Travel Agents to Twitter: Go Long

by Donna Tunney

Travel industry insiders and agents say they would embrace a Twitter product that enables users to write tweets longer than 140 characters.

The idea was floated in cyberspace recently, just before Twitter launched its new Moments feature, the latest incarnation of the site's Project Lightning tool. Designed to highlight news stories or sporting events that update frequently, Moments curates groups of tweets about individual topics. Click the new Moments icon at the top of the homepage to scroll through a list of topics.

Moments may well become a hit with Twitter users who want to browse a constantly changing news stream, but the idea of being able to write longer tweets gets a nod from travel industry folks who use the platform for marketing.

“If the users see more space as an advantage, then allowing people to write more may be an advantage to the platform,” says Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of the upscale Azamara Club Cruises. “Social is about engagement, and Twitter wants to stay and continue to be viable in the competitive game. The bigger issue for Twitter is visual use, not length of copy.”

Pimentel said tweets between travel suppliers or sellers and potential customers are more about educating than sales, and it's an easy way to connect with clients.

“Anyone can do it,” he says. “I manage my own Twitter account and have thousands of travelers, writers, and travel agents following me from all over the world. Even if you sell a niche brand, like we do, there is an audience on Twitter who is interested.”

For Norman Rose, president of Travel Tech Consulting, the notion of ditching or changing the character limit wouldn't be a surprise. “Messaging is becoming the preferred channel for communication and the Twitter character limit inhibits how much can be said via the platform,” he says.

Rose said travel companies and agents should get out of the mode of viewing Twitter as a broadcast medium. “Travel companies need to embrace tools such NodeXL to understand the Twitter community talking about your brand and identify the true influencers,” he advises.

NodeXL Basic is a free, general purpose network analysis application that extracts data from social media platforms such as Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook, among others, and generates reports that provide useful statistics and metrics for businesses. NodeXL Pro, an upgrade to be released soon, will add more features and greater access to social media data streams. The Pro option won't be free, however.

For travel businesses, Azamara's Pimentel offers this Twitter advice to retailers: “Use the space to enrich others and win new revenue. Remember it ends up being about relevant content.”

That's how many agents are using the platform now. And some, like agent Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel in Palm Harbor, FL, says she'd appreciate having more character space for her tweets.

“I use Twitter on occasion [but] not as much as other social media sites because the length of the message was too short. Honestly, sometimes I felt I was posting and wondering if anyone understood what I was saying without it being out of content or confusing,” she said.

On the possibility of longer tweets she adds: “Go Twitter!”

One social media expert, however, would like to see Twitter evolve in a different way.

"It's understandable that Twitter is trying to find new ways to attract new users, however simply extending the character limit isn't the answer,” says Tiffany Dowd, founder of Luxe Social Media, in Boston.

“Rather than increasing character limits to allow lengthy tweets, it would be beneficial to remove links and images from the character count. This would allow tweets to expand, be more visual yet remain concise," Dowd said. “It would be beneficial for companies using Twitter to market their businesses.”

But for some travel sellers, like agent Becky Lukovic, owner of Bella Travel Planning, in Carmel, IN, Twitter already is a definite boon to marketing strategies, limited character count and all.

Lukovic says she tweets every day, and often many times a day. “To me, it’s a news feed where I check the pulse of what is going on both in the travel world, with destination weddings and foodie trends, and my community. I use twitter lists extensively to target the information I receive,” says the luxury travel agent, who specializes in, among other things, weddings and honeymoons, and food and wine travel.

Lukovic says the content of her tweets varies, based on what's going on. “Sometimes they are food and destination photos meant to entice, other times, they are reflective of my Instagram feed, and other times I retweet other people’s tweets of interest to me,” says the retailer, whose agency is an independent affiliate of The Travel Agent, Inc., a branch of Tzell Travel Group.

The platform is important, she adds, because her Twitter feed “reminds people that I am actively involved in the travel business, love food, and have a knowledge of wine. All three are areas important to my business.”

Tracy Whipple, owner of Travel on a Dream, an agency based in Deforest, WI, says she uses Twitter “but nowhere near as often as I should.”

“I usually just tweet what I post on Facebook,” says the Disney specialist.

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