|The Facebook page of Margie Jordan, travel agent and CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Service.|
Facebook can be an invaluable business tool for cruise-selling agents who want to communicate with existing and potential cruise clients, as well as market their agency. But Facebook isn’t an off-handed, one-time, “do-it-when-I-can” process. To make it really work, treat it like any other important business channel. Commit time and resources.
Here are some tips to help you build long-term profits and sail through the potential pitfalls.
Build a Following: E-mail your important business contacts and let them know your agency has a Facebook page. Encourage them to “like” your page and interact with you. Pledge to do the same with them. Also ask employees to like the company’s page and encourage their appropriate business contacts to do the same.
Ask satisfied clients to become fans. “I believe in building relationships, therefore I bring all my clients to my Facebook page,” says Maria Tilton, owner, Cruise Planners, Millstone Township, NJ. While it’s the client’s choice to engage in conversation, they see her passion for life and get caught up in her travel posts and photos. “This peaks their curiosity and I am sure to get messages in my box regarding vacation plans.”
Add your Facebook address to your business cards and put it on your e-mail signature. Consider Facebook advertising as a way to help build a good foundation of like-minded people.
While some agencies may only update their Facebook page several times a week, if you want genuine, two-way communications with potential clients or existing ones, you’ll need to commit to once-daily Facebook updates during the work week.
For optimum coverage, update your page several times a day. At the very least, circle back at least once a day and see if anyone has responded to a post; if so, talk back to them. That will involve you more in the conversation and draw you closer to your customers.
Don’t Mix Business With Your Personal Baggage: You likely have a slew of family members and friends already on a personal Facebook page. Some may be appropriate to have on your business page as well, others not. To avoid problems, though, tell family members and friends that any personal chit-chat, political postings, discussions of controversial issues, religious dissertations, internal family business and trash talk aren’t “acceptable” on your business page.
And “don’t post anything you’d be uncomfortable with the world knowing,” says Margie Jordan, travel agent and CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Service, Jacksonville, FL.
Be Conversational and Don’t Sell: But while “professional protocol is certainly necessary, it shouldn’t strip you of your personality,” Jordan also says. She tells agents to be insightful and informative. With social networking, “the goal is interaction,” Jordan says. Seek to establish a friendly, conversational, two-sided chat, not to spew out sales rhetoric.
“The most important thing to remember when building a sales relationship on Facebook is that, in general, consumers hate being sold things on Facebook,” emphasizes Adam Leposa, associate web managing editor for TravelAgentCentral.com and the voice behind Travel Agent’s Facebook page.
Even disguising a sales pitch as friendly, off-the-cuff banter can be tricky, Leposa says. “As consumers use social media more and more, they become increasingly savvy about separating authenticity from the appearance of it.” So both answer and ask questions. Engage “likers.” Prompt them to reveal and discuss their favorite cruise travel experiences or their travel “wish list.” And make it a genuine conversation.
Field Top-Notch Content: Load dynamic content that will keep fans returning for more. In the context of the “tone” tips described above, start conversations about travel tips, set up a poll about a favorite port destination, post the latest theme cruise offering, add a “Did You Know?” quirky item, or provide a link to a helpful travel article or video.
People love photos. So post stunning travel photos or photo albums from yourself, your employees and your happy clients who have just returned from a satisfying trip you planned and booked. Ask clients to send at least one family shot of their group together in the mix. They’ll definitely come to your page to view it and likely tell many friends to do the same.
Leposa strongly recommends posting from a wide variety of sources outside your own company. “No one likes a person who talks only about themselves, after all,” he says. For example, you might set up Google alerts each day to locate interesting news articles, feature stories, photos, videos and resources from cruise experts; link to those as a resource for fans of your page.
Topics: The choices are endless, but cruisers will likely enjoy reading informational posts about new trends in cruising, how a big-ship cruise differs from a small-ship one, new luggage services added by cruise lines, the latest menus on ships, value-added onboard credits, changes in itineraries, new cruise ports of call, updates to existing ship, tips for family travel on a cruise, updates about new shore trips and so on.
Agencies also may choose to highlight cruise line and agency campaigns, promotions and competitions, but remember to review any Facebook regulations for these prior to creating your posts. Be sure your post is in compliance.
Post feel-good items about agency employees participating in a charity walkathon or collecting supplies for a voluntourism cruise. If you toot your own horn on your Facebook page, be subtle. It’s okay to mention that you or another employee received a supplier certification, top award or community recognition. But be sure to thank clients for helping make that happen and reveal what the certification will mean to customers.
Most importantly, Leposa says, cruise agents can build relationships on Facebook by leveraging something they’re sure to be passionate about—travel. “If you’re posting about a cruise travel story you’re genuinely interested in, that will show through in a way that is becoming increasingly difficult to fake,” says Leposa.
So take your passion for cruising to Facebook and begin attracting new types of clients for whom social networking is the new way of doing business and a path to finding an exceptional cruise advisor.