Social media for travel advisors is a lot more fun than, say, social media for tire sales. But it’s still work.
You might ask: Does it matter to my business? How do I keep up? Do I need to be on every platform? And why does it seem like everyone in my feed is drinking champagne in France while I’m stuck in the office?
For most advisors, the answer to the most important question is yes–it matters. For Chelsea Martin of the Passport to Friday agency, social media has been the driving force behind the growth of her business. She started as a travel blogger, which led to a job as an advisor. “I feel like I’ve found the right balance of not sounding too sales-y, yet also educating my followers that my job goes beyond posting pretty photos, and that I can plan fully customized trips and hotel bookings for them,” she says. Referrals from social media now form a huge part of her client base.
One of the most dynamic, smartest people I’ve met in the social media space is Molly Folsom, who spearheads digital strategy for travel brands and hotel properties at J Public Relations.
I spoke to Folsom and Martin to get their social media tips for travel advisors.
Avoid negativity, embrace reality
“It’s not my style to post anything negative,” says Martin, “but I love how social media is starting to show more reality.” While followers might not care about the exact details of your flight delays, they do care about seeing a realistic world. Travel isn’t all plunge pools, sunny weather, and a picturesque breakfast of croissants on a white linen tablecloth.
By talking about the real side of travel, you build trust with clients (and potential clients). For example, I recently stayed at a lovely hotel in the Catskills, but it was located on a main road–something you don’t see in any of the marketing materials—so I shared that information on social media. You don’t want to be known as “the travel venter,” but honesty is important.
And don’t be afraid to show that you are more than a travel advisor. An occasional glimpse into your family and personal life also builds trust. “It helps people to relate and connect to me as a person instead of just well-curated travel photos in my feed,” says Martin.
Figure out the metrics that matter for you
Folsom lays out four stages of how businesses relate to customers on social media. The stage you’re in determines what your goals should be and how you should measure success.
- Establish an audience. If your top goal is brand awareness, you’ll want to see growth in impressions—the number of times a post shows up in someone’s feed—and reach—the number of people who see your content.
- Grow and learn about your audience. This is similar to the first stage: As brand awareness builds, your number of followers should increase. This can show you, and partners, the key markets you’re reaching.
- Engage the audience. As the community builds, you must create content that keeps past, present, and potential buyers intrigued; this interest is measured in comments, likes, and shares.
- Turn followers into customers. Once the community is engaged, you put the call-to-action in front of them and convert those likes into sales.
Are more posts better?
This is always a hot topic. Social media platforms are constantly encouraging users to post more, more, more because they want people to spend as much time as possible on their app. Folsom recently attended an Instagram Master Class presented by Instagram, where it advised brands to “post three to four times a day” to yield the best results.
But who has time to do that and run their business? “If you can keep up with the ‘art’ of posting three to four on-brand, engagement-driving posts per day, more power to you,” Folsom says. “If you’re like the rest of us: aim for quality over quantity. Study the ‘science’ of your channel. What are people engaging with the most? I’ve spent the last eight years studying more than 50 social media key performance indicators for hundreds of clients. One thing every single one of them had in common: Focus on the quality and authenticity of the content, optimize for what the audience wants to see and engage with, and you’re going to get better results,” she says.
You’re creating a community. Be a part of it.
Folsom says all travel advisors should perfect the art of community management by ensuring that there is frequent, two-way communication between you and your followers.
React to what people are saying on your profile with comments and likes, and proactively like and comment on profiles where you want someone to know who you are. Do this with prominent advisors and suppliers to build your industry reputation. Do this with friends and friends of friends to build a potential client list. Show your expertise by leaving a restaurant recommendation on a photo of New York City. Comment on a college graduation photo with trip ideas.
Don’t worry about feeling awkward if you’re just starting out. If you’re nice, cordial, and offer helpful information, people will appreciate the interaction.
Folsom points to the Wayfarer DTLA, a hotel scheduled to open in Los Angeles this fall as an example of a travel business with the right idea. There’s not even a finished product yet, but it is already introducing itself as a friendly neighbor, with the goal of guiding fans out of the hotel and into the city. The hotel’s posts are realistic (bonding over traffic nightmares) and friendly (sharing a favorite hole-in-the-wall Peruvian spot). Share your favorite restaurants and finds along the way as you travel, and you’ll be seen as the helpful, friendly resource that you are.
Create aesthetically pleasing content
While there’s nothing wrong with a little reality, no one wants to see the garbage truck outside your window. If you’re creative, think about establishing a color scheme or a consistent visual style for your feed. Scroll through the Instagram feed of The Garland, another Los Angeles hotel, and you’ll see a distinctive look: lots of orange and beige, with pops of blue from shots at the pool. Travel advisor Lila Fox of SmartFlyer stands out by posting mainly black-and-white photos with white borders around each.
No, you don’t have to be on every channel
Remember Vine or Path? We don’t, either. Even Snapchat has fizzled. Folsom recommends figuring out where your core audience is and sticking with it. If they’re on the older side, they might be on Facebook. If so, join groups, tag pages, share photos, and participate in comment threads where it makes sense.
Martin’s favorite platform is Instagram. “It’s primarily positive, and I love the visual inspiration,” she says. She also uses it for research: She searches geotags of locations and saves photos into albums like “NYC Restaurants to Try.”
Stay in the loop
Social media platforms are constantly evolving: adding features, new algorithms in what you see and the order you see it in, and even hiding likes. (Instagram is currently expanding a test to hide likes.) To make sure you’re getting the most out of each platform, go straight to the source, says Folsom. “Facebook Inc. posts ongoing updates about changes to both Facebook and Instagram,” she says. Outside of that, look at technology news sites like TechCrunch or reporting platforms like Locowise for timely articles and valuable case studies.
The bottom line? Social media can make a difference to your business. Find the platforms where you feel comfortable and where your audience is, then put in the effort to make them work for you.