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Rev Up Your Social Media Game

Travel Leaders1 2018 Social Hero

Take your social media to the next level to boost visibility, client engagement and profits.

Staying on top of the latest social media trends might be easy for your teenage relatives, but for many travel agents who rely on the various platforms to build their businesses, it can be a daunting task.

The continued evolution of social media as a marketing tool presents ever-changing options—and challenges—for travel agents. Entrepreneur Magazine, for example, recently reported on the rise of marketing tactics that use augmented reality, Instagram Stories, influencer marketing and live streaming—as well as social platforms like Google Hangout and Facebook Spaces. Inc. magazine, meanwhile, predicts that personalized content, “social listening,” video and chatbots will change how marketers do business on social media this year.
 
One thing is clear: Travel agents can’t just dabble in social media if they want to leverage its power, build engagement and close sales. Those with the most social media success take a proactive approach to mastering the many intricacies and staying on top of trends. Here are some tips and trends industry experts are using to stake out a winning spot on the social media scene.

Create Compelling Content

A few years ago, it might have been enough to simply have a Facebook page and post an occasional picture or promotion. But in today’s world of crowded social media and fickle followers, travel agents must constantly create content that will pique user interest to foster engagement, and attract and keep followers.

“Social media is a huge influencer in making travel plans and decisions today,” says Sara Lantto, digital marketing manager at Travel Leaders Network. “Destinations are rapidly becoming popular because people are sharing their travel experiences on social media channels, which is influencing other travelers to want to experience those destinations for themselves.”

Kelsey Mahan, luxury and adventure destination specialist at Rennert Travel in San Antonio, Texas, agrees that social media is changing how travelers shop. “Seeing a friend post photos on their Facebook or Instagram site of the places they’ve just returned from draws us in,” she says. “We no longer have to spend hours researching reviews. We can get first-hand knowledge from our inner circles, shared in seconds. Our site, for instance, gets shared by simply tagging a friend in the comments, giving them access to the video or content that intrigued them.”

For David Fishman, president of Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield, Michigan, the recipe for compelling content is simple: “Beautiful pictures taken with real people,” he says. “People want to see themselves in the pictures.”

Current and potential clients also want to see their travel agents in those pictures—a real-life way to demonstrate expertise in the field, show first-hand knowledge of a destination or property, and encourage clients to envision themselves in the same setting their trusted travel advisor is visiting, even if it’s somewhere they wouldn’t have thought to go on their own.

“People of all ages unwind by browsing social media networks where they see photos and videos of new destinations they never thought to explore,” says Mahan. “Whether consciously or subconsciously, I believe the content we see on social media strongly influences future trip planning.”

Videos also draw in a lot of followers, according to Lantto. “Videos can make all the difference in the world when it comes to attracting travelers on social media,” she says. “Something as simple as 10 seconds of watching the waves crash up on the beach at sunset, or a video of the view from The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, will not only get a ton of views—people will imagine themselves there in that moment, engage with it, tag some friends and possibly even share it.”

Find the Right Channel

It’s easier to engage with someone when you know who they are and what they like. So travel agents should keep a close eye on who’s following, liking and sharing their content across the various channels. For example, Mahan says that adventurous types and those looking for the next “hot” destination are her biggest followers. Armed with that knowledge, she can ensure her content is designed to continue to interest those followers.

She calls out Facebook and Instagram as having “done a great job at providing the best tools and access to marketing.” And she adds, “Using hashtags to draw a client to a point of interest and back to us is a key tactic in utilizing our posts.”

Lantto also agrees that Facebook and Instagram stand out for their effective marketing tools. “Facebook is, by far, the most advanced social media platform when it comes to targeting options with Facebook Ads,” she says. “We also have a lot of success with Instagram Stories and we see a lot of engagement with them.”

Lantto points out, however, that the best platform can vary depending on who an agent is trying to reach. “We see a lot of people on Facebook interested in cruises, river cruising, all-inclusive vacations, adventure travel and family vacations,” she says. “However, the social media channel we choose to focus on really depends on what kind of traveler we are looking for. For example, we tend to catch the attention of travelers in the destination wedding and honeymoon planning phase with Instagram Stories, too.”

Kelly Westin, marketing manager at Market Square Travel, a Travel Leaders agency in Maple Grove, Minnesota, also cautions not just to look at the number of followers, but to track other analytics as well. “We have the largest following on Facebook,” she says. “But we tend to have more engagements on Instagram, as it’s more photo-based and people are actively searching hashtags.”

Dedicate Time

Maintaining a social media presence and marketing strategy is a time-consuming affair. To keep it from encroaching upon other aspects of doing business, time-pressed travel agents should set clear goals, create a social media schedule and delegate responsibilities whenever possible.

To keep the right people focused on the right things, Fishman hires social media experts—especially younger people, who are often more intuitively tuned in to what’s trending now. “We have hired an intern to help us expand our presence in different social media platforms,” he says.

Setting a daily, weekly and monthly schedule for social media activity helps to maintain a consistent presence, upping the odds that potential travelers will continue to engage with your posts. “A lot of time needs to be placed throughout the week to have successful interactions and followers,” says Mahan. “Keeping viewers intrigued by adding humor and tips/tricks, while still promoting sales and specials, is key. Time can be invested at the beginning of each week, to set up posts for the week.”
And an annual schedule allows agents to take advantage of upcoming opportunities. Consider how far out your travelers typically book and when vacations will be on their mind to maximize the value of your posts. It’s too late, for example, to start promoting spring break vacations in March when most travelers have already booked their travel—but teasers, photos and promotions in early January can entice potential travelers when they’re feeling the pressures of returning to work and school after the holiday season.

Likes and shares on social media are great, but do you see a time of day or a day of the week that they lead to comments, questions and potential bookings? “Posting daily is important, but where travel agents can see the most return on their time spent on social media is by monitoring engagement throughout the day and posting during the most heavily trafficked times,” says Lantto. So be sure to monitor your interactions throughout the day. When do your posts get the most responses? What time of day do you see the most activity?

Stay on Top of Trends

Social media isn’t a subject that you learn just once. It’s an ongoing process to master new platforms and new opportunities for engagement—and to change strategies when necessary.

“Social media trends change quickly,” Lantto notes. “It’s important to monitor performance across each channel daily, as well as always try new things. Often, you will notice that something that may have been working for a long time no longer seems to resonate with consumers. Following your competition as well as other brands can also help influence when you might need to consider changing your social media strategy.”

To fully understand how the traveling public uses social media over time, agents should learn to act like them, according to Mahan. “You really have to use the social media platforms just as your target market would,” she advises. “Follow the travel trends that are sharing well, see which Instagram users have the most followers and see what’s working for them, and apply it to your business page.”

Turn Engagement into Sales

Sure, it’s a rush when your social media post garners hundreds or thousands of likes and shares. But taken alone, that type of adoration doesn’t do much to improve your bottom line immediately. So how does a travel agency convert all that social media love into sales?

“That is the question of the day,” Fishman responds, offering the solution that works best at his agency. “Creating links and live chat creates better conversion rates.”

Westin points out the importance of responding to social media conversations for conversions. “Follow up…and quickly,” she says. “If you aren’t responding to interactions or reaching out to potential leads, the lead will fall through the cracks.”

“Reaching out and responding to posts can help turn a simple share into a possible lead and eventually a sale,” agrees Mahan. Effectively capturing these potential leads requires staying on top of social media activity, even if it means checking on—and responding to—post activity outside of normal business hours.

It’s basic logic, Lantto notes: If you want the traveling public to engage with you, you need to interact with them, too. “Engaging with users on social media is one of the most important things for travel agents to do,” she says. “People will be tagging their friends in posts and asking questions, which are all great opportunities to convert a user.”

Engaging outside of your own content works too, Lantto adds. “You can join in on conversations that are already happening on social media,” she says. “You are the expert everyone is looking for, whether they know it or not. And you can win the booking by engaging and making personal connections on social media.”

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