Operations

How To Develop Group Travel Leads Through Social Media

Michael Campos
Posted on August 16, 2012

Social networks are excellent sources for finding group travel leads because they’re replete with meeting and event professionals. Meeting planners, Conventions and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs), destination management companies (DMCs), and tourist agencies use social media to network and grow their businesses. Operators who engage these professionals will develop digital relationships which can lead to tangible business opportunities and produce real revenue.

Bill Faeth, president of Inbound Marketing Agents, wrote on his blog that “one of the greatest business benefits of participating in social media is the ability to increase the lifetime value of your brand outside of the normal research and purchase process.” Industry executives who have succeeded with their social media strategies share the following advice.

Bill Faeth, president of Inbound Marketing Agents, says companies build authority by sharing content. 
Bill Faeth, president of Inbound Marketing Agents, says companies build authority by sharing content. 

The Key
Social media is not a traditional form of marketing, and it’s not about ‘Hey, look at me,’ says Nicole French, vice president of sales & marketing for Minneapolis, Minn.-based Premier Transportation. It’s about ‘Hey, I care about what you do, let’s connect.’

With that in mind, French says event planners want to align themselves with companies that not only have great service but also support and are knowledgeable about things that matter to them. “You can [use] social media to position your company as an expert in the meeting and event segment of transportation,” she says. “Show that you’re not just a company that does Hummer limos for prom, but that you can handle 70 arrivals and departures.”

Faeth told LCT, “You have to engage with your [digital] community or it will shut you off. You have to create a relationship and build authority; promoting ourselves 10 times a day doesn’t create authority. Creating and sharing content builds authority.”

Operators should start with one or two social media platforms before “getting into the deep end with too many to properly manage,” says Crispin Bottomley, office manager and community liaison at Niagara Classic Transport.

Creating and Curating Content
The best way to create content is through a company blog. These can be integrated into the company website or published on free platforms such as Tumblr or Wordpress. A March 2012 study from marketing software company HubSpot, titled, State of Inbound Marketing, found that 66% of businesses that blogged weekly acquired a new customer through their blog.

Nicole French uses Twitter to interact with meeting professionals from MPI, ISES & other event planning groups.
Nicole French uses Twitter to interact with meeting professionals from MPI, ISES & other event planning groups.

A business blog is not the same as a personal blog. The content should be geared toward the mutual interests of your target audience and your company’s services. In order to court the meeting and events industry, your blogs should include items that meetings planners will find helpful and informative. If an operator has an expertise in meetings and events, then he or she can share thoughts and experiences in that industry. If they don’t have an expertise and are not confident in creating valuable content, then they can take the path of curation.

Curating content basically means finding content about a subject that already exists and repackaging for your audience. It’s important not to plagiarize and pass off another’s work as your own, so make sure to cite all sources for data, photographs and quotations. Also give credit to the original source of your blog ideas.

The Path: Twitter
“Twitter is all about engagement,” Faeth says. Twitter is designed for brief messages between users to enhance its resemblance to a conversation.

  • Find professionals and organizations you want to follow. There are Twitter accounts for International Special Events Society (ISES) chapters, Meeting Planners International (MPI) chapters, meetings and events publications, individual meeting planners, and others in the industry.
    Crispin Bottomley says operators who are new to social media should focus their efforts on one or two social media platforms.
    Crispin Bottomley says operators who are new to social media should focus their efforts on one or two social media platforms.
  • If you have “real life” relationships with the social media contacts for organizations, get in touch with them to keep your company at the top of their minds, Bottomley says. “A quick way to find contacts at first is to find two or three respected people in your area’s tourism industry and see who they follow and are followed by. From there you can start following those people and soon you too will get noticed and followed back.”
  • Search for tweets about certain topics, which are organized by hashtags, and converse about those you find interesting and relevant. Engage often; it takes 10-14 impressions for somebody to feel an emotional attachment to your brand, French says.
  •  Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Find what they care about and tweet about those things. “Meeting and event planners don’t care about a free hour of service in a stretch limo on the weekend,” French says. “Post something about your involvement with MPI or experience you have with handling meeting and event transportation logistics.”
  • Check social media regularly. “Making ourselves available to talk and answer questions from our friends/followers is crucial to staying alive in this social media madness,” says Claudia Farnsworth, marketing director for Cooper-Global Chauffeured Transportation in Atlanta. Increase efficiency by automating tweets through programs such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck.

How Often Should I Tweet?
Tech investor and Apple Fellow Guy Kawasaki sends the same tweet on an eight-hour cycle so that it reaches people in different time zones. Social media “scientist” Dan Zarella of HubSpot says the lifespan of a tweet is about 2.8 hours, so spread your tweets out accordingly. Because the stream of tweets is dynamic and constantly flowing, repeating tweets throughout the day will not annoy an audience. However, DO NOT repeat the same post on Facebook. The dynamics are different, and you risk annoying fans and being tuned out.


Hashtags That Help

“When people aren’t successful with corporate clients on Twitter, it’s because they don’t know the correct hashtags to use,” Faeth says.

Limo operators should include the following hashtags when tweeting because they'll get more attention from corporate group travelers than tweets that don't have them.

#travel
#grouptravel
#eventprofs
#biztravel


The Path: Facebook
Most companies already know that setting up a business page on Facebook is necessary to remain relevant. Zarella and French offer the following guidelines to optimize a company’s Facebook presence.

  • Make sure the company’s Facebook page clearly shows all the organizations it belongs to, such as MPI or ISES.
  • Content posted later in the day gets more likes and shares, probably because people are home from work and spending more time surfing Facebook.
    Claudia Farnsworth, marketing director for Cooper-Global in Atlanta: “Don’t take social media lightly.”
    Claudia Farnsworth, marketing director for Cooper-Global in Atlanta: “Don’t take social media lightly.”
  • Peak share time is 6 p.m.
  • Posts on the weekends receive more “likes.”
  • Facebook’s new Timeline layout takes a visual approach, so posts that include photos and videos are more likely to get attention.
  • Automate posts through Hootsuite or Facebook’s own pre-scheduling function.
  • Share, like and comment on photos and posts on the Facebook pages of your target audience, whether it’s their personal page or business page.
  • DO NOT publish the same post over and over. This tactic is effective for Twitter because the dynamics vary from Facebook.

What not to do

Farnsworth shares the following social media faux pas that should be avoided at all costs:

  • Don’t ignore negative comments.
  • Don’t try to be an online salesperson. People want to talk to people, not be sold.
  • Don’t borrow other people’s content and try to pass it off as your own.
  • Don’t take social media lightly.

Long-term leads
Cooper-Global relies on having a sales team with account executives who are experts in different niches, which means the account executive for Cooper-Global’s “Event Planner” niche knows that industry well enough to understand the needs and habits of those clients, Farnsworth says. “For each niche, we have designed a storyline based on luxury and business consumer research to help allow us to better serve their transportation needs.”

It may be days, weeks, months or even years before social media contacts turn into customers, so operators need to be patient and think of the long-term, French says. “To position yourself as an expert or leader doesn’t happen overnight. People want substantial evidence that you’re truly an authority in a particular field, and they need time to build that trust. You have to be consistent and steadily build the momentum.”

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Related Topics: Bill Faeth, blog, Facebook, Facebook marketing, group travel, How To, inbound marketing, lead generation, marketing to corporate travelers, marketing/promotions, Niagara Classic Transport, Premier Transportation, Social Media, social media marketing, technology, Twitter, web marketing

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