In this article we’ll continue to look at a few more ways that travel websites can engage customers and acquire new ones through the use of social media. A couple of of these will require a some technical aptitude, a fair share of time to stay on top of the results, and a pinch or two of courage. Make no mistake, social media is a scary place for some corporate types, but if you stick to your guns, it can have a dramatic return on investment.
Here are the final five ways that your company can move in front of the competition with innovative social media initiatives:
6. Social Media Meets The Art Department
If you’re a relatively large company, you probably also have a creative department. In many cases, this is also your marketing department. Wherever the people are that have the copies of Photoshop, that’s where you want to turn for this one.
The first thing you need to realize is that image sharing is one of the most central tenets to the current social media landscape, but that also means more than just photos. Creating and sharing art, or turning your customer’s content into art, can be a fantastic way of both delighting your existing customers and giving your new visitors eye-catching visuals that will add to the sizzle of your online presence.
If you remember the last tip from my previous article, I talked about using Postagram, which takes images and turns them into postcards to send your customers. Postagram is essentially a take on the Instagram platform, which is a sort-of social network for people who like to add filters to their photos and share them with their friends. This site is perfect for sharing travel-related photos, and is a good place to direct your photogenic customers. Encourage them to use Instagram to take photos while on their trip and share them, most people are happy to share what a good time they’re having with their circles, and you can take those images and share them yourself as well (with permission of course from the customer). Try and get a testimonial from them while you’re at it, and put it on your website!
A comic is a good way to create a light-hearted fiction that uses your brand and your industry as the basis for the inspiration. Have someone in your art or marketing department create a 3-pane comic strip around various travel cliches, or even a day in the life of a travel agent or call center employee. There are many ways you can use the huge range of storytelling potential that your company and customers create to weave a weekly funny that can be a nice respite from the daily deals and travel news. The Oatmeal has a few good ones if you want to start there.
There is a way in Photoshop to take real photos of people and make them look like cartoons (like what I did with my header on this blog) or oil paintings or other styles of artwork. Why not treat your customers to the same? Ask your customers to provide the images and turn them into watercolor landscapes like this:
This was originally a photo of Las Vegas, taken by Tom Anderson (of MySpace fame) but run through a few filters on Photoshop to give it a smooth, art canvas feel. Once you’ve done this, you can send it back to your customer and let them share it, or you can feature it on one of your accounts, or both. This simple trick allows you to inject a little more of your company into the experience that your customer gets, and in the long run it stays with them.
(Pro-Tip: Use a service like CanvasPop to really wow your customers with your reimagining of their trip)
Many people think that social media is only confined to platforms designed for social media, but they’re wrong. Social can be anywhere, and one place it should be is on your main website. Allowing people to interact with your website by enabling them to comment on certain pages (most likely your product or deals pages) can breathe new life into an entity that may otherwise seem sterile and stuffy. Take a look at your product pages right now. What do you see?
Prices, descriptions, copy, hopefully a few images. Privacy policies, terms and conditions, insurance options, disclaimers. Click here, buy now, book this, while availability lasts. Blah blah blah. A lot of travel sites read like a brochure. Brochures are great for some, but most people want community these days. They want social proof. They want the idea that they have some control over every aspect of your day to day operations, and they want to add their 2 cents.
Understandably, this frightens some business owners to death, but it isn’t all that bad, and honestly there are two ways that you can go about handling the potential Negative Nancies:
Way #1: Moderate the Comments
While I don’t recommend this way, it is the one that most people in charge of comments choose. You can set up your comments so that you get to see them before they post, and then weed out any of the bad ones. At the very least, if you do choose to keep the negative reviews from being seen on your site, you should contact the customer leaving the criticism and try to placate them. At least that way you can address the matter, even if it is behind closed doors.
Way #2: Let the Customers Say Whatever They Want (Within Reason)
If you choose to go this way, then bravo for your bravery. Handling the critics head on, and engaging in the conversation yourself as a company (meaning having the customer service discussion out in the open for everyone to see) will show other customers that you have nothing to hide. This option comes with its share of problems too though, mainly in the form of people trying to spam your comments with advertisements, or otherwise leaving profanities. For both of these, there are plenty of solutions available, and shouldn’t be too much of a bother if you keep a good monitoring process in place.
Either way, I recommend Disqus for commenting systems, as it allows people to use their Facebook and Twitter logins to leave comments, and does a really good job of integrating other forms of comment technology. People like the ease and simplicity of being able to use their social network profile of choice to leave a comment, since they will most likely be logged into one of them already.
8. Triangle Medium Deals
In the days of SEO yore, there was a thing called reciprocal linking. Basically, in order to boost your PageRank with Google, you would seek out people and ask them if they would link to your site, and in return you would link to theirs. It was the first way that people started to use Google’s algorithm against it.
Then Google got smart and nixed reciprocal links.
After that happened, people once again found a way to game the system by introducing what was called Triangle Linking, where you would have three people (or one person with two different sites) and you would link to one of them, but would receive a link back from another site that wasn’t the one you linked to. This way, you were still making the same deal, but wouldn’t get caught doing the whole reciprocal link deal.
Problem was, triangle link deals were pretty hard to pull off, you needed an organized system in place for it, and/or a partner with multiple websites. Google even caught on to that trick too after a while, and quite frankly the whole method of manually gaming backlinks to gain keyword ranks is becoming a footnote in the annals of search history with the advent of social ranking systems moving to the forefront.
Enter: Triangle Medium Deals
With social media now becoming one of the major ways to gain new visitors, it has created an opportunity for people to partner up and generate traffic for each other by entering into an agreement that the search engines literally cannot follow. Here are three ways that most OTAs gain self-directed traffic:
- Search Engines
- Email Newsletters
- Social Media
Now that we have all three of these mediums, we can leverage them to make deals with news outlets, travel bloggers, or honestly anyone else on the internet to gain a truly one-way backlink, or a mention in a promising newsletter release, or a post on a social media page with tons of followers. Each medium can be assessed for potential prior to the agreement, and each medium is totally exclusive to each other. Here’s an example of how this works so well for all parties involved.
Let’s say that I own a popular travel website with subscriber list of 100k people on it. I contact an up-and-coming travel blogger whose blog has a PageRank 3 and an engaged following. I can offer to mention him in an upcoming newsletter that will go out to my 100k subscribers, and in return all he has to do is write a blog post that talks about a specific deal that I will be running, with one of the caveats being that he has to link to the page on my site. Now, depending on how you measure the potential reach to one person or the other, you can expand or adapt this deal to include writing about multiple deals, or be mentioned in multiple email newsletters, or create multiple posts on said Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s all in how you think you will benefit one side against the other, but at least by doing this kind of deal you don’t have to worry about being penalized by the search engines for trying to cheat them.
You can also make monetary demands in these types of deals too. There really is no limit, and it certainly isn’t unheard of to pay for this type of coverage. But the point of this article was to figure out low-cost ways to leverage social media. Don’t rule it out though. Triangle Medium Deals are what I believe to be the next big way for companies to work together to share traffic without falling into the legalities of the CAN-SPAM regulations, or the touchy T&Cs of the search engines.
9. Use Your Employees
This one should come with a bit of a disclaimer. Depending on your rapport with your employees and/or the overall morale in your call center, your agents can either be your biggest bonus or your worst nightmare when it comes to social media. One thing for certain though, is that your employees are going to use social media on company time whether you like it or not. You can block Facebook and Twitter from being used on the company computers (which causes dissension anyway but go for it if you feel it’s necessary) but you can’t block it from their cellphones. You could of course ban cellphones then I guess, but let’s face it, at that rate you just want your workforce to hate you, don’t you?
It’s good to give your employees social media guidelines in any case, but you should encourage them to use social media, as long as it is in the employ of the company. Enabling customer service via social media is already a huge enterprise on its own, but you can also let your employees be proactive as well as reactive too. Not only does this create fresh and frequent content for your customers, it creates a feeling of ownership for your employees as well. In turn, this generates higher morale within the company. No doubt, you will get some problem people, but if you nip them in the bud before they get too out of hand, it should be more of a benefit than a bother for the company as a whole.
Letting your call center supervisor also be the social media supervisor is a good rule of thumb as well. He or she will most likely know who the best employees are to take the reigns for the more important aspects of your social media strategy, and those employees will know best how to handle any situation that involves customer engagement. These things only make sense. Your supervisor can also monitor brand mentions using a tool like Tweetdeck or Google Alerts and have the appropriate employee respond to them accordingly.
10. Give Something Worth $100 Away Every Day
You may wonder if you’re reading that right. Every day? Yes, every day. Maybe not the weekends, but every normal “business day” will do just fine. That may sound like a lot of money to be giving away stuff. Trust me, it isn’t. Do you know how much a single Travelzoo placement costs? Believe me, you could give something worth $100 away every weekday for a year, and it wouldn’t come close to the cost of a single national Travelzoo Top 20 newsletter placement.
Of course, you have to be a little creative with this too. For one thing, you can’t make it predictable. There are rules to doing this kind of thing:
- Don’t give away the same thing every day, as the people who already won once will not bother to check your social media page again.
- Don’t give it away at the same time every day, otherwise people will only visit at the time you give something out.
- Don’t make it too easy to win, or people will not become engaged.
- Don’t give a public number that people have to reach to win, otherwise everyone will wait for that person
Good ways involve customer engagement through the form of a Q&A contest (just don’t use something that can be Googled to find the answer) or a subjective contest where people upload photos of themselves doing something that involves your brand and you pick the winner. Or the first person to purchase one of your services and post their voucher number. There are a lot of creative ideas floating around out there that other companies are trying. Look around, don’t be afraid to steal an idea and fiddle with it to make it yours.
I like to use prizes that people can use to travel, as it makes sense to get them in the mood to purchase one of your services. If you can monogram your brand logo onto the prize, so much the better. For example, I like this particular piece to give away:
It’s luggage, so it works in the sense that – hey – you’ve got some new luggage, and you got it from us, so now buy a vacation from us. Oh and tell your friends how awesome we are for giving you this awesome luggage. The amount of goodwill (and word-of-mouth) that you get from such a simple, low-cost giveaway is money in the bank down the road. Yes it may be hard to quantify this kind of expense right off the bat, but you can easily leverage it to get more followers on your social media accounts, get them on your page for longer periods of time, and it does eventually translate into more sales in the long term.
So There You Have It…
I hope you enjoyed these ten ways to leverage social media for your OTA. As someone who has used social media to engage customers and gain new ones to some effect, I am excited for what the future has to offer us. Keep coming back for more updates, I swear I will try to make them on a more regular basis