Its common message in travel industry circles: social media is a great way to interact with current and prospective clients, to share your knowledge and abilities, and to market your business. I often hear of people who are frustrated with social media because it’s either too complicated, or it seems to take too much time, and they just don’t want to market that way. I’m taking a different tack today and sharing with you how to use social media in a way that is fun, natural, and may prove more beneficial for you.
First, a story: last week, I had clients traveling in Italy. They began their customized vacation in Venice, and were due to travel to Bologna by train for the next segment of their itinerary. The morning of the train trip, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the Emilia Romagna region, of which Bologna is a part. Predictably, this halted their travel plans – train officials were reporting minimum delays of five hours, with no concrete estimate on when the trains would be running again. My clients were effectively stranded in Venice. To make matters worse, my clients had made arrangements with their cell phone provider to ensure they had mobile phone service while in Italy. For some unknown reason, the arrangements failed and they did not have phones. They DID have internet access via WiFi hotspots, however.
One of the clients hopped on Facebook and posted his frustration at the delays – at the time, it was 11:30 AM Venice time, translating to 4:30 AM in my time zone. However, I was up and about at that time and immediately saw his Facebook post. He and I chatted on Facebook about the situation, and I was able to secure him a car rental in Venice so he could drive to Bologna and keep some semblance of his itinerary intact, instead of wasting time waiting for train service to be restored. They made it safely to Bologna and all was well.
Or so we thought! I had booked them a bed and breakfast in the countryside between Modena and Bologna, and upon arrival they were unable to get access to the property – no one answered the call button. They tried again later after eating dinner, and still received no response. Again, Facebook chat came into play – they let me know of the situation and I was able to communicate with the client in real-time about it, securing alternative lodging for them in just a few minutes. My client resorted that he hadn’t used Facebook chat very much, but because of that “lifeline” of communication I was able to turn the travel disruptions from a disaster to a mild annoyance.
As luck would have it, I was awake at four in the morning when my client posted on Facebook. I was able to connect with him immediately, and gain an understanding of the situation right away, and create a workable solution to it, all in less than ten minutes. Had I relied on “old-fashioned” email, it might well have taken me longer, as I’d have to wait for a reply, then he would have to wait for MY reply, and so on.
Social media, especially Facebook and its chat feature, has become a valuable resource for client communication when traveling, especially for those overseas. The experience I just shared with you is proof of that. If you aren’t using social media to interact with your clients in any way, you are missing a very important tool in your arsenal, especially when it comes to younger clients. So, how can you make sure you don’t miss the train (pun intended)?
▪ Connect with every client who has a social presence: Many of my clients have a presence on Facebook, and the overwhelming majority of them are active. I make sure to friend them on my personal profile as well as suggest my business page. Using Facebook’s List feature, I’m able to be sure I don’t overshare my personal life with them.
▪ Be accessible: With Facebook, it’s quite common to find people but they have Facebook Chat turned off completely or the ability to private message turned off. In certain situations, that’s understandable. However, with clients, it can be a signal that you’re inaccessible in other ways. I use the List feature once again to determine who can see me available on Chat, and I ensure my clients have as much accessibility to reach me via social media as possible.
▪ Set boundaries for use of social media: It’s no secret that younger people use social media much more than their elders, and it’s important to clearly delineate the boundaries with them. Will you perform travel consultation services via social media, or will you keep that to email? Will you respond to one-off inquiries during the travel planning process, or even before the process has begun? Make those intentions known and stick to them.
It’s easy to look at social media and freak out at how complex it can be (and it really can be maddening to understand!), and even easier to discount the benefits it could have on your business. But, I strongly urge you to take a look at how social media can be used to simply communicate, especially when a client is traveling. You never know when it can become their lifeline to saving a vacation!
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea and Journeys By Steve with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.