Social Media: So Many Choices, So Little Time
by Robin Amster

For travel agents having a social media presence has morphed from “nice to have” into a must-have.

But the proliferation of social media platforms can be confusing and overwhelming, making it difficult to know where in the social media world to devote one’s time and energies.

The choice of social media platform – or platforms – for business is the “million dollar question,” said Catherine Heeg, president of Customized Management Solutions.

Heeg, who designs and implements social marketing strategy for clients in the travel and hospitality industry and also speaks on social media issues, suggested that agents approach the decision from three perspectives: 1) your particular business needs; 2) your personal interests and talents, and 3) the nature of the platforms themselves.

#1. Follow your customers’ lead
Agents can use tools like Survey Monkey to determine clients’ tastes in social media, Heeg said. “Survey clientele to learn where they hang out socially and then join them in those arenas.”

Do clients use Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or all of them? “If you find your clients are on Twitter, you should be on Twitter.”

Agents can also gain this knowledge through networking and in conversations with clients.

#2. Assess your own preferences
Agents also should balance their clients’ social media habits with their own interests and expertise, said Heeg.

“Are agents good writers, for instance? Then blogging and e-zines are a great place to start.”

Does the agent thrive on short, snappy conversation? Then it’s Twitter, she added.

Do they have a wealth of great photos languishing on their hard drives? Then Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram are a good focus.

Is the video camera always on hand, and is the agent adept at editing? Then Facebook and YouTube are naturals, Heeg added.

Each social media platform requires “time, talent and a specific lingo to converse,” she noted.

#3. Start with the familiar
Agents – and the public – were quick to adopt Facebook as a means of personal interaction with friends and family. “People have gotten comfortable there,” Heeg said.

This makes Facebook a good starting point for many agents. “Veteran agents, or those for whom travel is a second career, might want to start with Facebook on a personal basis then go on to a professional use.”

In general, agents should consider which platforms they’re most familiar and comfortable with and expand their usage to a business presence, she advised.

Keep in mind that the agency’s website is the central base of knowledge and content, she added. “All social platforms need to be visible on the [agent’s] website. And blogs need to be part of a website, not a stand-alone site.”

Newby to tech-savvy
Agents’ expertise in social media runs the gamut, according to Heeg. “There are some agents who are brand new to social media and some that blow me away with their expertise.

Even agents who are active on social media in their personal lives may need guidance in approaching social media from a business perspective, which is “totally different from a personal one,” she said.

Yet some agents are adept at translating their personal social media skills into the business realm. “I have a 69-year-old client who was all over Facebook; she started using it to keep in touch with her kids and grandkids,” said Heeg. “Then she put her marketing skills to use on Facebook.”

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