With the rise of online booking and comparison sites, it had started to look like travel agents and tour operators might become totally redundant. But this trend is slowing down and even reversing. Customers have realised the value of travel agents as they offer guidance, give you more for your money through securing better supplier rates, reduce the frustration of trawling the Internet and offer better customer service.
The opportunity for growing your brand and selling to your customers is out there, but you need your name to be known in order to have a strong online presence. Alongside SEO and paid adverts, the best way to do this is using interactive social media accounts. The best part is that only around 20% of travel agents view social media as an essential channel to their business – so the window is open for you to lead the way and beat your competitors to the punch.
Are you one of those 20% that are hoping social media is just a fad or passing trend? Bad news. There’s no sign of it slowing down and virtually all of your customers will be on one social platform or another. There are 2.56 billion global mobile social media users, with 1 million new active mobile social users added every day in the first half of 2018. Although it was once a wishy-washy marketing supplement, businesses can now engage, accurately measure and create two-way dialogues online. Digital media isn’t new anymore, but its reach and potential continues to evolve rapidly and integrating social into your core business strategy will transform your digital efforts from an expense to an investment.
Why is social media important?
First and foremost, it allows you to communicate with your customers in a different format than email marketing or websites. Because they can interact through sharing, liking or commenting, you can build and strengthen relationships.
It also allows you to establish yourself as a thought leader by publishing content, getting involved in discussions, commenting on news stories or trends and responding to customer queries. This raises the brand profile of your agency or tour operator and brings in leads as people become aware of your company and its offerings, and grow to like you through interactions.
Social media is just one strategy that should be part of a wider marketing arsenal. It can be used alongside and interlinked with email campaigns, website and content creation, SEO and trade shows or face-to-face meetings. In fact, integrating it within a multi-channel marketing strategy will allow it come into its own. Within your social media strategy you must also consider which platforms are the best fit for you and your services and whether they are well suited to your audience.
What platforms should you use?
Each platform has its own community culture and posting protocols. Some favour images and video, others prefer long-form articles. Some target Millenials with a short-attention span whilst they’re on the move, and others can engage older generations or those who may be browsing at work. Each platform has word, image size and video specifications and their algorithms favour some post types over others – so take this into account in your planning.
This is probably the key platform to focus on if you are just starting out and have limited time and resources. Here you can secure fans, promote content, handle customer enquiries, advertise and interlink multiple social accounts once you’ve got them up and running.
It has the widest appeal in terms of age and affluence of user and allows you to post text, images, links and videos. Things you might post:
- Enviable images of incredible and eye-catching destinations to inspire users to travel.
- Share advice and top tips, either within the post by linking to an article you’ve recently written. This should be accompanied by an image or video to draw in attention.
- Create a poll to engage users and find out more about your target community, both in terms of their demographics and their wants/needs.
- Use Facebook ads to market your services, upcoming or current sales and boost brand awareness. Facebook harvests all sorts of data about its users, so you can really drill down into particular categories or niche audiences by age, gender, location, interests and topics they talk about with friends.
Twitter is a lightning-speed social channel and really needs quantity as much as (if not more than) quality. Whilst it’s great for getting up-to-the-second news and spotting trends, less than 25% of Twitter users are active, and you will have only a split second on the homepage of your followers.
However, with some good content and targeted ads, you can really make an impact and have a reach of tens of thousands off the back of a single message of 140 characters or less. Short and punchy with a hint of humour will work best. Likes and shares propagate your post far beyond your network of direct followers. Things you might post include:
- Links to blog posts, infograhics or white papers to establish yourself as a knowledge source and get people to click through onto your page and then your website.
- Promotional offers and sales updates with bright and bold images to cut through the Twitter ‘noise’. However these should be less than 20% of your tweets, with the rest focussing on conversation and interaction (rather than hard selling).
- Images of holiday destinations or fun activities. Adding visuals boosts engagement by up to 313%.
- Hashtags, hashtags and more hashtags. Including a few pertinent hashtags on each tweet make it 33% more likely to be retweeted.
Photo-sharing app Instagram is the prime platform for engaging time-short Millenials with an epic narrative. Stunning photos of far-flung destinations or thrilling videos of various activities can get followers dreaming about destinations they hadn’t previously considered and inspire wanderlust.
48% of Instagram users rely on Instagram to find a new travel destination and will check locations and hotels to see what they’re signing up for. A study by Schofields Insurance revealed that almost 40% of Millenials will choose their vacation based on how Instagrammable the destination is. As a result, your posts should include:
- High-quality and original images. Do not use stock photos but reposting followers’ holiday snaps and tagging them is a great method of engagement.
- Images and clips from your staff’s own travels to highlight your brands investment in and passion for travel. Not only will it show that you love travelling as much as your followers, it demonstrates that you will be knowledgeable about those areas.
- Quality but short videos. People scrolling through Instagram won’t stick around to watch lengthy videos, and will scroll straight past if it doesn’t buffer immediately.
- Hashtags within image and video descriptions, and adding locations on posts. For the same reason as Twitter, it allows users to search by themes, topics and destinations and will extend your reach.
Pinterest is another visual platform that is well-suited to travel agents. As the name suggests, it is a digital pin up board where you can post hundreds of images or various destinations, infographics, stills from videos, maps and so much more content that will appeal to your followers.
It can also be linked to your Facebook and Twitter to increase shareability. What sets Pinterest apart is that it is an aspirational planning site. Users don’t share their own pictures, they bookmark ones that help them to map out potential trips, activities, meals and even holiday outfits.
This social site is more geared towards professionals, and thus you’re more likely to post longer articles or blogs in a bid to establish yourself as a thought leader.
You might be looking to target working professionals that need a well-deserved break or business trip. Things you might want to post:
- Blog posts or articles about great two-week getaways or retreats where you can relax and unwind.
- Articles about the benefits of taking a trip and impacts on productivity.
- Enticing images that might encourage those scrolling on a break at work to take action and book a trip or weekend away.
- A thought leadership piece commenting on marketing trends or looking forward to trendy destinations over the next six to twelve months.
Other platforms that you could look at, depending on your resources, are YouTube and Snapchat, although these are harder to project and monitor the effects of.
What should you be utilising social for?
As a travel agent the social media possibilities are endless. The main goal is to create an open conversation with your customers, involving them wherever possible, as well as becoming a part of of industry-wide conversations and jumping on trends. Below are some of the key things you should be using your social media channels for.
- Tracking what others are saying about you. Customers and suppliers that mention your brand or services are pretty much creating free PR for you – engage and involve them, and then reshare their posts.
- Promoting sales, deals and upcoming events. Just started a 24-hour fare frenzy? Going to a trade show in the city where customers can come and have a chat? Tell your community of followers. This can be in a text-based post, a photo on Instagram or a banner on your Facebook page.
- Sharing your content. As soon as you write a blog post or article – put it on out on every social media channel you have. Adjust the wording and change up accompanying banner images,but spread it far and wide.
- Sharing others’ content. Just be clever with whose content you share. Avoid promoting articles or blogs from your competitors, as you’ll drive traffic back to their site. Focus on news articles and trend pieces, to show that you’re up to date with what’s happening in the market, as well as top tips for travellers, plenty of photos/images, and generally anything that might inspire your consumer to book a holiday or activity. And don’t forget that social is a two-way street with your customers. Almost 90% of travellers start talking about their trip on social media on the day they return (or before!) so share their stories and amplify your own messages at the same time.
Top tips for being successful on social media
Post a lot
With such a busy work day and 100 tasks already on your list, this might not be want you wanted to hear, but you’ll need to post multiple times a day to try and cut through the noise. On Twitter alone there are 350,000 posts per minute. As a result, you’ll need as many posts as you can put together on this platform – whether that’s sharing original content, doing a poll or contest, or retweeting others. On Facebook and Instagram you can afford to be a bit more selective with several posts per week. The aim of the game is to keep your brand in customers’ minds as they think about booking their next trip. In peak booking times or seasons, ramp up your efforts to remain a frontrunner.
Although social media may be time-consuming, it doesn’t need to be an all-consuming second job. Once a week, pull together some content, news articles and images and schedule them to go out automatically. There are plenty of free platforms to do this like Hootsuite and TweetDeck so just have a look and see what works for you.
Know your audience and where they are
If you’re trying to reach audiences across multiple geographies – you’ll need to post accordingly. According to Hubspot, the best time to post on Facebook is 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday or 12:00–1:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. If you want to engage US or Asian customers, you’ll need posts throughout the day and night. People often go on social on their way to and from school or work but for platforms like LinkedIn, you’ll want to target professionals on their lunchbreak or in a mid-afternoon lull. Focus more time on the platforms where your target audience are. If your clients are typically 50 and over, Instagram isn’t the place for you. If you’re pushing gap year trips, LinkedIn won’t bring much in the way of leads.
A picture really is worth a thousand words, and a video even more. We mentioned it before, but the point can’t be emphasised enough. Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content. Although video creation might sound like hard work, travel lends itself to visuals and these can be easily recorded and edited into short clips. If you’re really feeling daring, try a Facebook or Instagram live from your next trade show, or interview an employee about top travel tips.
Tone of voice and sense of personality
One reason that people will come to a travel agent or tour operator rather than booking trips themselves is the emotional connection, and expert opinions on offer. This needs to be reflected on your social channels – regardless of which platforms you opt for. Convey a real passion and enthusiasm for travel and be relatable. Showing your human side and your voice makes it easier for consumers to connect with you. Twitter and Instagram are great platforms to be humorous and playful and because you’re posting regularly, you can try out different things and see what works with your target audience.
Social media can be your best friend or your greatest enemy. People are increasingly using social platforms in place of review websites or customer service phone lines. If a customer is praising you, your tours or your general service, respond to them and share their feedback. 71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others. That is word-of-mouth marketing at it’s absolute finest. If a customer complains or comes to you with a query or problem, react quickly and politely and send them a private message to follow up over the phone. 78% of people who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour. Never turn social media into a forum for arguments or negative messages about other agencies and operators. As well as responding quickly to your customers, you need to react quickly to trends – usually in the form of hashtags.
Utilise multiple channels.
As you find your feet and get the basics under wraps, expand into multiple social platforms and link them together. Share content across them all, try out different post types and see what sticks. Repurposing the same content allows you to extend your reach to a wide range of customers and drive people towards your website or into your store. Combining social media with an email campaign or as a follow up to face-to-face meeting helps build a longer lasting relationship with prospects and customers.
Ways travel agents and tour operators can win back business on social media
The digital area has created a nation of tech-savvy travellers who are used to a self-serve online world, full of comparison sites and price watch emails. But play to your strengths with the below at-a-glance social media tips for travel agents and tour operators.
- Build up their bucket list. Show them new places and things that they didn’t even know existed until you put it on their radar, then follow this up with tips and trends posts to really get them engaged.
- Keep them informed. Of the latest trends, of upcoming sales, of seasonal travel opportunities, of regional disasters or emergencies, and all the rest.
- Be the one they trust. Customers will come to you rather than booking a trip through a faceless online company as there is less risk. Encourage them to ask questions and check others’ reviews on your Facebook page. A positive online reputation is invaluable.
- Offer them deals. A well-time social advert with the opportunity for a cut-price trip or activity for someone who is bored at work or stuck on a train in the rain will likely lead to a sale, or at the very least a conversation with your team.
And there you have it, the latest trends in social media and some top tips on how you can use them your advantage and harness the power of digital. As you will soon find out, social media marketing is a relatively inexpensive and effortless way to build brand recognition, disseminate content, win new clientele and retain existing customers. Still got questions? Get in touch!