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.

Google updates the UK customer journey with latest travel data

Google updates the UK customer journey with latest travel data

By Travolution
By Travolution

The number of websites UK travel consumers look at before booking has dropped considerably, according to the latest Google data.

Nigel Huddleston, head of travel at Google, told the Abta Travel Convention in Croatia this week that the average is now 11 compared to around 20 just a few years ago.

However, the rise of mobile means around four to five sites may be added to that figure, he said. Mobile has a far smaller conversion rate and most firms adjust their figures to take account of this.

However, Google insight shows just how important mobile is becoming, with sharing – such as photos on holiday or ideas before booking – now becoming part of all of Google’s ‘Five Stages of Travel’.

“The fifth stage of travel – sharing – is now part of the entire process. People are sharing ideas at the very earliest stages of travel,” Huddleston said.

“We have research to suggest 86% of smartphone owners share photos on holiday and people look at social media every single day when on holiday.”

On desktop three out of four people use search and in any given month an average of 44% of the UK adult population is looking for travel online.

That figure is highest in February (48%) and lowest in September (39%), and on average people take 73 days to research their trip before booking.

In looking at 11 different sites, the average person completes 17 individual online sessions. Huddleston said this pointed to the increased important of brand association.

He said in the past a customer would return to a brand three times during the search and book process. A couple of years ago that figure was two.

The Google data shows that mobile and tablet accounts for 30% to 40% of total queries and four in ten people book offline.

In terms of research, 45% do it exclusively online, 8% exclusively offline and 40% combine the two, while the remainder do none.

Huddleston said: “We are one of the most sophisticated internet economies in the world, especially when it comes to travel.

“While the internet is really important in the initial search and journey overall, visiting stores and travel agencies comes up in the list of most influential aspects when it comes to purchase decisions.

“People want validation of their choice. If they want a family holiday by the beach they want to be two miles away on the other side of a motorway.

“Is it offering good value for money? Nobody wants to go on holiday and find out the person next to them has got it cheaper than they have.”

Delegates were told that, although advanced, travel has lost its leadership position online to the retail sector.

“One reason was we were forever trying to push our customers to the booking point when they were not ready to book. Very few sites do a good job of inspiring the customer.”

Huddlestone picked out easyJet’s recently launched Inspire Me tool as a good example of something he said Google was seeing more of.

Google has seen a huge rise in tablet traffic but around a third of this is being done while the user is sitting on the sofa at home, probably watching a second screen, the TV.

Huddlestone said the Brits love their smartphones and while it is more difficult to get conversions on these devices, sectors like hotels and some OTAs are doing well.

The data shows while 26% of Brits use smartphones to research, only 12% go on to buy on the device. Smartphone package holiday bookings account for just 3% to 4% of the sector.

Google is seeing increased use of other visual functions like maps and photo tours. It has added flight routes to Google Maps and 360 degree tours.

Voice search is the next big thing, Huddlestone said, before demonstrating how the experience is becoming a lot more intuitive and semantic.

“Technology is improving and we are trying to be a little bit more human in the ways we interact, a little bit like if you went into a travel agent.”

– See more at: http://www.travolution.com/articles/2013/10/23/7205/google-updates-the-uk-customer-journey-with-latest-travel-data.html#sthash.NG0EfZj3.dpuf

Mobile could pose biggest threat to travel stores of the future

Mobile could pose biggest threat to travel stores of the future

 

By Travolution
By Travolution

The move by technology giant Apple to establish a high street presence should provide the inspiration for the bricks and mortar travel stores of the future, but mobile could emerge as their biggest threat.

The fourth annual WTM Vision half-day conference in London debated the future of the high street with David Burling, managing director of Tui UK and Andy Washington, managing director of Expedia taking part in a panel debate.

Burling used the example of Apple, which has a network of stores throughout the UK in prime locations showcasing its products, as an example of how the future of the high street might look.

“The travel agency has evolved and it will keep evolving. If you have bookings that can be transacted across different channels the stores of the future may be different from the stores of today.

“What is clear is that the quality of the service and advice that good travel agents can give is still very important.

“Channels are becoming more blurred. The technology will become more available for consumers to start the booking in one channel and finish it elsewhere.

“The strength of the retailer is really around the product knowledge and customer service but there is also a role for the stores of the future offering more inspiration at the very early stages of the booking.

“Who would have believed that Apple of all people would have decided to open a load of retail stores?”

Mike Greenacre, former managing director of Co-operative travel  and a delegate at today’s event agreed.

“I very much agree with Dave about inspiration. The high street has greatly evolved and I think it will continue. The big change that will come is how retail stores embrace this technology.

“Where there is an Apple store it’s the busiest shop in town by a long long way.”

However, Andy Washington, managing director of Expedia UK, said: “The biggest threat to the high street us mobile.

“What’s stopping me going into a high street store getting them to do all the work and then googling it on my mobile to find it cheaper?”

Burling said Tui UK’s strategy is based around its differentiated product offering that stems from its close partnerships with hoteliers that has seen it develop a number of resort concepts.

“We want to be involved in designing a particular hotel experience with our partners. By doing that we get a better consumer experience, better repeat business and better reviews.”

Burling said concepts like its Splashworld water park resorts were showing “huge growth”.

“It’s identifying the customer requirements and working with hotel partners. We can do that because of our scale.”

– See more at: http://www.travolution.co.uk/articles/2012/04/20/5624/mobile-could-pose-biggest-threat-to-travel-stores-of-the-future.html#sthash.keVsk23U.dpuf