As travel agents continue to dive into social media—dipping a toe into anything and everything from Facebook to LinkedIn, Instagram to Pinterest, Twitter to Snapchat—the question increasingly becomes: How do you stand out from the crowd?

While some platforms lend themselves more to photography than others, there’s no question that travel on the whole is a visual, immersive experience. But strategic use of social media to boost business and lift engagement requires more than simply posting all the travel photos you take or sharing a client’s photos when they happen to appear in your feed. Use these tips to take, post and share photos strategically to increase engagement and boost your social media presence.

Planning for Photos

Tempting as it is to post photos as you’re traveling for in-the-moment immediacy, consider creating a loose plan before you start. “I never want to post everything all at once,” says Ryan Ranahan, marketing manager at Atlas Travel Global Travel Management, admitting he might take as many as 1,500 photos on one trip—and that he will probably never post all of them.

Still, even for those who take far fewer photos, he recommends breaking up the posts over an extended period of time. “First, some platforms limit the number of photos you can post at one time,” he says. “Second, when you post multiple photos at one time, you might find that only one of the photos shows and the others come up as thumbnails. Third, you never know when friends and clients will be online and looking at social media. When you spread it out, you have a better chance of a greater number of people seeing the photos show up in their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter feed, etc.”

While Ranahan does post some photos as events are unfolding, he holds back a good number to use throughout the year. “Today is a gray dreary day,” he noted recently. “It’s a perfect day for me to post a beach resort with a blue sky and beautiful beach. Then I’ll wait a week or two—maybe now I have a new audience, maybe the algorithms are such that it will show up differently in someone’s feed and today they’ll see it even if they didn’t see the similar photo before.”

Of course, the photo itself is only part of the story. It’s up to the agent to choose verbiage that enhances and expands on the narrative of the picture. “One of the most engaged posts I ever had was when my Cuban-born mom and I went to Cuba [on a cruise],” says Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative. “It was a genuine story and a beautifully framed picture that got a lot of love on social media.”

While most photos won’t start with that built-in good will, Ranahan agrees that “You want to create an emotion to get people to connect with the photo. The goal is to create interaction that could lead to a conversation and eventually a sale.” And even if the picture itself might be worth a thousand words, a few additional strategic words can make all the difference, moving your photo from one that viewers glance at to one that they stop and engage with.

Ranahan says one way to create engagement is by providing a tip that ties into the photo content. “It could be something as simple as pointing out that a resort has a private beach, or a tip that is more insider-oriented, such as noting that you must eat at this particular restaurant when you’re at this location.”

Cindy Ross, owner of Stash Your Bag travel agency and CEO of Socialize Your Bizness, a company that specializes in brand development through social media, notes that asking a question is a good way to encourage connections and active participation. “I might post a photo of a destination and then ask ‘What’s your favorite cafe or drink or food’ in that destination,” she says. “It creates the kind of engagement that keeps connections coming back to see others’ answers.”

Sharing Credit

Along with the description or question, highlighting partners can lead to increased engagement on all sides. “We always try to tag the travel brand, industry partner or people in our photos,” says Garcia. “This is helpful since they will get an alert on their device that they were tagged, which can help increase engagement. But like everything else, don’t overtag…use good judgement…and most importantly, be genuine.”

Depending on the platform you’re using, you might want to tag those partners or use a hashtag, or both. Ross recommends using a hashtag for general keywords and concepts, such as #beachvacation, which becomes part of all tagged conversations about beach vacations, while using a tag like @AppleVacations to ensure that the post also goes into the feed of whatever company or person is tagged. She also uses tags to alert a destination or other supplier that a customer is on their way. “As soon as a client books a trip, I can start posting photos of what they’ll be doing and tagging the resort, excursions, the destination and so on,” she says. “Then they all know the client will be staying there and it also creates excitement among other possible travelers.”

Setting the Scene 

Before your clients have even completed their booking, you can start setting the scene for photo-sharing. When clients share their photos and/or tag you online, it has a dual benefit: Anyone following your feed will see the photos, tags and comments—possibly inspiring others you’re already connected with to consider a similar experience—while any of the clients’ connections also become potential new clients and contacts.

Looking for a way to start the conversation? Click here to download a printable PDF, courtesy of Apple Vacations, with 10 tips for taking Instagram-worthy photos. Make this handout part of your pre-vacation information packet to stay top of mind as travelers are preparing for their vacations. (Also see the slideshow, above, for those same tips and photos in a larger format for your own use.)

From there, it’s natural to ask your clients if they would be willing to share their photos while they’re on vacation or after they return. Ranahan suggests possibly even sweetening the pot. “You can ask clients to use hashtags and they might,” he says. “Or you can give them a compelling reason to do so—maybe run a contest for a prize that clients are automatically entered into if they use your company hashtag with their photos.”

Ross also remains proactive throughout. “I text clients the morning of their trip, tell them I hope they have a blast on their vacation and ask them to send me photos I can post or to share with me photos that they post,” she says.

While it might not be 100 percent necessary to ask clients for permission to share their photos, many travel professionals recommend erring on the side of caution. “If a client has tagged the travel agent in a photo, I think it’s OK to share that content without directly asking,” says Garcia. “However, it’s important to not invade the privacy of clients by sharing their photos or using them to promote your business without asking.”

Garcia continues: “One way to get around this is to ask permission directly and see if they have a few favorite photos they want to share. This is also a good time to ask for a recommendation or testimonial, which can also be helpful for agents.”

Another simple approach is following or friending your clients on social media. “It’s a great way to keep up with them, see their pictures so I know what they’re doing and get insights into what strikes them as noteworthy,” says Ross.

She also follows up with a customized thank you. “I use the Ink app to make a hard-copy collage of their pictures and send it to them in the mail along with a thank you for their business,” she says. “Typically my clients post that on Facebook after they receive it as well. It’s a thank you, shows I’ve been paying attention to them—and often gives me bonus exposure after the trip among their connections.”

Plan for the Long Haul

While it’s fun to count “likes,” important to track shares and wise to use the analytics available for any given platform, those numbers will only tell you so much.

As with any other kind of marketing, Ranahan cautions that the payoff might be a long time coming. “A high school teacher of mine saw some photos on my personal Facebook page that I posted from a family vacation,” he says. “She sent me a private message about possibly booking a vacation. That was in February; now in June, the booking is coming through. Sometimes people who see your posts aren’t ready to book a vacation right at that moment—but they hold onto the information and know they can come back to you when they are ready.”

Ranahan also points out that sharing photos of one kind of experience can lead to sales for a completely different vacation. That was the case when he posted photos from the Sahara Desert a couple of years back. A friend got in touch with him to see if his company also sold cruises. The answer was yes, and the friend later planned a combination Disney cruise and Animal Kingdom vacation. “He didn’t want to go to the Sahara Desert, but he did want to travel,” says Ranahan. “It was enough to make the connection between us. Sometimes it’s hard to really keep track of what the results are. You might only get a handful of likes—but if you get a lead from it, you know you’re doing it right.” 

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