By Carrie Finley-Bajak
The future of social media marketing looks bright. And tomorrow's social media-savvy travel agent is learning how to incorporate new tools such as Instagram Stories, live video streaming and 360-degree photos to benefit his or her travel business.
Travel professionals need to be curious and willing to look around the corner to keep ahead of the competition.
One company that is always looking forward is Facebook, and its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently made comments about how the company plans to grow its global reach. During the Facebook Q2 earnings call, Zuckerberg said that even though the Facebook community continues to grow around the world (1.7 billion people now use Facebook every month, and 1.1 billion people use it every day), the company's journey is only 1% done.
Over the next five years, Facebook is going to continue building new products into what Zuckerberg said are full ecosystems, and over the next 10 years it is working to develop technologies to help people connect in new ways.
"That means making big investments and taking risks: focusing not just on what Facebook is, but on what it can be," Zuckerberg said.
Successful social media marketers have an eye for the future, which is a good strategy to avoid getting stuck in a rut. Here are some of the recent changes, products, tools and tips travel professionals can incorporate into social media marketing strategies.
Live video streaming
Facebook is making a move to more video, and so should travel sellers. According to Zuckerberg, "We see a world that is video first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services."
Sharing video content via Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat has been popular for some time. However, it's live streaming video that now captures attention. It is an excellent way to engage with an audience in real time. New technology and services are making it easier for people to create and share visual content.
Equipped with my iPhone 6 and the Facebook app, I recently tried Facebook Live for the first time. This feature records and shares video content on the News Feed. While I was recording, my friends could watch my live video, or they could watch it later from my News Feed. Agents can explore Facebook Live and create a call to action to have followers subscribe to be notified the next time he or she has a live broadcast.
Some travel suppliers are already good at using live video in conjunction with product launches. Recently, Regent Seven Seas Cruises hosted a live event from Monte Carlo, Monaco, during the Seven Seas Explorer christening ceremony.
Besides the live video event, travel partners were also advised to use a designated hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, which encouraged engagement opportunities between agents and consumers.
Here are a few live video-streaming applications:
- Facebook Live: Explore Facebook Live and become comfortable sharing what's happening in more immediate and creative ways. https://live.fb.com/about/
- YouTube Connect: Be on the lookout for this new app to stream live video on iPhone and Android devices.
- Snapchat Live Stories: If you are at an event that has a Live Story, then you will have an option to add snaps to the event's story feed. To contribute to a Live Story, you will have to turn on location services in order to prove your snap was captured on location.
Going full circle with 360 degrees
Besides live video broadcasting, the future of digital photography is also morphing. In the coming year be on the lookout for other ways to share 360-degree images and video content.
A 360-degree photo enables viewers to see an image from multiple angles. Facebook offers Facebook 360 and Facebook 360 Video to help users share their experiences.
It's no secret that visual content gets attention online. However, with the emergence of 360-degree photos, travel agents can showcase their products with a new perspective.
To be able to share 360-degree photos on Facebook, use a mobile phone's camera on the panorama setting, use a 360-enabled camera or try a photo sphere app.
Besides 360-degree photo sharing on Facebook, the site recently launched 360 Video. Go to the Guide option, which is a way to give viewers a guided tour of 360 Video.
Big changes at Instagram
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has made changes that travel professionals need to know about.
For starters, there was a change in Instagram's algorithm that altered the way that photos and video appear on the timeline. The photos on the feed are now based on the likelihood of interest and not in chronological order.
The takeaway for travel professionals is twofold: if your Instagram audience growth has stagnated, it could be caused by people not seeing your posts. Also, look for creative ways to generate buzz about your posts: use hashtags, include calls to action in the captions and analyze data to learn what type of content resonates with your audience.
Another feature that was rolled out is called Instagram Stories. Stories are temporary, and they disappear after 24 hours, which is a good way to not overshare or spam your timeline. Stories can be a fun way for agents to express a travel niche and expertise. This tool could have a lot of potential.
The future with Facebook Messenger
Travel sellers can use Facebook Messenger to stay in contact with Facebook friends, and businesses with a Facebook page can use private, one-to-one messages via a shared code or private messaging link.
The Facebook Messenger app can be used to record a voice message for added content texture; for those travel sellers who want to stand out in the crowd, try sending voice messages instead of text. How about sending a voice recording with a link to a relevant travel article or deal?
Another way to gain traction with Facebook Messenger is to use the Group Message feature for groups of people who need the same information.
Some businesses offer customer service directly through the Messenger app. In fact, KLM has a service that enables guests to receive their flight documentation via Messenger.
Collaboration is the future
Social media is a great tool to connect with online audiences. However, when it comes to leads and increasing sales, travel agents can use all the help they can get. Making sure to use the tools available from suppliers can save time and help with accomplishing routine social media tasks.
Randall Soy, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Regent Seven Seas, said that travel agents could find more social media tools from the brand's Marketing Central platform.
For Regent, this is its first customized content tool for agents with specific social media tips, including sample Facebook posts and tweets. Soy said that Regent is providing travel partners with Facebook and Twitter posts to share on their channels, enabling them to start a conversation with a prospective guest about the brand or to re-engage with an existing customer. The cruise line plans to update posts on a monthly basis.
The future of marketing is social, and travel agents who look ahead can jump ahead of the competition while discovering innovative ways to build brand awareness, generate leads and service existing customers online.