Though still in its early days, Instagram's action button, which enables users to book an appointment, appears to be a promising tool for agents to capture leads through the popular social media platform.

"One of the biggest challenges for businesses where Instagram is concerned is the call to action, which has historically required consumers to leave the app to reserve, book or otherwise take full action to engage with a business," said Brian Hegarty, vice president of marketing at Travel Leaders Group. "The new action button feature has tremendous potential in terms of increasing a travel agent's business generated through social media."

In May, Instagram announced a suite of call-to-action buttons businesses can add to their profiles. They can be used to buy movie or event tickets, start a food order, make a dining reservation or book an appointment. 

To activate a button, a business must have an account with an Instagram partner that powers the buttons, companies like OpenTable, GrubHub, Fandango and the scheduler Acuity. Then they can edit their business profile to include an action button.

The button applicable to agents is the one that enables potential clients to book appointments for consultations. To manage their schedule, agents would have to partner with one of Instagram's approved partners. At the time the buttons launched, Acuity, a paid calendar service, was the only choice, but more partners (like Appointy, which offers a free option) are expected to be added.

The button enables potential clients to make an appointment without leaving Instagram, a boon in today's mobile-first world. 

For example, an agency without a book button might attract a potential client with an attractive photo, said Maggie Rauch, senior director of research at Phocuswright. The client would then click on the business' profile, then its website to find contact information. After that, the client would have to use email, phone or another method to get in touch.

"Especially on mobile, any time you can eliminate a couple of taps, you're moving in the right direction," Rauch said.

Rosemarie Reed, vice president of marketing and sales at Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., said the action buttons are designed to capitalized on a traveler's interest.

"It's an opportunity for agents to be able to turn inspiration into [action]," she said. "That's really, I think, the main purpose of these action buttons — it's to strike while the iron is hot and while someone is actually inspired by that visual that you're providing in travel."

While Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform among agents, Instagram (which is wholly owned by Facebook) has been gaining favor. Travel Weekly's 2017 Travel Industry Survey found that 93% of responding agents used Facebook for their travel business. It was followed in popularity by LinkedIn (37%) and, in a close third place, Instagram (35%). Instagram use among agents was up two percentage points from the year before. 

And consumers use it in droves: According to Instagram, as of last month, it had more than 1 billion users.

Cadence Travel in La Jolla, Calif., is already generating leads using a book button on its Instagram profile, according to director of marketing and communications Melinda Powers. Cadence had already used Acuity to schedule appointments for the meetings and corporate parts of the agency's business. It was a natural fit to add a button powered by Acuity that leisure travelers could use to connect with an agent, something that has been live for about a month.

Cadence also has a brief form attached to its button. Once a user has selected a time, they are asked for some basic information, including what kind of travel they're looking for and how much help they want planning it, resulting in a warmer lead, Powers said.

If a lead is from an existing Cadence client, it is sent to the agent the client previously worked with. If it's a new lead, Cadence's leisure sales manager plays matchmaker between agent and lead.

"As long as you are fully prepared to accept your booked appointments, it's a convenient and effortless way for your social media audience to have access to your professional travel services," Powers said.

Margie Jordan, vice president of membership services for CCRA, said Instagram's introduction of action buttons follows a societal trend. 

"We're more and more comfortable every day with communicating online, thanks to social media," Jordan said.

Many potential clients aren't as willing as they once were to pick up the phone for a cold call to an agent, but getting in touch with an agent via a familiar social media tool is a positive, she said.

"That is an excellent use of that tool because it really sets you out as a professional, and you're scheduling time to go over their trip and talk," she said. "Using Instagram in that fashion is brilliant, in my opinion."

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