Social media has revolutionized how people communicate with businesses and with each other. Total strangers are able to have conversations from thousands of miles away simply by commenting on an Instagram photo or replying to a tweet. Since social media is so visual, it makes it a perfect medium for advertising travel. After all, we all want to see where we could go and we love to envision being there ourselves. Being able to use travel-based user generated contents (UGC) is a veritable prize basket of opportunity, but it must be used with care. 

One of the main ways a travel agent can use social media and UGC is by letting your customers post pictures to your site as they travel. That kind of instant feedback is essential to new customers, because they can see right away what is possible, and studies have shown that this type of marketing is more effective than anything else in terms of influencing people’s decisions. Encouraging your clients to use hashtags on their own social media sites when they post to you lets their posts go viral – and you get the advertising! This also lets you target certain destinations, like the Caribbean in the wintertime, and anyone searching for the hashtag you choose will get directed to you.

Millions of photos get posted to social media from vacations and day trips every year – just imagine what you can do with this powerful advertising opportunity for travel agents. Getting travel UGC from your customers also means you can learn more about what your customers want almost as it is happening, giving you the opportunity to change what you do nearly instantly. It’s an ideal way to improve your customer service delivery platform and set yourself ahead of your competitors who don’t use social media. 

Another way to use social media as a great travel agent marketing tool is by branding yourself with UGC. Simply suggest what your clients should do and let them do the rest. There is a caveat to this – be careful no one corrupts what you are doing for wrong-doing, as has happened to some companies. That said, you can encourage your clients to do something in particular that requires them to tag their content in a certain way or download a new app that can do fun new things. Think about how they can use a frame contained in the app that then appears around a selfie which they can post to try to win a prize.

You can create a conversation around a Facebook post to your page and invite others to join you, subtly marketing your services at the same time.  This can be a little tricky if you don’t carefully categorize your posts and hashtags. Fortunately, this is actually fairly easy. Just be aware of any natural disasters or political upheavals that may happen where a vacationer is staying, so you don’t post anything insensitive or at odds with the image your clients have posted.

Another technology for travel agents you can take advantage of is to contact your favorite search engine’s marketing department and use their UGC image tracking data miners or set up the caption to best use the engine’s analytics and metrics to drive web traffic to your site. Other details like the location where the person was when he or she took the picture and objects found in the image form the metadata that search engines love to mine.

You can also be socially aware thanks to social media. Engaging your clients who are taking trips to do volunteer work and encouraging them to post images tagged with a certain hashtag or in line with a certain theme lets them be a part of a greater cause. Travel agents who use this as a form of marketing do two things – they “do good” in the community and they create buzz around a particular topic. It also keeps your agency’s name in the minds of people in a way that a regular ad cannot.

User-generated content by travelers is a true boon for travel agents in a world so dominated by visual images. Taking advantage of the rich detail in the images can be a way to position yourself well ahead of your peers who do not. It takes a bit of practice to do this right, but when it is done well, UGC is an extraordinary tool.