Social media and branding for the travel agent is new and growing. Travel has changed over the last 15 years from face-to-face storefront service to online with just you and your computer. Rare are the days where professional assistance with planning an upcoming cruise includes a visit to the office of your trusted travel agent.
In today’s travel market the travel agent is still the best choice for a well planned and expertly executed vacation, and you’ll find many agents online, using social media to compete with Internet travel services, connect with their clients and create a marketable brand.
I recently attended an event all about social media, branding and customer experience. The conference held in Atlanta was titled The Social Media Shake-Up and was presented by Social Media Today. The informational workshops gave me a new way to view social media and travel agents.
The overall point I gathered from the conference is: With social media comes the need to ensure not only a significant number of friends or likes but a strategy to increase business and opportunities to connect with and get to know your client.
During the conference I gathered several great insights from the speakers:
Share what’s interesting and up-to-date – One thing agents pride themselves in is staying up-to-date on what’s new and changing. Kelly Hackett, Director of Advertising at AT&T’s advice is to “have something interesting to talk about; something that is more than the basic; something that makes you the expert.” There is always something new and exciting going on around the world. Keep yourself aware of current affairs and fun, offbeat information too. Use social media to share this information with daily or weekly updates.
Share your travel experiences – Although this sounds like common sense, sharing your trips, either personal or familiarization (FAM), with your clients, shows you are the expert and have personal hands-on experience. Let them know what you enjoyed about the location and share photos of you enjoying the activities available at each destination. You want clients talking about your many travel experiences, so give it structure and help photos tell the story that will get you travel bookings.
Have a point of view – If you’re not sure how you feel about certain aspects of the travel industry, political situations in areas where you book travel or how the industry is changing, you should think about it and develop your point of view. Your clients will look to you for advice and guidance. You will build trust and a strong brand.
Be consistent – Most agents use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share information and encourage interest in their agency. Simon Pearce, Founder of Fabric Branding, stressed the importance of being consistent across platforms with your message and brand. It may be necessary to redefine what consistency means for you and your agency, requiring you to create new consistency goals and structure. Pearce stated, “ ‘Brand is message’ is declining in favor of ‘brand is experience’; it is not ‘what is my story,’ but ‘what is my design principle.’” For travel agents, a focus on creating and developing a brand that maintains across platforms is key to growing a business and expanding your presence as a travel expert. Also, consider how many platforms you can consistently keep updated and which ones will be most effective with your client base, design, message, and goals.
Create social extras – Abigail Cusick, Senior Manager, Social Media at Bravo, stated the importance of engaging with your audience (clients) and creating ways for your customers to interact with each other and with you. Cusick suggested creating a level of interaction where you can see what they like and what they want to do. One suggestion she shared is to create a Twitter party for clients to talk and share experiences. Make sure you create the structure to keep everyone on the subject and a process to gather valuable information from this exchange.
Tags and Search Engines – Tag photos correctly to move up in the Google or Bing ratings according to Scott Williford, CEO, and Founder of VLink Solutions. His message may be one that is frequently overlooked, but has a huge influence on getting your agency known and attracting more clients. I have noticed more tags on blogs and more hashtags on Facebook. Keep adding them!
Use YouTube – Williford also stressed the importance of using relevant search terms but also taking it further by creating a presence on YouTube. He states that after 6 pm more and more people are watching online video and you want to capture this audience. Use videos created from your still shots or videos recorded while visiting properties and attractions during FAM trips. Pack videos with tips, information, and lots of action. Make sure you capture a diverse library of photos. You can never take too many pictures. Store them for future use; you never know when you may need a great action shot of someone feeding stingrays!
Define your market – Kwanza Hall, Atlanta City Councilman, suggests that we create a strategy for using social media to grow your business. Social media can help you analyze your client’s interests and passions. This information leads to focusing on what’s important to them, and social media is how you reach them. Find your niche market and cater to their interests.
Stick to your favorite platform – For agents who are new to social media and trying to sort out what works best and how it works, Abigail Cusick recommends finding the platform that works for you and focusing on that one platform. As your comfort level increases adding more platforms will become easier.
Stay in touch – Use your personal devices, such as smart phones and iPads, to connect with your clients while traveling and throughout the day. Using Twitter to share what’s up and what’s going on in your day, keeps you in front of your clients and helps create your page(s) as the go-to place.
Change your approach – Change the way you see social media. Get away from always presenting information to having fans share information. Go from presentation to conversation, as stated by Scott Williford. You have a large audience, use it to gain clients or create opportunities for fans to talk to each other; sharing travel tips, fun destinations, and previous trip experiences.
Williford suggested that we change from giving solutions to asking clients “How did you solve this,” which creates conversation. Provide recommendations from the customer’s perspective instead of “this is how I would solve it.” An example of this is Trip Advisor. They have created a platform for sharing experiences, photos and recommendations. People are having valuable conversations about their vacation experience. Take a note from their approach.
Keep your page up-to-date – Here’s where your photos come in handy. Use the many, many photos taken during vacations and FAM trips to keep your page fresh and exciting. Remember the ratio: 1 picture = 1,000 words.….. Update, update, update!
Share breaking news – I noticed during the Social Media Shake-Up conference, there were monitors around every corner to watch Twitter in action. I certainly received cues on which workshop to attend based on the Twitter feed. From the social media experts, Twitter is certainly one of the platforms you should have working for you! Every presentation had a recommendation for Twitter use. Create an account today!
Create a strategy – Use social media to gather information that will help you determine how to structure your business, create a niche or a travel offering. A survey question to your fans on Facebook can provide information about where people are interested in going and what types of travel they enjoy; should you plan a cruise, a tour to Mexico or maybe there is a girlfriends group looking for a great spa destination. Travel Agents are busy taking care of client travel needs; a social media strategy helps you manage the time and effort spent on social media.
Deliver on your message – As travel agents it is very easy to capture information and place it on one of the social media platforms. In Councilman Kwanza Hall’s message I gathered the importance of making the information work for you. Follow up on what you place on your platforms, especially if you have stated you will provide more information. And, answer questions, respond to comments and use this information to better understand and know your client’s preferences and expectations.
As social media grows and becomes more the standard form of client relations, the travel agent group is in a great position to capitalize on the benefits of the various platforms. Our business is all about sharing great travel tips, destinations, and information. Just the type of information people love to share and receive. Get out there and make it a social experience!
More information about Social Media Today:
Social Media Today is an independent, online community of professionals working in areas where social media is a large part of their mission. (Areas such as marketing, advertising and PR) Social Media Today provides daily updates, information and insights from various companies and personalities regarding social media and how we use it. Leading the organization is CEO Robin Carey. For more information about Social Media Today and to comment or contribute to the social media conversation, visit their website: www.socialmediatoday.com
Annita is a travel agent and on-air host of Travel Bags With Annita and Friends, a radio travel talk show on WDUN AM 550 and FM 102.9. The station has broadcast signals across North Georgia, Atlanta, North and South Carolina and online with over 1.5 million daily listeners.
Website and blog: www.travelwithannita.com