|Nash Travels has stirred interest in its cruise offerings by running photos of Oasis of the Seas on its Facebook page.|
Embracing content and building relationships brings results.
Social network usage is soaring. And, it’s not just a method of communication for those in their 20s and 30s. Forty-seven percent of all Internet users between 50 and 64 years of age have at least one social media account, according to Flowtown, a social networking marketing firm. Of those 60 and older, at least 26 percent use social networking on a regular basis. Overall, 51 percent of all adults have used social networking sites; 38 percent use them daily.
So, are agents tapping more into social networking to promote themselves during this year’s Wave Season than they did last year? “Yes, we are definitely using Facebook more to sell cruises and tours,” says Craig Nash, co-owner, Nash Travels, Elk Grove, CA. “Since more of our clients are now on Facebook, it’s an easier way to promote ourselves and suppliers.”
Many Cruise Holidays franchise owners will soon be wrapping up a six-week social networking boot camp via a series of webinars, according to Rich Tucker, business development specialist for CruiseDeals.com and social media marketing manager for Travel Leaders Leisure Group. He says those agents are actively engaging potential customers with Wave Season postings on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
How do you create or enhance your agency’s social networking presence? Here are tips from Tucker, Nash and other experts.
Think Long-Term: You may get an immediate Wave Season booking from just one Facebook or Twitter posting, but generally, think long-term. Social networking is an evolutionary process. You build a presence for you and your company, cultivate friends and fans, create trust and then, ultimately, bring in new business.
Engage with Content: Tucker says social networking is about building online relationships and creating content that will help people get more value out of cruising. Content is king. Ask agency employees for input. Keep your content fresh with regular updates.
Develop a Dialogue: Carrie Finley-Bajak, a former retailer now focusing on social networking and content, says agents must create a dialogue, not just a monologue. Treat social networking communications much as you would a face-to-face or telephone discussion with a client. Aim for robust two-way communications with friends, fans, suppliers and others interested in your social networking chatter.
Mix in Visuals and Variety: Emily Nash, co-owner of Nash Travels, finds publishing photos from her cruise trips on her agency’s Facebook fan page is highly effective. She asks clients to do the same. “It reminds our fans how fun, relaxing and exciting a cruise can be,” she says. Maintaining a good variety in your posts is essential. In addition to promotions and photos, Nash’s agency posts fun contests, travel tips and resource links.
Don’t Oversell: Yes, you can put deals on your social networking sites, but don’t overdo it. “Do not just blast your online friends with constant cruise line promotions,” Tucker warns, or “most of them will stop paying attention to you.” Craig Nash says one good tactic is to offer added perks for your agency’s Facebook fans, such as a free bottle of wine, onboard credit or a cruise line deal.
Rather than just posting a sale offer, Michelle Mangio, owner, Magical Escapes Vacations, Attleboro, MA, says that you may instead explain why your customers should be interested in the deal and post a link to it. Your text may read: “Last year, I know many of you cruised the Mediterranean but you wished for more time ashore to enjoy the cities, particularly after 4 p.m. So, here’s a great deal. Let me introduce you to river cruising—giving you the best of both worlds.”
Prove Expertise, Show Personality: “Be creative,” says Tucker. Add value by giving your opinion and proving your expertise. For example, you may “rate” supplier promotions or give a sneak peek into an upcoming promotion. Also important, he says, is to “have a personality.”
And don’t shy away from chatting with reputable trade colleagues on social networking sites. Remember, you may be a cruise expert, while a colleague may have a wedding sales focus. So, you could actually help each other.
Speak with an Intelligent Voice: While your own social networking personality is a “must” and being a bit irreverent at times is okay, your posts reflect your agency’s brand. Avoid being nasty, negative, stuffy, silly or too sarcastic. Finley-Bajak advises agents to put any negative comments on a personal blog rather than a supplier or agency fan page. Aim for an upbeat, professional and yet conversational tone. Check your spelling.
Check “Tweet Shrinking”: With Twitter’s limit of 140 characters on messages, some people write more and then simply rely on a handy, tweet-shrinking tool to abbreviate. Use good judgment, though. Yes, it’s fine to replace “and” with “&.” But it’s probably not good to abbreviate “luxury” to “lxy.” Aim for crisp, clear communications.
Friend and Follow: Definitely become friends or followers of your suppliers’ social networking sites. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines has more than 22,000 Twitter followers. If you get a dialogue going with suppliers or consumers on major cruise line social networking sites, you’ll reach a sizable audience.
If the line discusses an itinerary or port call on its Facebook page, you may add a few photos, give tips for dining and sightseeing near the cruise pier or suggest one of the line’s shore trips. “Chiming in and offering genuine feedback to appropriate questions will help establish content for use in all the social media network outlets,” says Finley-Bajak. Avoid blatant agency advertising, though, as most lines will delete such postings or even block you.
Develop Online Referrals: It’s nice to check online and find someone has publicly referred you and your agency to their friend on a social networking site. “Through supporting others, meeting online friends face to face, and by providing valuable content, over time, you will hopefully build a volunteer army of friends who, when they see someone ask a cruise-related question online, automatically refer you,” says Tucker.
Cultivate Direct Chatter: If a consumer likes what you have to say or wants to ask a question about a specific trip or destination, he or she may send you a private/direct message. That’s the next big step in lead development as often you’ll exchange e-mails or phone numbers. From there, the conversation moves to the next level. And that’s how some consumers become your clients.
Invest the Time: Dedicate some time for research online. Search Twitter for such keywords or phrases as “buying a cruise” or “planning a vacation.” You’ll get ideas for posts. Look closely at how suppliers creatively promote Wave Season offers on their Facebook or Twitter pages. If you find a good approach, try something similar on your site. Troll social networking sites to see what other fans have to say about particular promotions, gain inspiration and post a comment in the thread.
Schedule time to regularly update your social networking sites. “For agents to use social media for sales, they need to be willing to invest the time it takes to build relationships with other travel partners, vendors and consumers,” says Finley-Bajak.