Agency owner Ryan McGredy was already a successful young entrepreneur, with his own web development company, when he joined Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif., in late 2007. Tech-savvy, McGredy was quick to launch the agency into social media.
From the start, the young travel seller – McGredy is now 34 – knew that social media wasn’t just another marketing tool. Instead, he saw Facebook and Twitter as ways to share his travel experiences and knowledge with the world.
Those shared experiences translate into bookings more than special deals that are posted online, according to McGredy. For example, on a trip to Beaches in Jamaica, he posted pictures of himself with Elmo and wrote about what makes the resort cool. A friend, who’d never booked with McGredy before, realized the resort would be great for her kids and booked a family vacation.
Here’s more of McGredy’s thinking about using social media in selling travel.
The approach: “We’re a referral business, and if you’re actively trying to get referred, I think social media can be very powerful. It’s a great way to get referrals by osmosis when people share the stuff you put out there. Also, travel as a topic can be very compelling. We’re trying to get people thinking about traveling in general and then to understand why they should book with us when they do want to travel.”
The set-up: “Moraga Travel has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I have it hooked up, so that when I share something on Facebook it puts a tweet out too. I do put different things on both places, from time to time, because they have different audiences.
“The Facebook page is about people that have liked you. With Twitter, even though people follow you, everything goes into the public stream. So if people are searching for something specific, our tweet could come up in their Twitter search. I bear that in mind when I’m posting on Twitter.”
Mixing it up: “Three people at my agency, including me, are administrators on Facebook and can upload stuff. The more ideas you put out there, the better. I like mixing up who is thinking up what to put out there, because who knows if one of the agents won’t come up with something that connects to people better than something that’s in my head.”
The content: “I travel a lot, so one of the main ways I use social media is I’ll post when I’m somewhere with things that I see. Also, I post links to articles, from time to time – like I linked to an article in Wired magazine about the scientific argument of why you should take a vacation. Every once in a while, if there’s a great travel deal, I’ll post that, but I try to make it so that’s not the bulk of my content. I don’t find that to be effective, and I don’t want people un-liking us or hiding our feed and what we post.”
Frequency: “I try to stick to two to three times a week. A lot of experts say you need to post every day, but for me if the pages I like are posting two or three times a day I usually end up hiding them. I hate having my feed taken over with business content. I’d rather see what my friends are doing and then every once in a while stumble across an article that I click on and read. I really feel like less is more.”
Seeks feedback: “A lot of people who like Moraga on Facebook are my friends or people that I talk to, so I’ll ask them: ‘Do you read the stuff we put up? What did you think about this?’ A couple times I’ve gotten direct comments saying, ‘That post made me feel weird – too salesy.’ Sometimes when a person comments, I’ll thank them and ask, ‘Would you mind answering a couple quick questions, so we can improve what we put out on Facebook?’”
Building an image: “I’m deliberately trying to cultivate a brand image that is about helping you find your best vacation, not about the best, cheapest discount price. I don’t think that’s a good place for a small boutique travel agency to be competing. We’re never going to be able to compete with Expedia or Costco. If we start putting up, ‘Cheap cruise deal,’ that’s just asking people to compare us to that.”
Tracking success: “I don’t try to measure direct sales that have come from social media because that’s a tricky number. I don’t think there’s a direct causal relationship. But I have lots of anecdotal things that tell me I’m doing the right thing – like I’ll post pictures when I’m someplace and someone will say, ‘I want to go there,’ and we end up booking them a trip there.”
Success story: “I went on an overnight retreat to a lodge north of San Francisco. While I was there I posted, ‘My room’s really nice; here’s a view of the Golden Gate Bridge,’ and I took pictures with my iPhone and posted them onto my Facebook page. I posted a couple of times over the weekend we were there.
“On Monday I had a message from a current client who likes our Facebook page. She said, ‘I’ve been looking for a cool place to take my husband for our anniversary. That place looks great. I’d love to book it.’ I got a booking out of that, and it wasn’t from doing any sort of active marketing. It was just documenting where I was.”
Insight and advice: “Social media is not like email or print marketing. It’s another way to get into contact with people. If you’re serious about social media, don’t ask ‘how do I send out marketing materials via social media’ because that’s not effective.
“The most effective people are those who embrace social media with their whole heart and say, ‘Any time I’m doing travel stuff, I’m going to post to my Facebook page or tweet on Twitter what’s in my head, what I’m seeing and things I think are cool.’ That’s really where you find social media success.”