Sarah John Afana is a marketing coordinator at GOGO Worldwide Vacations, a wholesale travel company that has been in operation since 1951. Sarah is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, but also has an extensive background in business management. We spoke to Sarah about what it takes to create meaningful social media content in the travel industry and what you can learn from her successes.
TRO SMITH (TRO): You have a great deal of experience in the Arts, especially with food and photography. What brought you over to the travel industry?
Sarah John Afana (SJA): Food styling and photography have been experiments within my lifetime of creative projects. Following the food craze into culinary tours and foodie destinations has been a natural transition to meld my culinary education into GOGO’s social media stream. One of our most popular hashtags is #GOGOEats, which recaps my culinary journeys to exotic resorts, locales, and restaurants in search of incredible dishes and delicacies.
TRO: Tell us a little about your role as a marketing coordinator. What are your chief duties and objectives?
SJA: I’m one of a six member team for GOGO Marketing, but the only one who maintains the social media for GOGO, Worldwide Traveler, and On The Go Magazine. We have weekly and monthly campaigns that need promotion on all of our profiles. Other members of the team write the blog and create the graphics and emails for distribution (among other elements), allowing all of us to provide support for one another while relying on our strengths. My daily tasks can vary beyond my social media engagement, including website uploads and proofing brochures and articles, as well as tracking trade ads we contract with travel partners.
TRO: What would you say is the goal of social media marketing? When a business creates a social media campaign, what’s the first question they need to ask themselves?
SJA: Pinpointing your target audience has to be first thought. Knowing who you’re talking to is crucial in creating the dialogue or providing the visual appeal needed to catch and hold their attention. Many travel agents have specialties in particular locations, destination wedding and honeymoon planning, or interest-based trips, so knowing where to find the brides or surfer crew to promote to has to be recognized right away.
TRO: You have a great deal of experience in many other areas of expertise separate from the travel industry. What’s one thing you’ve noticed about effective marketing that transcends trade borders?
SJA: Whether immersed in the “Handmade” movement or in search of the most delectable chocolate donut pic, so many social media platforms are based on images right now that allow for an immediate connection to a follower. With travel imagery, it’s easy to quickly communicate an iconic destination, luxurious lifestyle or adventurous trek that can pique a client’s interest. With the explosion of Instagram and Pinterest, it’s obvious to see how and what people are sharing. Pinners on Pinterest are creating bucket list “boards” full of exotic destinations they dream of visiting and “Throwback Thursday” (aka #TBT) on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is full of past family vacations or spring break celebrations. These are just a couple of trends I’ve seen in a short time focusing on travel.
TRO: When you make a post, what is your top priority? What should a consumer take away from your post?
SJA: Since GOGO Vacations is a wholesale travel company, our posts promote a variety of destinations and offers available only through Travel Agents, designed for our agents to re-tweet or share on their own pages for promotion and client education. In addition, we create original content for our blog, “The Journey”, that covers travel industry news, travel inspiration and lifestyle articles. This platform allows us to detail a location or provide updates on current events that impact travelers. For example, our recent coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos was regularly updated on our blog as re-openings were announced. This article allowed us to keep our agents in the know and provide them a link to share with their clients who may have been impacted.
TRO: What is the most important part about developing a social media presence online?
SJA: Creating posts that are informative and engaging, as well as courting an audience of followers who benefit from your message. We are constantly aware of who our followers are and why they would be there and feel it’s paramount to keep our presence worthy of following. While our customers are industry insiders, our social media content is open to the consumer and needs to be engaging for both.
TRO: What has been your most successful marketing campaign to date? What sort of plans does GOGO Vacations have for the future?
SJA: Over the last summer we created our #GOGOiSpy campaign encouraging our followers to share their travel photos within our weekly campaign destinations for a chance at repost or feature at the end of the week. It allowed us to engage with our audience and promote our campaigns at the same time. Our marketing calendar has changed for the fall and winter, but we are maintaining the hashtag, mostly on Instagram and Twitter for daily travel inspiration. We have a few short campaigns and events coming up before the end of the year that are tied to specific promotions, so we’ll be rolling out tailored graphics for each but the specifics are super secret for now.
TRO: Let’s say a travel agency is looking to enter the world of social media for the very first time and they ask you about your process. What do you feel is the most important advice you could give them?
SJA: It’s important that they sign up with any and all of the bigger streams at the moment, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and start to play around to get a feel of how the user interface works. Most people are drawn to one or the other, which will make the transition easier. It’s important to feel comfortable and enjoy the interactions or they won’t want to spend their time on it. Don’t focus on getting 10,000 followers right away. It’s more important that your message is genuine and you reach the people you connect with rather than thousands of followers halfway around the world who promise “likes for likes”. They’ll just clutter your stream and keep you from the followers who you truly need to engage.
TRO: How do you see social media impacting GOGO’s bottom line in years to come? What do good companies like yours do online to benefit the business as a whole?
SJA: Staying aware of the latest platforms on which consumers are engaging will be integral in GOGO maintaining its audience and being able to market for agents’ benefit. Much of our marketing efforts are created with the intention of supporting the travel agent and providing them with the collateral they need to grow their business. We know how much time needs to be devoted to creating, maintaining and curating a successful online campaign and what a challenge that commitment is for independent travel agents. Our goal is to continue to be a trusted channel they can turn to for sharable updates, opportunities and content their clients may need.
To contact Sarah, you can reach her by phone at (201) 661-9580 or by email at AfanaS@gogowwv.com. You can also visit Sarah’s website (http://www.sarahjohnafana.com) to learn more about her business ventures.