Here’s a number every adventure travel professional should know: 2.7 billion. That’s the number of people who will be using social media by the end of 2019, according to Statista. That’s about one-third of the world’s inhabitants, so if your company wants to maximize its social media strategy, now is the perfect time to get started.
A solid social media and content strategy is essential for travel companies working in today’s global marketplace. Done well, such a strategy can result in increased brand awareness, improved search engine rankings, higher conversion rates, better customer satisfaction, improved brand loyalty, and cost efficiency.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to waste time and effort on social media if you don’t follow certain guidelines or have a strong strategy in place. For organic (non-paid) efforts, this translates into stagnant channels that don’t engage audiences and don’t gain followers. For poorly executed paid campaigns, the results can be a lot worse: thousands of valuable marketing dollars down the drain with nothing to show for it.
The nine tips below will get you well on your way to creating successful social media campaigns for your travel business.
1. Choose your battlegrounds wisely.
Not all social media platforms are created equal — at least not for the travel industry. In the travel sector, some platforms perform better than others, and for a good reason: We work in an industry that benefits from the marketing of great content, especially when tied to a strong visual. Therefore it makes sense the strongest platforms are the ones with the most flexibility in this regard. Users love sharing interesting information about exotic animals, places to see, popular destinations, or the best places to eat in a foreign city. Make the most of this trend by using social media wisely to promote your content, attract users, and lead people to your website, where they can book one of your adventures.
Regardless of your ideal traveler’s profile, being on Facebook and Instagram is required if you run a travel business. This applies whether you run a tour operation or a travel agency, a large company or a one-person business. Not only are Facebook and Instagram two of the most popular social media platforms worldwide, they are also among the strongest platforms for displaying visual content … and that’s where the travel industry can really shine, thanks to the beautiful planet we live on. Also, if you produce good video content on a fairly regular basis, consider establishing a YouTube presence. It ranks just below Facebook in worldwide popularity, with hundreds of millions of users watching videos daily.
On the B2B side, LinkedIn is an important social media platform. This is a more professionally targeted and not intended to entice potential consumers. Rather, this is a space to connect with other travel professionals, learn about industry trends, and establish your company’s professional voice.
2. Know your audience, and use what you know.
Your audience is the core of your business. You must know who these people are and what they want so you can help them. If you ignore the needs of your core audience, it will become difficult to reach and connect with them, and you’ll likely spend your marketing and promotional budget in the wrong places.
Gather as much information as you can from existing customers to create an ideal audience profile. This includes data and demographics like age, nationality, hobbies, travel preferences, websites they visit frequently, average household income, and more. Traditional tools like customer surveys can be valuable in achieving this; get information from past guests by asking questions that identify who they are and how they want to interact with your company in the future.
It’s also important to understand that different generations use social media very differently. Recognize how your ideal audience uses social media, and use analytics tools to figure out who is engaging with your site and your overall brand. This allows you to tailor your company’s social media campaigns and content to meet your audience(s) in the places they hang out online.
One other helpful note on audiences: Facebook lets you upload email addresses of past guests to create lookalike audiences. These are new people who are likely to be interested in your business because they're similar to your best existing customers. Put together the largest list of email addresses possible from your best customers, and you will have a nicely profiled lookalike audience you can market to via Facebook ads. The amount of your ad spend determines how much of the total lookalike audience you can reach.
3. Conquer the fear of negative reviews.
When people choose to travel with your company, they trust you with their most valuable non-renewable resource: their leisure time. Your task is to do your best to meet and surpass their expectations. Unfortunately, from time to time, things don’t go as planned and there will be upset guests with whom you must deal delicately. This will happen to all of us eventually, but it’s the way you deal with these unhappy guests and their negative comments that will set you apart from the rest of the field.
Look at negative posts and online criticism as opportunities to speak to clients. Also use them as opportunities to improve your product and provide better travel experiences. When you receive a negative comment and can’t solve the issue immediately, simply acknowledging it, apologizing, and communicating what you’re doing to investigate or address the problem can go a long way toward appeasing an upset customer. Humans appreciate transparency, and a sincere apology can go a long way.
4. Let your brand’s personality shine.
In an extremely crowded social media landscape, only the most distinctive travel companies stand out. A great way to separate yourself from the rest of the field is to define your brand’s unique voice and tone when it comes to how you communicate. When booking my own leisure travel, I’m always surprised at the number of travel companies that don’t have an original tone and voice, yet I know they are amazing travel companies with an amazing story.
In the end, people buy from those they know, like, and trust. So, who are you? How did you, or the founders of your company, start the business? What values is your company built upon? Clearly communicate your brand’s journey, what you stand for, your brand’s core values, and your point of view in the travel industry. This is what your customers will relate to the most.
Don’t be afraid to show the human side of your business as well. In fact, in an increasingly automated world, people indicate they want to know the humans behind the products.
5. Embrace the editorial calendar.
A solid editorial calendar is an essential tool for driving content marketing efforts. This is especially important if you have more than one contributor and, like most of us in this industry, several integrated marketing channels. A good editorial calendar allows you to organize your communications through channels like email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, ensuring that all your content programs complement each other. You can use tools like Microsoft Excel or Google Drive to create simple content calendars, and if you run more complex operations you can use more robust tools like Trello or Evernote.
A good content calendar should be separated by social media platform. For each post, note the publication date, the content type (promotion, brand awareness, entertainment, etc), the subject or title, the visuals to be used, and any other important details so the person managing the calendar is always clear on what is being published and why.
After you have your content calendar laid out, take a look at its complexity and the amount of time required to keep up with it. Set realistic goals based on your budget, staffing, and commitments. For larger companies, it may be wise to invest in a good social media management platform to help administer, organize, and publish content aligned with your pre-defined content calendar. If you manage multiple destinations and many clients per year, tools with workflow and governance capabilities are especially beneficial.
6. Put people in the spotlight.
The content with the most engagement on many brands’ social media channels is often not about the brand or its products. It’s about a brand’s people: their guides, staff, or even customers. This content can range from guest video testimonials to photos of your company retreats or trainings. Use social media to celebrate the stories of the people who make your travel company truly special, and your audience will reward you with increased interest and loyalty.
7. Educate, entertain, enlighten, and evoke.
“So, what should I post about?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to social media content and strategy. Fortunately, the answer is fairly simple … in theory. You must produce content that creates value for your audience by educating, entertaining, enlightening, or evoking.
Educational posts teach your audience members something they didn’t know before and provide value as they learn about your destination, product, or brand. Entertaining posts capture your audience’s attention and imagination while watching or reading your content. Enlightening posts offer details and information needed to better understand your destination, product, or brand. Finally, evoking posts create an emotional response in your audience, helping people envision themselves in the solution you’re presenting or story you’re telling.
8. Keep plans simple and metrics simpler.
Measuring the results and impact of your company’s social media efforts is important. It helps direct your marketing efforts and helps you make better and smarter decisions, resulting in better ROI if you are investing in paid social media campaigns.
Unless you run a large travel company that spends tens of thousands of dollars each month on social media campaigns, don’t spend too much time putting together detailed reports. Instead, start by finding a few good metrics that realistically allow you to measure the efficiency of your efforts. Sophisticated marketers will look beyond basic followers, clicks, and likes and focus on broader engagement: Are users commenting and truly engaging with you on social media? How much of the videos do they really watch? Usually, it is also important to measure traffic back to your site as a result of social media efforts. Spend time reviewing these metrics with your social media and creative teams to ensure your company’s budget and efforts are being used in the best way possible. Note what works well to meet your established marketing goals and adjust accordingly.
9. Learn, learn, learn.
Putting together great social media campaigns and measuring key metrics doesn’t mean much if you don’t learn from the data you receive. This is especially true for feedback received from customers. Capturing their recommendations and requests and directing them to your product teams is a great catalyst for making valuable changes your customers really want. Use your social media channels to improve your processes throughout all parts of the customer journey, and make them more customer-friendly. By carefully listening to your customers and applying what you’ve learned, you create better and more engaging products and services for future — and return — travelers.