Nearly 90 percent of travel agents told Travel Market Report that social media is important to their marketing plans, populating their clients’ and prospects’ timelines and newsfeeds with pictures from far-away destinations, including their own travels and special offers.
But a recent study by Passport Online Inc., a company that provides advisors with social media content and websites, shows that agents must go deeper, and directly engage customers in conversations about their travel dreams, to make social media worthwhile.
“Where we had put our efforts, and where we tell agents they need to be, all focuses on this term of meaningful engagement,” said Jeanne Colombo, vice president of strategic partnerships at the Beaverton, Oregon-based Passport Online Inc. “You have to humanize your brand, and create content that allows fans to have back-and-forth comments with you.”
Passport Online’s analysis of social media engagement for its ESP Facebook Posting service customers shows that, by the end of 2018, travel agencies were experiencing a 170 percent increase in consumer comments on their Facebook pages.
The top-performing post (4,307 comments) was one that asked consumers what type of vacation they preferred of two options – an overwater bungalow or a cabin in the woods. The second most commented post featured four vacation photo options to choose from: “If you were handed a one-week, all-expenses-paid vacation, which one of these places would you choose? A) New Orleans; B) Guatemala; C) Las Vegas or D) Santorini, Greece.”
According to their analysis, inspirational memes are excellent ways to get your content shared. One photo of a mountain range and a quote about how where people travel makes up a big part of who they are, was shared 524 times, the most of any post produced by the company.
Travel advice also does well, with a post about carrying copies of your passport being shared 447 times.
While likes are no longer a principal currency in Facebook success, likes still do help increase the likelihood that a post will appear in the newsfeed of someone who knows a travel agent’s followers. There, the two top likes were a post for agents celebrating Travel Agent Day, May 2, 2018 (2,756 likes), “because we love what we do! It's so fulfilling to help people plan their dream vacations!”; followed closely by a Mar. 13, 2018 post (2,737 likes) of a couple on a beach with a quote about how travel enriches those who travel.
The next level of engagement
While Colombo is happy to see engagement increasing overall, she advises agents to understand that there are levels of engagement in the different types of interactions, and advisors need to both understand these differences, and react accordingly to increase engagement to the point of gaining the right to call the follower a customer.
“The easiest thing to do on Facebook is to like, and that’s an opportunity for the advisor to ask why they liked it, or comment about their engagement,” she said. “A share requires the consumer to think of who they want to share with, and agents should see who that is. A comment goes another level deeper, because it requires you to come up with something to say, and that means someone is truly engaged.”
“If someone comments, you can’t say, ‘I don’t have the time to engage them.’ That’s a hot lead. Someone commented. They are 100 percent closable. It might not be today. But you need to write them back: ‘Hey Stan, anyone else want to go on this trip with you. Gather five other couples to go with you for vow renewals.’ It’s all about how to get a lead into my sales funnel.”
Passport Online’s study shows agents received a 110 percent increase in shares and a nearly 75 percent increase in clicks. According to year-end statistics reported by Facebook, more than 2.2 billion people are on Facebook; and 78 percent of American consumers have discovered something on Facebook and then purchased it from a retailer or small business.
Make your social more personal
While vacation option posts are engaging, more important is for agents to personalize their digital marketing through platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Colombo advises agents that consumers want to hear more about why agents do what they do.
“They’re almost begging travel agents, ‘tell me about you.’ If you’re an Italy specialist, a cruise specialist, don’t just tell me about what you know and what you sell. You have to create places on your website that talk about why you specialize in those areas, your uniqueness.”
“It goes down to that old adage: ‘People do business with people they like.’ So, you have to decide, who do you want to be as an agent? What do you want to sell? Narrow that list down, because it’s a trap trying to be all things to all people.”
Colombo advises agents to try to post three times a day, to capture more of their clients’ and prospects’ mindshare. “It’s about remaining relevant and top-of-mind. Your clients and prospects are always moving in and out of your pipeline, depending on when they are looking to travel and what they want to purchase, so keeping up a steady stream of digital posts will increase the odds that you are there when they are looking for you,” she said.
The study also establishes some benchmarks that agents can use for their own social media strategies. For example, Passport Online found that the average clickthrough rate for offer posts was 10.9 percent, which is significantly higher than the industry norm. “This statistic shows the level of consumer interest in offers provided by their personal travel agency and the loyalty of consumers to view trusted offers provided by their travel agency,” said Colombo.
While social media is so prominent and popular today, Colombo cautioned agents not to overlook email. For the email marketing channels Passport Online supports, the average agency customer database grew last year from an average of 1,000 names to just under 4,000 names on average per agency.
Colombo also urged agents not to neglect their other digital assets at the expense of social media. In many respects, she said, they need to be coordinated together. “Do your blog regularly. We’ll post onto your Facebook account, but you need to post your own unique content at your website, and where possible, link your social back to that content,” she said.
Passport Online helps more than 7,500 travel agencies host and manage their digital footprint through websites, social media and email marketing; and works with another 30,000 agents through industry consortia and host agencies. This includes more than 1,500 travel agency business Facebook pages.