Don’t be a ‘digital holdout’, writes Azamara boss Larry Pimentel

president and chief executive Larry Pimentel talks social media in his latest column.

For most travellers, the journey to a new destination or experience now begins online. In fact, a whopping 85% of UK luxury consumers regularly use social media to make buying decisions. To sell to this market, you have to be in the same places your customers go to browse, gather information, decide what to buy and from whom to buy it.

For the travel sales professional, a strong digital presence is built on ongoing, engaging, and inspiring content. It takes work, but the benefits are powerful. Instead of selling to one person at a time, one-to-one personal marketing and one-to-many multichannel marketing can exponentially expand your reach.

A Twitter or Instagram page can give even the smallest of agents a voice in a diverse and competitive market. If you have something of value to share, people don’t care if you’re sitting in a gleaming high-rise or in your pajamas at home. Digital lets you sell in many places at once, extremely cost effectively.

Learning to use social media is like learning to swim. First you have to jump into the pool (starting in shallow water, not the deep end). I learned through experimentation, a step at a time, and I’m still learning today.

I have more than 14,000 followers on Twitter, an excellent tool for short, in-the-moment posts about travel. I use Facebook to network, follow people and groups, and engage with those following me. I use Instagram for posting photos, many taken from my phone. Now I’m learning to use Snapchat. I follow best practices, avoid potential social media landmines, and ask people I trust for advice when I need it.

Along the way I’ve picked up some valuable lessons. Don’t over-post or use programs that send messages to every platform at once. That’s spamming, and people don’t like it. And don’t labor over messages to make sure they’re perfect. Communication about travel should be engaging, fun and inspiring, never ponderous or didactic. Just like travel itself.

If you’re unsure what to post, take a clue from how luxury travel buyers use digital media:

• 47% of core luxury consumers and 55% of the highest spenders use the Internet as their primary source of travel information. Tip: Provide valuable information they won’t find elsewhere.

• Approximately 60% of core luxury consumers travel more than three times a year for leisure. Tip: Keep your posts fresh. Don’t go for long periods without posting.

• Many travelers are searching for immersive, luxurious, private alternatives to the standard hotel room. Tip: Visit the places you recommend, then post while onsite.

• Luxury travelers who value exclusivity spend roughly 20% more than others. Tip: Exclusive means exclusive. Are you sharing truly unique experiences?

Ideas for Engaging on Social Media

Here are a few key lessons I’ve learned. Experiment to discover your own “best practices.”

Be a content curator. Become an expert or insider in something. If you’re a ski specialist, post about great places to stay, the best ski runs, undiscovered restaurants, or great side trips. Don’t position on low price, bargains or deals. That won’t attract luxury client who want something new and exclusive. Being a curator also means showing support and appreciation for other content creators and social media accounts. Comment on posts you find helpful. Social media means give-and-take, not a constant push of your own information.

Be authentic. Most of us can spot a fraud a mile away, even in cyberspace. Some sellers post dozens of different messages, hoping something will stick, but all they do is confuse people. Others become addicted to their own voice and believe they need to be in their clients’ consciousness at all times. Constant posting is a turn-off.

The most successful people on social media are simply themselves, without artful embellishment. Post what you’re passionate about. Be true to who you are, what you’re good at, and what you know. Being authentic, in my view, also means avoiding bots and other tools that let you automatically follow accounts or comment on posts. This may bring short-term attention and increase your followers, but your engagement numbers are likely to fall off if you don’t take time to grow your own voice and connections authentically.

Be an interpreter of experiences. I get upticks in followers and engagement when I’m live-posting, like on a recent trip to Havana. The trip was exciting for me, and people reading my posts felt that. Whenever you can interpret a destination for readers, you’re offering value. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated, just real. Like this: “Eating my way through Hong Kong, and this is absolutely my favorite place for dim sum.” A simple post and photo, and you’re done.

Post about places that captivate you. It doesn’t matter if they’re not well-known; that makes them all the more interesting. The War Memorial Museum in London is one of my favorite places. I once spent seven hours there and posted lots of photos. I heard feedback like this: “I’ve been to London 18 times and never heard of that place, but I’ll definitely go next time.”

Use social to be responsive. I don’t use social to bash. On the other hand, I do use it to reach out when I need help. Like the time I needed to get to a meeting in Shanghai and my plane had to make a non-planned landing. After looking at the 400 people in line trying to rebook, I posted a simple “Can you believe this?” message. Guess what? The airline’s social media crew was paying attention, called, and quickly rebooked me. I know my mileage status and title helped. But the point is, you too can use social media to stay in touch, monitor and assist your clients when they’re traveling. If a client posts something about a bad experience, respond right away. They—and their friends—will be impressed.

Be relevant. Keep an eye on what’s trending, what people are talking about and what people are sharing and commenting on. Being social means being part of the existing conversation.

Jump in. If you’re not there already, it’s time to get into the digital world and learn to play. If you’re already there, don’t become complacent or rely too much on one platform. Sophisticated tools from Google and Facebook can help you measure results and use analytics to see what works and what doesn’t. Remember, being the “real you” is the best