Celebrities do it. Athletes do it. Even politicians do it. Major corporations and teenagers are obsessed with it. And based on our recent poll of readers, not enough of you are doing it.

Jeff Gayduk

Jeff Gayduk

By doing it, I’m referring to the use of social media. While the group tour industry is never known as a leading indicator of anything technological, it’s important that we understand that the game has shifted in how consumers digest information. More and more, they rely on social media and the younger the client you’re seeking; the more they use this medium. Just ask the intern in our office who gets his news via Twitter!

Why is social media so embedded in celebrities’ personal lives, athletes’ careers and Fortune 500 corporations’ marketing? Simple – it’s word-of-mouth marketing at its finest. Translate this to your business and the success of your travel offerings. Often the quickest path to new customers is an endorsement from a current one. These conversations typically take place in coffee shops, local stores and community gatherings.  Today, increasingly they’re happening online via one’s social network.

You know you do a good job. Your customers know you do a good job. By connecting with them on social media your referral business can skyrocket. How much? Well, some tour planners are almost exclusively using Facebook to promote their tours. What, no more paper cuts?

What social media medium is right for you? Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but here’s a quick rundown of the top social media platforms.

Facebook is the king of social media in terms of users with over a billion. In fact, if Facebook was a country it would be the third largest on the planet. Chances are your customers (even seniors) are on Facebook communicating with their friends and “liking” brands they engage with. A Like is an endorsement, so to speak, so as friends of your friends view their Facebook profile page, you’ll be in the conversation. It’s viral marketing 101.

Twitter is what’s referred to as a micro blogging device. It allows people to send short messages (limit 140 characters). While brands use Twitter to communicate special offers and promotions, it’s most popular with celebrities and sports personalities whose fan base hangs on every Eggs Benedict they eat for breakfast. The jury is still out on whether Twitter has a practical application for small travel brands as a marketing tool.

What Facebook is to consumers is what LinkedIn is to business. LinkedIn is a resume on steroids for business professionals, with growing communities called “groups” where like-minded individuals communicate amongst themselves. There are dozens of travel-related groups on LinkedIn, which can be beneficial in building your network.

Social media’s rising star is Pinterest which has just surpassed Twitter in real users. This site allows you to “Pin” photos you like and group them into categories. For example, you could pin photos of upcoming destinations and share them. What better way to get folks excited about a destination than beautiful photos of what they will experience?

While daunting at first, other than the time you spend, setting up accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest is completely free. And if you’re worried about the time, or complexity of social media, hire your nephew, son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter, or college student. Social media is second nature for this generation and what could take you days or weeks to set up they could do in hours. Buyer beware, though. If you’re already established on social media, watch who monkeys with your account. See On the Record comments in this edition for real world horror stories.

There are also volumes of how-to guides and publications on getting started on social media. Visit GroupUniversity.com for our free guide – http://groupuniversity.com/educational-center/other-resources.

And when you get online, remember to connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. We’re waiting for you!