A picture has traditionally been worth a thousand words. Today, the right picture could be worth a thousand likes.
Social media has gone visual in a very big way, offering travel professionals unprecedented opportunities to promote their products and brands. Photo-based social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest, in particular, have ushered in a visual revolution, taking the old adage "don't tell when you can show" to new heights.
Unlike words, photos can preserve visual memories when ours fade or fail to recount a great vacation from beginning to end. No one takes a vacation without taking photos, right?
But beyond sheer memories, a really great photo can influence a purchase decision.
Of course, bad photos can have the opposite effect: They can drive away potential customers, who won't bother to look at the details of an offer if the photo is boring, of low quality or off message.
Among other things, the image revolution creates an opportunity for travel professionals to become visual influencers. Knowing what's new, what's changed and how to leverage those changes is essential.
Remember Polaroid cameras? By the standards of the day, it was "instant." Within seconds, it spit out a photo. Of course, you couldn't touch it for several minutes until it was completely developed, but at the time it was pretty serious technology.
Today most people have a camera in their pocket. Smartphone cameras are getting better with each generation. In an instant, you can snap a picture and upload it to any social media website, sharing the moment with friends or clients in real time. It is this pocket-camera technology that has sparked the growth of social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest.
Becoming a visual influencer with social media begins with great photos.
Choose images that stand on their own and tell a great story even without words. The best are photos that invoke an "I want or need to go" response. Conversely, boring photos are off limits.
Sourcing great images is not as hard as you might think. Check with preferred suppliers, cruise lines and tourism boards for photos you can use. But, be sure to ask how and where they can be used and whether you'll need to credit the source.
While you might find amazing images with a Google image search, remember that every photo on the Internet is someone's intellectual property. If you don't have written permission to use it, don't.
If you don't find exactly what you're looking for, another source for story-telling images is stock photography websites. iStock.com, Bigstock.com and many others sell royalty-free photos at very reasonable prices.
Pinterest and Instagram were built solely for the purpose of sharing great photos. Instagram, which was purchased by Facebook in 2012, is a smartphone app that turns ordinary photos into masterpieces. It takes full advantage of the camera in your pocket and enables users to share their lives or businesses in real time. On an average day, more than 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram.
Instagram is very user-friendly. Select a photo from your phone or take a new one. Then get creative. Let your inner Michelangelo flow by enhancing your photo with Instagram's built-in filters and effects. It's nearly impossible to create a bad photo. Photos created in Instagram can be shared on Facebook and Twitter right from the app. Like Twitter, Instagram uses hashtags, which are simply keyword phrases or topics with the hashtag symbol (#) in front of them.
Create a hashtag for your business and build your Instagram community by inviting clients to follow you. It's best to use your business name or brand as the hashtag (#travelagency), then share your hashtag with clients and ask them to use it in their own photo description when posting vacation photos. The hashtag will become a clickable link that takes Instagram users right to your profile. Promote a monthly gift card giveaway for the best client travel photo. The photo with the most likes wins a $25 gift card each month. It will encourage clients to share photos and get their friends involved by liking the photo. It's a very effective way to get clients to share your brand, showcasing what you do best: create amazing vacations.
Don't be afraid to imprint the personality of your business by sharing a behind-the-scenes look at your office, staff and events. Fam trips are also great moments to share on Instagram. Tours of hotels, cruise ships, beaches, pools, spas, sunsets, sunrises, dining experiences and cocktails all make great Instagram posts.
According to a study by Shareaholic, which develops interfaces for content sharing and discovery, Pinterest, a pin-board style, photo-sharing website, drives more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined. It was the fastest-growing social media site in 2012. Women are the biggest users of Pinterest, where users create boards of their favorite things, everything from shoe fetishes and recipes to dream weddings and travel bucket lists.
The biggest benefit of using Pinterest is its ability to send traffic back to your website in two ways. The first is to pin photos directly from your website with the Pin It button (http://about.pinterest.com/goodies). The Pin It button installs in your Web browser, where it is displayed in the toolbar. When you want to share images from a Web page, click the Pin It button. A dialog box will open to select the image you want to pin. After you've selected the image, decide which Pinterest board to display it on or create a new one. Add a description for your photo, and you're done. Pinterest automatically links the photo to its original location -- in this case, your website.
The second way to send traffic to your website from Pinterest is to upload an image along with your website link, or URL, manually. To upload an image, hover over your name on your Pinterest page in the top right-hand corner. Click Add a Pin. Browse for the image on your computer and add a description. Select the board it should appear on or create a new one.
Once the photo is uploaded, go back to it on your Pinterest page. Hover over the image and click Edit. Add your website link. Each time the image is re-pinned or shared, your Web address is attached. Thus, when the image is clicked, it sends traffic to your website no matter who repins it.
As a rule of thumb, taller (vertical) pins/photos are better than wider (horizontal) ones. The maximum width for an image is 554 pixels. You can make them as tall as you like. Tall images take up more space on a board and get more attention.
About 80% of photos on Pinterest are repins. It's a wide-open opportunity to become a content creator by adding new photos people want to share.
Creativity is king when it comes to Pinterest boards. Here are a few board ideas:
- Summer Vacation: Pin photos of the best summer getaways;
- Beach Vacations: Pin photos of the best beaches around the world;
- Client Testimonials: Ask clients to take a photo while on vacation and share it with you along with a testimonial of their experience. Upload the photo to your client testimonials board and place their testimonial in the description. Link the photo to your website;
- Caribbean Destination Wedding Hot Spots.
- Travel Deals: Pin destination photos and include a price by typing it into the description. Be sure to link the photo to a page on your website offering more information about the deal. Budget Travel does a great job of this.
- Travel Videos: Pin videos from your YouTube channel, and they will play directly in Pinterest.
As you create boards, consider adding to each a cover photo, i.e., an image that you specify as the first image a Pinterest user sees. You can title it by adding text to the images. A cover image for each board goes a long way in building your brand and keeping your page organized.
Beyond the basic travel photos, add a call to action to some photos, such as "Click here for details," which points to product details on your website. You can also add a price by simply typing the price in the description. Pinterest will automatically add a price banner at the top of the image.
Set up your Pinterest account as a business page and not a personal one. If you currently have a personal page, you can convert it to a business page by visiting http://business.pinterest.com. In the setup process, be sure to verify your website. If you aren't comfortable with HTML code, call your webmaster for assistance. Verify your website by visiting your Settings page and clicking on the Verify Website button. Once verified, your entire website URL, rather than just the website icon, will be displayed on your Pinterest page.
A recent study by the Harvard Business School revealed that about 70% of all Facebook activity centers on uploading, liking, sharing or commenting on photos. Facebook is playing a major role in the visual revolution with its billion-dollar purchase of Instagram and last month's introduction of a redesigned news feed.
Prior to the redesigned news feed, Facebook jumped headfirst into the visual revolution with the introduction of Timeline for profiles and pages. The idea behind Timeline was to tell your story through photos, friendships and milestones. It was a radical shift from Facebook's small profile photos and thumbnails.
Building your brand visually with Facebook starts with a strong cover image, the large photo that sits behind the smaller profile image on your business page.
As of March, this image can now include text. The only rule is that text cannot be more than 20% of the image. Think outside the box on this one. A cover image could be promotional with calls to action that instruct fans to like your page or visit your website. The size of a cover image is 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels tall. The cover image is the face of your brand, so image quality is crucial.
Highlight images in your status updates. A highlighted photo displays across both columns of the business page wall rather than just across one. Highlight a photo by hovering over the top right-hand corner of the post itself and clicking the star. Be sure your image is large enough (843 pixels wide by 403 pixels tall) to cover both columns.
Facebook's redesigned news feed brings one distinctive feature: larger photos. The feed itself is becoming visual with the introduction of a number of new feeds that give the Facebook user different ways to view content. Viewing one of those feeds, Photos, lets a user see only photos; there are no text updates. If 70% of the activity on Facebook happens with a photo, my guess is this will be one of the most used Timeline feeds.
With each photo you post on Facebook, add a location. Facebook's new Graph Search is rolling out, giving users the ability to search Facebook solely for photos of destinations and places. Photos with a location have the potential to show up in the search results, offering more exposure and business potential.
As the world makes the shift to sharing visually, join this revolution. Travel is an emotional purchase sparked by the photos we see. Images of dreamy sunsets, turquoise Caribbean waters or white-sand beaches all convey blissful vacation moments that clients often wait all year to experience.
Become a visual influencer by sharing story-telling images. Capitalize on the idea of showing instead of telling. Use sharp, bright images with vibrant colors. Watermark your images with your website and/or logo, using free tools like PicMonkey.com and Photoshop.com so no matter where they are shared, you're connected.
As you build your community on each social media site, share it with your clients via your email newsletter. It's also perfectly fine to let your Facebook fans know that you are actively using Pinterest and Instagram.
The further you can spread your message on social media, the more exposure you gain to new travelers. Now go forth and tell your story. Visually.
Margie Jordan is the CEO of Jordan Executive Travel Service and a self-professed social media geek. She is also a speaker and trainer and has led sessions on social media at Travel Weekly's conferences. Follow her on Twitter @margietravels.