A new era for social media

By Carrie Finley-Bajak
Embracing technology and incorporating best practices can mean the difference between extinction and relevancy on the social Web, because the ability to connect and influence people via social media is part of a 21st century travel agent’s marketing playbook.

Agents who invest the time now to prepare for the next evolution of social marketing can get ahead of the competition as we move toward the new era being dubbed Web 3.0.

In order to use social media to become a trusted resource for clients and prospects, travel agents need to make sure their digital footprints are in order. For example, are your social media accounts current? Are Carrie Finley-Bajakposts up to date? Do posts reflect your travel niche, personality and expertise? Are you sharing travel experiences?

While generating leads, nurturing relationships and providing customer service are worthwhile goals for using social media, travel agents who focus on improving their existing digital footprints will be in a good position to adapt.

The first order of business is to evaluate the status of your social network.  Understanding the life cycle of a social network is important, because one’s digital footprint needs to be adaptive to remain relevant. Messaging and outcomes are different depending on the status of one’s network.

For example, agents who have an established social network will focus on gaining more social shares and page views. However, for those who do not have an audience, the goal is to get likes, fans and followers.

A social network will fall under one of the following three phases:

Growth phase 

The focus here is on gaining followers, fans or subscribers to your online accounts (website or social media interactions). Agents who are just getting started on social media need to focus on growing their audience share: Have you done everything possible to identify where your existing clients and prospects spend their time online? Do you have links to your social media accounts incorporated into email, direct-mail pieces and on your website? Have you tracked traffic via Google Analytics or other tool to determine which social channel is driving traffic to your website, landing pages or unique call to action?

Nurturing phase

This stage is marked by spending time engaging with your existing audience. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Agents who maintain a steady line of communication will see the best results in terms of engagement, social shares and an increase in page views. Don’t expect to see results in social media marketing if you are not spending time nurturing relationships with the people who like and trust your brand online.

Maturation phase

This phase is indicated by a decline in new audience members and dwindling engagement. Agents can deploy a variety of techniques to reignite a stagnant network: enlisting the help of suppliers who can inspire you with new product developments or increasing interaction with influencers or brand advocates who can breathe new life into mature social media networks.

Working smarter, not harder

One comment I hear a lot from agents is that there is not enough time to accomplish social media goals while trying to run one’s business. I totally agree, and I’d encourage those agents who feel they could use more support to pressure suppliers and associations for assistance.

Sales reps and travel organizations can help time-starved agents generate fresh content about products, places, experiences and promotions. Though there are many tools available to help you learn about products, there is a shortage of support to help you thrive on social media, such as a weekly summary of suggested updates that agents can plug into an auto-posting social media dashboard. More needs to be done.

Take, for example, the recent contest by Carnival Corp. asking customers to help design a 60-second Super Bowl ad (www.carnivalmarketingchallenge.com) for its nine brands. Participants are asked to vote for the video they like best, and everyone who votes for the winning idea is entered into a drawing for the ultimate prize: free cruises for life on Princess Cruises, Holland America Line or Carnival.

In the world of digital marketing, this concept is called crowdsourcing, and it is very effective in getting people to talk about a brand or product.

Agents who specialize in cruise sales could piggyback on the contest. By tapping the marketing power of Carnival Corp., agents could reach new fans and followers.

If you’re in cruise sales, did you know about the contest? Did a district sales manager from one of the Carnival brands reach out with some marketing ideas, such as sample social media updates? Maybe now is a good time to start a dialogue with suppliers about ways you can work together, a sort of new co-op advertising opportunity.

Travel associations also have room for improvement where content development is concerned.

Recently, while working on an assignment for a client, I went to the CLIA website looking for details about certain cruise ships. In many cases, I found outdated information, which indicated that the website had not been updated for some time.

The point of discussing Carnival Corp.’s Super Bowl ad campaign and CLIA’s website is to encourage more travel agents to look for ways to leverage the marketing power behind our product partners.

Here are a few more ways to curate content from suppliers:

  • Share suppliers’ videos from YouTube, with a personal message that demonstrates your expertise.
  • Create contests for lead generation and to promote sales. Look at current content from suppliers and modify for your audience. Work with your sales reps for appropriate prizes.
  • Reward content contributions from within your social network. Ask your sales reps for insight into ways to incentivize (prizes like upgrades or added amenities are great motivators).
  • Observe how suppliers are using social media advertising campaigns to reach new customers or promotions and modify accordingly.

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