Insights Into the ‘Wild West’ of Social Media
by  and  rew Sheivachman

Managing the social media presence of a large travel company is a young field rife with experimentation and risk-taking.

Travel Market Report spoke with two experts whose firms are out in front in social media. We wanted to learn more about what larger travel organizations are doing with social media and hear their thoughts on how smaller agents can take advantage of opportunities in the space (see sidebar).

Gregg Tilston, global social media leader for Flight Centre, spent years working for startups and now manages a worldwide team of 11 full-time social media and marketing executives from his office in Toronto.

Andrew Hickey, social media manager for the adventure tour company G Adventures, got his start as a travel blogger and has managed G Adventures’ social media presence for more than two years.

As an organization, how do you approach social media?
Tilston: I see social media as a new avenue, so we try a lot of things. Some of them work, and most aren’t so successful. My personal rule is to try 1,000 things and keep the 300 that work. Social commerce in the travel space is a challenge, so we need to find ways to increase our productivity and exposure.

Hickey: When you’re hired at G Adventures, they ask you to join Twitter and do a Twitter 101 class where they show you how to tweet and who to follow. There are over 1,200 employees at G Adventures, and every day I talk to our tour leaders and other employees about social media. Twitter is definitely most popular in-house and our Twitter feed is not heavily travel. We tend to be more topical, cultural.

How important are Facebook and Twitter to your social media operations?
Tilston: I’ve seen Facebook explode, in terms of size of user content. An advantage in the travel space on Facebook is that people love to share their Facebook stories. If we can increase engagement as a business, we get people in our stream more and more. If people talk to you about what you’re putting out, the opportunity is massive.

What about blogging?
Hickey: Don’t discount blogs. Blogs get boring after a while, so when I gave ours more of a voice our engagement went up on Twitter and Facebook. We got way more re-tweets with sarcastic comments, ‘did you know’ tidbits and fun facts. They get people talking much more than the typical ‘Top 10 Beaches.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in reaching potential customers?
Tilston: The biggest challenge is that there are so many channels out there you can drive yourself squirrely going in a thousand directions. So figure out which channels your customers are on and really focus on those channels. If that is Facebook, use Facebook and work at that.  

Things change so quickly in social media. How have those changes affected how you operate?
Hickey: Today you’re being held accountable for a return on investment, since more money is getting spent on social media. Now it’s more seeing what we can get with our good content. While having a million Facebook fans is cool, you have to make sure they’re the people you want. We work with Salesforce and Wildfire [to generate leads] as well. We now promote on Twitter, and we couldn’t do that four years ago.

Tilston: People now realize customer service [via social media] is a huge opportunity, but we see social media as more for inspiring people.

I would say now social media is more of the Wild West than four years ago; we’ve come to a point where we know what works and what doesn’t, but things are always changing rapidly.

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