As the marketing manager for Atlas Travel in Milford, Mass., Ryan Ranahan posted a photo he took of the western Sahara Desert, which resulted in a lead for a combination Disney cruise and Animal Kingdom vacation.
He ran the photo on his personal Facebook page, which reminded a former colleague that Ranahan was still in the travel business. That instance, he said, shows the power of an image in prompting an action, even though the client didn't ask for a trip to Morocco.
Images, in particular, can resonate with travelers who have vacation thoughts running in the back of their minds and can push those thoughts top of mind. A customer might be thinking about a Disney trip but consider it too expensive, Ranahan said. But a photo of Shrek on a Royal Caribbean cruise featuring Dreamworks characters might prompt that same customer to consider a cruise that could be more affordable.
Ranahan uses technology to streamline the process for posting photos when he's on the road. His DSLR camera has built-in WiFi, so if he doesn't have access to the Internet, he can save the images to his iPhone.
"From there, I upload it to Facebook or Instagram," he said. And, because so many hotels have WiFi, he can usually upload photos within a day of taking them. Such in-the-moment posting seems to engage followers.
While Ranahan was in Morocco, his colleague Andrew Carriere, marketing and communications coordinator for Atlas, was back in the office, working on the photos to make them more engaging. "It can't be all just sales; you have to engage, to ask, 'Can you guess where this photo is taken?'" said Ranahan. "If you're only given them sales-driven offers, eventually they will hide [the posts from] the timeline."
Ryan Ranahan shooting photos astride a camel in the Sahara.
Atlas Travel, which is 90% corporate and 10% leisure, employs different strategies for each side of its business.
On the corporate side, the focus is more on news and information, informing clients about airlines moving from one terminal at an airport to another, providing updates on airport security procedures and delivering information about events that are affecting travel. On the leisure side, the agency uses social media for customer retention and marketing as well as to promote special offers.
The company has a different voice for each channel. It uses LinkedIn for company news and information. Twitter is more about sharing news in real time. And Pinterest is a major lead generator, where posting photos from a fam trip typically drives viewers to the Atlas website, producing leads that agents can convert to sales.
"That seems to be one of our fastest-growing platforms," said Carriere. Ranahan believes that's because so many women, who are often the family decision-maker for vacation purchases, predominate on Pinterest.