Beverly McLean is the director of social media at Covington Travel in Virginia. She administers the company’s social networks, email marketing, and Travel Maestro blog. Beverly holds an MBA focused in Marketing from William & Mary and is a published travel writer.
If you opened this article from a link on Facebook or Twitter, you probably already understand how important social media is in the travel
industry. In fact, one could argue that social networking is partially responsible for the resurgence of travel agents’ popularity. The key word is “networking,” defined in the Oxford Dictionaries as “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career.”
Before the internet, we networked with potential clients by breakfasting with multi-industry business groups, joining the Chamber of Commerce, participating in Civic groups, and speaking about travel to any gathering who would have us. Over the past decade or longer, digital networking became an effective way to interact with people and forge contacts across great distances. Social media networking developed into a powerful complement to traditional marketing; one that savvy travel advisors and agencies adopt and cultivate to grow their business.
Social Networking Strategy for Travel Agents
Decide What You Want to Achieve
Social media can be great fun but without a goal, you’re just spinning your wheels. Think about what you want to achieve and tailor your message accordingly. For example, if you want to build brand awareness for a new office location, share pictures of the move in and introduce the staff. To attract new clients, position yourself as an authority on your specialty by posting insider tips for that destination. Or if your objective is to make sales, recommend a special vacation offer tailored to your social media community. You can work multiple goals within a single social channel, but make sure each message reflects what you want to achieve.
Choose Your Social Channels
There are more than 200 social media networks, so accept the fact that you can’t be everywhere. Start with the network your clients use most, and understand that the users and dynamics of each channel differ slightly. Here are the top five social media networks for travel advisors (statistics by Pew Research):
- Facebook – 68 percent of all U.S. adults use Facebook, with a 14-point increase in users age 65+ in the last two years. If you only have time to manage one social network, Facebook is the one.
- Instagram – Nearly one-third of all internet users are on Instagram, skewing Millennial and female. Instagram requires you to post from a mobile device, so if that’s not your thing, skip it.
- Twitter – Roughly a quarter of all U.S. adults use Twitter, with more popularity among the highly educated. The community on this lightening-speed network demands interaction, so “set it and forget it” is not effective here.
- LinkedIn – 25 percent of all U.S. adults used LinkedIn, and it’s especially popular with college graduates and high-income earners. LinkedIn is largely a business networking site.
- Pinterest – 26 percent of all U.S. adults use Pinterest, with twice as many women as men. The ability to showcase dreamy travel destinations makes this network ideal for attracting those planning for a future trip.
Find Your Voice
You can’t be everything to everyone in social media (nor do you want to). Understand your audience and speak to them in their language. For example, animated GIFs or slang may be annoying to a mature traveler going on a lengthy luxury cruise but received as fun and hip by a Millennial planning a destination wedding. You can be funny, intellectual or flamboyant, but find the voice that resonates with your audience and use it consistently.
Stay focused and on topic in your social media posts. There’s nothing wrong with sharing personal stories, in fact, that’s good for networking, but tie it to travel. If you’re a foodie, share a photo of the amazing Michelin-starred restaurant you visited, but maybe not the smoothie you made for breakfast at home. You may find the latest Science Digest article about asteroids fascinating, or be tempted to weigh in on a political debate, but unless it relates to travel, don’t share it. Social media is a noisy place, so to stand out, you must emphasize what you want to be known for.
Use Tools for Efficiency
Contrary to what you may have thought, social media is not free. It requires your valuable time, so it’s imperative that you use social networking tools for efficiency. There is a vast number of them, but here are some of the most popular. Each offers a free basic account. Click the links to learn more about each one.
- Content Curation: BuzzSumo, Pocket, Post Planner, Feedly, IFTTT, Twitter lists
- Scheduling Tools: Buffer, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck
- Free Image Sourcing: Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash
- Design Tool: Canva
- Reputation Management: Mention, Google Alerts
- Metrics: Facebook Audience Insights, Followerwonk (Twitter), Klout
Engage Your Community
In the end, social networking is all about that key word: networking. To be successful you need to interact with your social media communities. Meet people and forge relationships. Exchange thoughts, information, ideas, tips, and experiences. Listen as much as you talk. Social media networking is really just the same as those business breakfast groups or working a trade show, only it takes place in the digital world.
Social media networking done well opens doors to a world of business connections with current and potential clients, as well as suppliers. Astute travel advisors are using these social media networking strategies to advance their businesses and careers.