It’s the monkey on my back. That nagging feeling that creeps its way into my thoughts whenever I’m online. It’s the pressure in my stomach I feel whenever I’m out with friends.
“Why don’t we have a Facebook page yet?” says a colleague.
“Ten Reasons Why Your Company Needs to Have a Blog!” shouts the email.
“Uncle Frank just found a new client on Twitter. Why aren’t you Tweeting?” asks my mom.
I can’t get away from it. It seems that everywhere I turn, there’s something screaming at me to jump into Social Media. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Social Media. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve studied the subject intently and I’m a big fan of it when done correctly. The problem is that for every success story there are a hundred “strugglers” that can’t quite get it together.
Why are they struggling? There are many symptoms, but the root cause invariably leads back to the one thing that most of them have in common: they shouldn’t have jumped into Social Media in the first place.
So before you jump into the Social Media scene, or if you have already and can’t seem to make it work for you, then this article is for you. Here’s a list of six questions to think about before you sign up for your new Twitter account:
1. What do you want to achieve?
Are you looking to pick up new clients? Are you looking for repeat business from past clients? Do you want to break ground in a new market? Want to keep in touch with current clients?
Be clear on what you want to achieve. If you don’t have a clear reason to jump in, why spend the time and effort it will take? And just like every other marketing initiative you tackle, you’ll need to regularly measure how well the campaign is performing. If you aren’t clear on what you want to achieve, then how can you measure it? How will you know if it’s working for you?
2. Does a large enough portion of your target market use Social Media?
Take a look at your target audience. Are you likely to be able to reach them through Social Media?
It doesn’t matter how many great blog posts you do or how good your Facebook page is if your clients aren’t likely to use them. As popular as Social Media outlets are, there are still huge segments of the population that use them sparingly, if ever.
3. Can you devote the time to it?
If you have any inclinations of succeeding with Social Media, you’ll need to put the time in. You will never build the momentum needed if you only put in a few minutes per week. You need to commit a serious chunk of your week to being online. Most Social Media experts I follow say that you need a minimum of five hours a week to get meaningful results.
Five hours per week. Think about that. That’s time spent away from your clients. Away from your family. Away from your friends. Can you commit to that?
4. Is Social Media the most efficient use of your marketing time?
I know Social Media is the cool new thing, but it doesn’t mean the “tried and true” marketing methods are any less effective. What if, instead, you spent those five hours sitting in a busy coffee shop chatting up anyone that walked through the door? It’s very likely you could drum up far more business, far quicker than online.
Networking? Sales calls? Word of Mouth? Five hours per week doing any one of those would do wonders to improve your client base. Simply picking up the phone and calling a past client to see how they are doing and asking for a referral won’t take any more time than writing a blog post, but the personal connection is infinitely more powerful.
5. Would you enjoy it?
This one sounds like an easy question, but you really need to put some thought into this. If you view this as a chore, you will push it back to the bottom of the pile. For the first couple of months you’ll be gung-ho, posting every day to your blog and Twitting like crazy, but slowly it will start to peter off. You’ll find other things that you enjoy more, and your Social Media plan will end up on the back-burner.
6. Is it worth the risk?
There’s one thing to always remember while posting things online. What you say (or don’t say) can always come back to haunt you. Even if you erase something, Google will have archived it, someone may have captured it, and others may have quoted you.
A poorly planned and executed Social Media campaign can give potential clients the impression that you are inexperienced and unprofessional. You could end up projecting a worse image than if you never went online in the first place.
There’s no question that Social Media provides an excellent new way for travel agents to market themselves. It’s free, easy to set up and available to anyone. Lots of travel agents I’ve talked to love it. Many are doing very well with it.
Don’t get caught up in the hype though. Just because some do well, it doesn’t mean all do well. Weigh these six questions carefully and know what you’re getting into before you start. If you decide to jump in, go for it with both feet. If you decide not to, hold your head high the next time some “expert” says you should be. Social Media is not for everyone.
As for me, I’ve decided to stay out of the Social Media scene……for now.
Dean Horvath is a true believer in the dawning of a new era in selling travel. The next generation of travel agents will be viewed as professionals, no different than lawyers and accounts. They won’t compete with the Internet, they will take advantage of it. They will use technology to help personalize their relationship with their clients, not automate it. And they will be infinitely more successful doing it. He’s the owner and President of Mason Horvath Inc (www.masonhorvath.com), a travel agency based in Vancouver, Canada.