I had a really great conversation with Barbara Vega, founder of I Heart BackPackers, a tour operator who specializes in backpacking tours all over the World. During our talk, Barbara wanted to know if I had any suggestions on how to get started with social media and how to improve what she was already doing. This got me thinking that the best thing I could probably do is put together my top 5 list of things to do to get started with Social media along with some simple things operators can do to improve their exposure on-line.
1. Get Your Tours or Activities On-line. Yes, this is the first thing you need to do and should precede everything else. Bottom line… if you can’t show what you do, then you can’t drive revenue. This site is where your calls to action will lead once your conversion techniques using social media start driving traffic to your site. Barbara uses Rezgo to manage her on-line bookings and has her tours displayed prominently on her website.
2. Hang out with your Customers. In Barbara’s case, her tours are perfect for young adults (in their gap year) who are looking to travel the World. I can think of at least a couple of major social networks where her target demographic hangs out. The important thing to remember is that not all social networks are going to be a good fit for your offering. You’ll need to do some research and find the ones that best fit your needs. There are also some new social networks being developed specifically for the tour operator market. I’ll be writing more about these soon.
3. Give your customers the ability to connect with you. Joining social networks or using twitter is one thing, actually letting your customers know that you are available is another. Make sure you add your share links on your site so that your customers can connect with you using the platforms or tools that make the most sense for them. Perhaps they’ll follow you on twitter or become a fan of your facebook page, or perhaps they’ll contact you through your Getsatisfaction site. In either case, give your customers the ability to connect with you and you open the door to creating a lasting and more personal relationship with your customer.
4. Give your customers something to talk about. If your customers have connected with you and taken the time to commit to receiving some form of information from you, share something valuable with them. Whether it’s your monthly newsletter, your blog, or your twitter account, be sure to share interesting and relevant information. No one wants an inbox full of marketing messages, so make sure your newsletter is something your customers look forward to each month. The art of selling without selling takes time and practice, just remember to read your messages before they go out and ask your “Would I read this?”.
5. Give your customers the tools to praise you. The small travel company world thrives on word of mouth referrals. Small businesses generally can’t afford the costs of a lot of traditional marketing media. Social media is about word of mouth, or is the case, word of fingers. If you use a tool like Getsatisfaction.com for customer engagement, or TripAdvisor for reviews, then ask your customers to share their experience on these sites. If you honestly believe that you provide the best possible service you can and your customers appreciate the work that you do, then they will be more than happy to praise you publicly. BUT, generally you do have to ask them. You will find that as you build testimonials and positive reviews, these reviews will feed more reviews and this can have a strong positive affect on your reputation and credibility.
Barbara is doing many of these things herself and has gone well beyond what I have seen with many operators. In the big picture, I Heart Backpackers is well on its way to becoming the resource for backpackers on-line. Barbara’s challenge, as is the challenge for many small business owners, is the time cost of maintaining a successful social business. With dedication, patience, and the use of some simple on-line tools, you could be engaging with your current and potential customers in a much more meaningful way.
I recommend you take a look at Barbara’s I Heart Backpackers blog for some very great advice.