Guide to Social Marketing for Tourist Destinations & Travel Agents Introduction

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1 Guide to Social Marketing for Tourist Destinations & Travel Agents Introduction There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are becoming self-reliant travelers; using online communities, rather than travel agency websites, in order to help them plan their trips. Canned marketing tools like websites are being overlooked, while potential customers gravitate towards user-generated content in order to keep them informed. Many businesses that are reliant on tourism, including travel agencies, tourist attractions, and tourism boards, have recognized this trend, and are changing the way in which they interact with their target audiences by incorporating social media into their business plans. The following is a list of the various types of social media that are important for those striving to meet the needs of today s connected traveler.

2 Social Media Blogging/Microblogging Blogging refers to writing content in an online journal, and includes websites such as Livejournal and Wordpress. Similarly, microblogging is when users communicate with smaller-sized content, such as single sentences or pictures. Two of the more popular microblogging websites are Twitter and Tumblr. Posting content on a blog or microblog allows you the opportunity to directly communicate ideas or news with potential customers. It also allows for interaction or discussion with those who visit your blog. One of the biggest advantages to posting on a blog is that it gives you the ability to set yourself apart as an expert in your field. Travel agents can share their opinions on industry-related topics, and give potential customers information that they might not have found elsewhere. Blogs are also a trusted source of content. Because they are more personal, bloggers can build one-on-one relationships by responding to comments and engaging in discussions with visitors to their site. For travel agents, this may be the extra confidence needed to push customers to take the next step and book their travel with you. Tourist attractions and tourism boards can also make great use of blogging. Today s travelers love getting the inside scoop on their destination. Any attraction that doesn t provide a blog offering a look behind the scenes is missing out on connecting with potential customers. A blog or microblog is likely to attract people who are looking for information on travel destinations, trips on travelling, or deals on a specific destination. Many users bookmark blogs that they find interesting, so posting new content could keep visitors coming back to your site regularly. Creating a dialogue with existing customers, or even potential customers, will help to build stronger brand loyalty. Also, with microblogging, there is a great potential for responsive service and providing customers with information and advice en route, such as where to make that evening s dinner reservations.

3 Social Media Wikis A wiki is basically a website that allows anyone to be able to edit its content. The most famous example is Wikipedia, but there are also lesser-known websites such as Wikispaces. While you can allow any user to edit the content, there is an opportunity for you to screen comments and posts. Through the creation of a wiki, users can edit the content, which could provide you with uncensored customer feedback, an opportunity to deliver customer service, or share a wealth of information including facts on destinations, hotels or prices. Depending on how you choose to set up your wiki, it could attract a variety of visitors. If you set it up as a site for information on particular destinations, it would attract people who have travelled to that location, wanting to share their experiences and knowledge. It will also attract potential customers who are interested in learning more on that specific destination or attraction. If you set up your wiki to share common questions and answers that you are frequently asked, you will attract a wider audience who are searching for general travel information. A wiki is an exceptional tool for user participation and engagement, not only with potential customers, but with your internal team members as well. Getting your employees involved in personally recommending hotels, resorts or cruises, or in the case of a tourist attraction, having your employees recommend their favorite ride, can help showcase your business expertise and help to build brand loyalty with your customers.

4 Social Media Social Bookmarking Social bookmarking is a simple way to organize content from websites, all in one place, with the ability to share that content with others. Some of the more popular social bookmarking websites include StumbleUpon and Reddit. Social bookmarking allows you to sort out relevant and interesting content from all over the web, and share that content with both your customers, and your potential customer base. Websites like Delicious allow you to tag and index your bookmarks according to their subject. You can also see what others are bookmarking, to gain insight into their interests. Social bookmarking websites are likely to attract people who like to have their information organized all at one source. Instead of using a search engine to research news on their potential travel destination, the user can visit one page, pick a category, and find the information they were looking for. By collecting relevant travel news and information all over the web, and making it available at one convenient source, your business will be seen by potential customers as a valuable resource for travel information. It will give you a chance to show off your expertise and create a feeling of real concern for your customers.

5 Social Media Business Reviews Local business review websites, including Yelp, Google and Yahoo s local listings, give users the opportunity to review and comment on businesses in their area. Review sites also provide visitors with an easy way to see past and current customers opinions of local businesses. Much like word of mouth, these sites give users the opportunity to share their experiences both positive and negative with other potential customers. Business review sites attract educated customers who care enough to take the time to do a little research about a particular business. They are interested in the experiences of their peers and what they think. Through local business review sites like Yelp, your customers can learn what others think about your business. Encouraging satisfied customers to leave positive reviews will lead readers to view your business as one that customers trust. Even if not all reviews are 100% positive, readers will see that you are responsive to your customers needs and frustrations, if and when they do occur.

6 Social Media Social News Social news websites feature listings of links to news items from other news sources on the web. Websites like Digg, Reddit and Fark, allow their readers to decide which news stories the site displays. Users can submit stories, vote on their popularity, and make comments on them. Some social news sites allow users to follow other users whose stories they ve found interesting in the past. Sites like Digg and Reddit draw users who enjoy participating in a community, and are interested in reading and sharing news items that may not be widely reported elsewhere. These users think of themselves as well informed, and place great value on up-to-the-minute news and information. Developing a following on a social news site like Digg would be an excellent way to quickly share the news and information you think your clients would find most interesting. This would allow a travel agent to quickly and easily share important information and updates about specific destinations or travel conditions with their client base. Tourism boards can use social news websites to share positive local news stories and create a greater awareness of what their community has to offer. Again, this is another personal touch that will lead to greater trust of your expertise, and will likely translate into an increased loyalty to your business.

7 Social Media Video Sharing Video sharing websites allow users to upload and publicly share videos. The most popular website for video sharing is YouTube. Websites like YouTube allow users to create a free account and upload or create videos to share. They also allow you to display video on your own website or blog. By setting up a channel, users are able to categorize and create a collection of the best travel destination videos, with the ability to forward those playlists on to potential customers who are interested in a particular destination. Video sharing websites attract an audience who is interested in short, amateur-produced videos. The videos can be entertaining or informative, perhaps offering travel tips, reviews and promotions. Videos are the best way to inspire customers to travel, while increasing recognition of your brand and expanding your market reach. By creating interesting and informative videos, you can make a personal connection with potential customers and establish a reputation that will have followers contacting you when they are ready to make their travel plans. Travel attractions or tourism boards can use video sharing to highlight upcoming events or provide a personalized look at the features they provide.

8 Social Media Photography Sharing Photo and art sharing websites allow users to upload images and share them. Some of the more popular photo sharing websites includes Flickr and Photobucket. Websites like Flickr allow users to upload photos, sort them into photo albums and share them with friends. For travel agents, this might include uploading pictures of particular destinations and sharing them with potential customers. Photo sharing attracts people who enjoy looking at photos that others have taken. This would be a great benefit to tourism boards that want to give travelers a taste of the local flavor. Travelers can also gain more of a sense of the climate, environment or culture through the use of pictures. Uploading pictures is like sharing a digital postcard. Travel is all about the experience, and the best way for businesses to get potential clients thinking about travel is to show them a variety of fun places to go and things to do while they are there.

9 Social Media Social Networking Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Google+ and LinkedIn allow users to create a profile, update content, and add friends and family to create social groups to share that content with. LinkedIn allows you to share your resume with friends and colleagues, and is geared more towards businesses and professionals. Social networking sites are attracting everyone. A few years ago, these sites were considered the domain of teenagers and college students. Today, almost everyone from your grandmother to your best friend from high school--is on a social networking site. With more than 800 million active users, half of which log on every day, Facebook ranks as the #2 most visited website. Creating a page on Facebook will open you up to a very large pool of potential clients who are very vocal about what they like. Creating a profile on LinkedIn would not only allow you to keep up with industry contacts, but the website also allows users to post recommendations for each other, which would help to increase word-of-mouth referrals. The image above is from xkcd.com (and it should be noted that Facebook has been the new MySpace for a long time)

10 Social Media Location-Based Social Networking Location-based social networks like Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter allow users to check-in at a specific place, and also gives them an outlet to express their opinions on the product or service. When users check in using a location-aware applications on their smartphone, their social network is able to see, in real-time, that the user is currently visiting a particular business. Businesses can also design their check in page to include information such as operation hours, website, or even promotions. Other social networks and services like Facebook and Twitter have incorporated these capabilities to make it easier for our friends and followers to know which businesses and attractions we support. Many of the people who use location-based social networks use it as a way to let their friends know what they are doing and where, or even to meet people who frequent the places they do. Location-based social networking offers businesses the ability to market their services at the micro-level through special offers. This targeted communication gives travel attractions, travel agents and tourism boards the opportunity to engage with their customers, while providing an incentive for customers to share and advertise the attraction or business to their friends and family, making them more likely to frequent it as well.

11 Social Media Destination Marketplace Destination Marketplace websites like Wanderfly, Couchsurfing, Airbnb and Vayable allow users to plan the details of their trip, and in some cases, book them directly with the service providers. Websites like Wanderfly generate personalized travel recommendations suited to the user s budget and interests. Based on reviews on other websites, it creates a customized itinerary including the destination, flight, hotel, and even activities to enjoy during the stay. Couchsurfing and Airbnb offer listing services for accommodations. With Couchsurfing, users can offer to host a traveler for a night for free, or take someone up on their offer. Airbnb offers more exclusive listings for unique spaces. Vayable connects users directly to local businesses in their preferred destination, allowing travelers to directly book their vacation activities. All of these websites attract travelers who would like a unique travel experience, and take pride in independently booking their travel. These are also people who are looking to have an action-packed adventure at a bargain price. Because budget-minded travelers frequent these websites, tourist attractions could advertise their promotions in order to gain access to a wider group of potential customers. Travel agents who suggest a lower-cost accommodation alternative like Couchsurfing will show the client that they are attentive to the customer s needs, which could help make the sale for the other portions of the trip.

12 We can help you grow your business online. With the increase in the number of travelers who are using online communities to connect, get and make referrals, and gather information about their preferred destinations, travel agencies, attractions and tourism boards will need to incorporate these new realities into the way that they do business. The use of social media has the potential to open travel businesses up to incredible opportunities for growth. However, in order to fully realize these opportunities, businesses will need to fully immerse themselves in the wealth of social media possibilities available to today s fully engaged Internet user. * * * * If you would like to learn how your individual travel agency or tourist destination could improve online, we can offer you a free competitive analysis. Just click to provide us with your and two of your competitors. To continue on your journey of mastering social media for your business, check out other 9 Clouds resources and blog posts to see best practices and important tips on using social media. You can also enjoy free seminars and tutorials on how to use social media at Sandbox. If you have any questions or are interested in getting started, please do not hesitate to contact us at CLOUDS or

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