This story originally ran in the November 8th, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Forget everything you think you may know about social media because chances are, you’ve been using it incorrectly this whole time.
For one thing, it’s no longer just a means to make friends, stay in touch with loved ones and fill your social calendar. Since it first blew up in the early 2000s (most notably with the launch of Facebook in 2004) social media has evolved into an all-encompassing conduit through which users can elevate all aspects of life, including business. It’s become imperative for all types of companies and business people, travel agents included, to have some sort of social media presence; without it, they run the risk of being left behind in the ongoing wave of multimedia marketing.
“Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay and it’s becoming a more vital part of brand and image by the day,” says Christopher Mitchell, podcaster, photographer, social media consultant and founder of the travel blog travelingmitch.com. “Think of your social media presence across platforms as representing a modern-day resume in some way. That’s why it’s important to approach social media with a certain level of understanding and professionalism.”
Mitchell, who’s worked on social media campaigns with over 100 different businesses, organizations and tourism boards, has organically grown his social media platforms and built them into a vital part of his business and overall growth strategy. Now putting his efforts into helping companies and others do the same, he has some advice for travel agents and agencies.
“A large part of being a travel agent is positioning yourself as an expert, and a strong social media presence can really lend you that notion of validity and expertise,” he says. “With a business account on Instagram, you can quite literally allow people to email you with one click, and that’s powerful if you’ve got the brand presence to encourage people to do that.”
His suggestion? Tackle one platform at a time. Choose a platform that you identify with most, build it up and then move forward.
“Twitter isn’t a bad place to start since it’s good for connecting with clients, it’s relatively explanatory and fairly low risk. The average tweet doesn’t last all that long, so unlike Instagram where your feed remains permanent, Twitter is a more forgiving place,” he adds.
But a word of caution: although some social media platforms are easier to use than others, you still need to be mindful of how you’re presenting yourself to clients. According to Mitchell, one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they need to ‘create’ an image or persona.
“People are tired of ‘fake’ and they want authenticity,” he says. “The goal then for travel agents is to create social media accounts that directly reflect who they are and show their personality. Vulnerability is actually quite powerful.”
And when developing a social media strategy, it’s also worth noting that it’s a process, an organic one at that. Don’t expect 1,000 followers right off the bat.
“Give yourself three months to grow on different platforms and take note of your progress,” says Mitchell. I know people who ended up burning out because they focused too intensely on the short game in social media, then more or less game up. Take it slow and steady because the return on investment is real, but not necessarily immediate.”
Here are some more tricks of the trade (all apps are free to download):
There are two main components to Instagram: your newsfeed, which is what you see when you go to someone’s profile, and Instagram stories, which are temporary ‘moments’ that last only 24 hours. News feeds should look more professional to help build your brand and business, says Mitchell, while stories are meant to be more fun and experimental. “That’s a good place to ‘be yourself’ and allow clients to get to know you behind the brand.”
Try to post on your Instagram feed once per day; it always helps to ask a question to your followers (ie. If you’re at a travel conference, ask if they’ve ever been). For Instagram stories, try to post a few a day, especially while travelling or on a fam.
And don’t forget to use hashtags, up to 30 with each post. Use a variety of different hashtags, including general ones like #travel, and more specific ones like #travelontario” to target niche markets.
Facebook has gotten trickier to use since it’s become more of a ‘pay to play’ platform, says Mitchell, making it harder for your content to get seen without paying for the privilege. It’s still possible though, by focusing on posting content that keeps people on Facebook as opposed to posting links to articles that direct them to other websites.
With Facebook, Mitchell says the magic numbers are 1 and 5; try to post either once a day or five times a day. “I know it’s specific but this has been confirmed a few times for me from a few different sources, as well as my own methodology.”
It’s all about volume on Twitter. “At the very least,” says Mitchell, “I would be tweeting five times per day, and that’s not including replies.” It’s not a place to build traffic, but rather one to build presence. This means engagement is key; make sure you respond quickly to people’s comments on your content, and follow people who align with your brand.
“The list of people you can follow is endless, so take advantage of that and grow,” adds Mitchell.
Pixabay is a source for publicly available images that you can use for commercial purposes, for free. This is particularly useful for agents who want to post about a particular beach or destination but don’t have a photo that they’ve personally taken. The library is “massive”, says Mitchell, featuring great quality photos that will instantly make your news feeds visually appealing and engaging.
When it comes to photo editing apps, Snapseed is the one you want. Not only is it very easy to use, it comes with all kinds of filters and tools that instantly transform your dull and boring photos into glamour shots. Mitchell prefers the ‘pop’ and ‘accentuate’ looks to enhance your photos. Then export them back to your phone and they’ll be “social media ready”.
HOOTSUITE & BUFFER:
Whether you’re on one or multiple platforms, you’re going to need a social media scheduler, especially if you don’t have someone running your feeds full-time. Both programs have an easy-to-use format that allows you to schedule your social media needs ahead of time. Although Mitchell says Buffer is the easier of the two to use, Hootsuite is useful because it allows you to schedule up to 30 posts for free.