Boost engagement with a well-planned strategy.
What’s your most important marketing approach? If you’re like more than two-thirds of those who responded to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Travel Industry Survey, the answer is social media, coming in just behind email marketing as the top approach. But even as it’s clear that travel agents understand the potential and the power of social media for connecting with clients, the organic in-the-moment nature of social media often means that this powerhouse tool doesn’t get the attention it deserves as part of a strategic marketing plan.
To put it simply, “You need to have a strategy— otherwise you’re wasting your time,” says Denise Vogel, president of Click of the Mouse, specializing in coaching social media management to travel agent professionals. “On our personal pages, we can be willy-nilly and post in the moment. But on professional pages, travel agents have to be laser-focused in order to achieve their goals.”
From a big-picture perspective, the goals of marketing on social media mirror any other form of marketing— increase brand recognition and positioning to ultimately lead to a sale. But there are many paths on the road to success, with the initial strategy largely dependent on factors that are unique to any individual agent or agency. When choosing where to start, consider:
• Platforms you already know: No need to add to the learning curve. If you already have a personal Facebook page, create a business Facebook page. If Twitter is your personal platform of choice, sum up your business messages in 140 characters.
• Where the customers are: For agents dipping a toe into social media, Facebook is generally the best place to start. According to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Consumer Trends survey, 94 percent of travelers who use social media are on Facebook—that matches perfectly with the 94 percent of travel agents who use social media and are on Facebook (Travel Weekly’s 2016 Travel Industry Survey). The survey showed other platforms with high use by consumers who use travel agents include YouTube (88%), Twitter (76%), LinkedIn (75%), and Instagram and Pinterest (both at 74%).
• Specific target audience: While the numbers above are for general usage, you might find your own customers lean more strongly towards other platforms. Pinterest, for example, is wildly popular with couples planning weddings—an ideal setting for agents who specialize in destination weddings and honeymoons—while Instagram is big with the burgeoning millennial travel market.
A Comprehensive Plan
As with travel itself, deciding where to go is only one small, albeit integral, part of the plan. A strategic plan includes several other elements:
• Annual planning: Pay attention to what’s coming up and when you need to start promoting. “I create our social media schedule by month on a content calendar we created on Excel. When I look at it, it provides a bird’s-eye view of a brand’s social page for that month,” says Lauren Ackley, social content specialist for The Mark Travel Corporation. “The spreadsheet includes different post objectives so that we mix up the varying kinds of posts—for example some are sales-oriented, some are fun, some feature tactics, some highlight promotions, etc. We also note important holidays and selling periods, including wacky holidays like National Bikini Day, where we take advantage of social media trends and have some fun with posts.”
Vogel recommends looking at every promotion strategically. When you know that there’s going to be a destination or supplier promo or sale coming up, the goal is to get people thinking about that place or resort before the promo actually starts. During the lead-up to the promo, you can post engaging questions, videos, tips, your own images or videos of first-person experiences there, etc. “Then pull all those pieces together with the actual promotion,” says Vogel. “But don’t start with the sale; build up to the sale.”
• Schedule posts: Planning ahead also allows you to take advantage of advance scheduling functions so you’re not spending all day at the computer. “A lot of people have a misconception that everything is happening in real time,” says Kelsey Stetson, social content manager for The Mark Travel Corporation. “But you can schedule marketing for the month peppered across all kinds of content—such as photos and contests and promos— and that frees you up to do the real-life real-time posts that make you more credible.” Some platforms, such as Facebook, have scheduling abilities within the platform, while an app like Hootsuite allows you to schedule and manage all posts across platforms from one dashboard.
• Track performance: You’ll quickly see which posts garner likes, shares and responses. Watch your posts and see how people respond—and then look at the data. On Facebook, for example, Vogel says, “See what the reactions are, then go to Facebook Insights and dig deeper into what people are doing on your page.” Watch for trends on your page— do you see more engagement when people have free time over the weekend or when they return to work on Monday morning? Is there a lot of activity before the workday begins or early evening when many people have returned home? Schedule your most important posts for those times when you have maximum engagement.
• Budget: Even with free access to social media, there might be times when you want to reach a larger audience or access additional data. Many platforms have tools you can pay for that can provide additional information or expand your reach beyond your own circle, such as Facebook’s Audience Insights. You can use this tool for more information about your target audience, to “boost” a particular post and make it available to a specific group of users, to create an offer, to advertise a call to action and more.
• Expand your presence: Once you’ve really got a handle on your first platforms, it’s time to think about growing your audience reach. Janelle Grissinger, travel consultant and owner of Janelle & Co. Travel, says, “My agency is young, just four years old, and I built most of my business from Facebook. We’ve expanded into Instagram—that’s where the millennials are—and next up will be Snapchat and Twitter. Pinterest is also on our radar—I think that eventually that will be a goldmine.”