This is the third in a four-part series featuring practical advice from the creators of a sales and marketing DVD series for travel agents.
Social media is the most affordable, accessible and effective marketing vehicle the business world has ever seen. Because it’s so easy to use, social media is also littered with users and cluttered with noise.
For travel agents, rising above the din is the secret to social media success, said author and frequent industry speaker Nolan Burris.
“It’s absolutely, positively critical that you not become part of the noise. Because the day they [fans, followers, etc.] click block, you will never get them back again,” Burris, president of Visionistics Enterprises, told Travel Market Report.
“So this has to be taken very seriously – don’t be noise.”
But what does that mean exactly? What is social media noise and what’s not?
Social means social
First and foremost, your posts, tweets and updates should be social. Otherwise they’re noise, Burris said.
“Social media is social,” he emphasized. “It is a waste of time if you don’t use that social interaction properly.”
Engage in conversation
Another critical caveat: social media is not another form of advertising or email blasting, Burris said. “Nobody signs up for Facebook or Twitter to be mass-marketed to.”
You’re trying to engage your friends, followers, fans, readers in a conversation, rather than talk to or at them. “Stop thinking advertising. Start thinking backyard barbecue. People sign up for Facebook to see what their friends are saying.
“If your deals are monopolizing my screen, and I can’t see what my friends are saying, I’m going to click block. Now you’ve wasted your time and annoyed your target market at the same time.”
Rather than using ad-speak online, travel sellers need simply be human. Imagine you’re hanging out with friends, Burris advised.
“Think about language. You wouldn’t walk up to a friend and say, ‘Hello Bob, do you want to sail away on a seven-night cruise to the Caribbean?’ You wouldn’t do it. Yet that is exactly what people tend to do on social media. They advertise at people, and that’s not going to work.
“What works is real people in real conversations.”
Discussion groups: the place to be
The best places in social media for travel sellers to engage in conversations are discussion groups. These could be groups on a themed blog or discussion groups created on a Facebook page, for example.
Think beyond travel-focused groups, Burris suggested.
“If you focus on Mediterranean cruises, (think about) who would love a Med cruise. How about someone who likes Italian cooking? Instead of joining a cruise group where you’ll be a small fish in a big sea, join one of people who love Italian cooking.”
Of course you need to know about and enjoy talking about Italian cooking or it won’t work. “Treat it like you would any networking group. Don’t be a fake-o member. Join in the discussion of things you’re already interested in.”
Post things like your grandmother’s recipe for Italian wedding soup. Get to know the people in the group, Burris advised.
What to say, when
“Then, when the time is right, say, ‘I was thinking it might be fun to get 20 or 30 people together for a cruise to Italy with cooking classes onboard. Anyone interested?’”
“The wrong thing to do is to say, ‘Save $500 on a cruise to the Med.’ Then you’re just part of the noise; you’ll be blocked.”
One agent does this successfully on Grateful Dead bulletin boards and discussion groups, Burris said. “He yaks it up about the Grateful Dead, and then he does what I said. He’s a real person asking if anyone wants to get together on a cruise and listen to the Grateful Dead.”
Don’t be a bore
Another tactic for standing out from the noise is, “Don’t be boring,” Burris said.
This is especially true with Twitter, he added. “You’ve got seconds to grab people’s eyeballs and make them want to learn more.”
Bad tweet, good tweet
As an example of how not to tweet, Burris cited one agent’s tweet. “It said, ‘All of our premier collection tour packages now include whale watching.’ That’s boring. That’s brochure-speak. It’s not a tweet.
“If we were tweeting that, it would be, ‘Giant sea creatures are invading the beaches of Maui and taunting tourists.’ Who wouldn’t want to click on that?”
The point is that a touch of humor goes a long way toward making your tweets appealing. Burris cautioned that if you take this type of approach, make sure you link to something that’s interesting, not boring.
Nolan Burris’ DVD, “Simple Strategies for Social Media Success,” is part of the five-DVD Travel Agent Success training series. The series features marketing and sales advice from travel industry thought leaders.
For more of their sales and marketing advice, see parts 1 and 2: “Want Loyal Customers? Treat Them Like Your Dog,” Oct. 27, 2011, and "Why Are Your Sales Slow? Look in the Mirror," Nov. 3, 2011.
Next time: Strategies for success in group sales.