Easy Instagram Marketing & Advertising for Tour Operators

by Matthew Lebovitz

Instagram’s Big Move

Has your tour company been dying to advertise on Instagram? Well, you are officially in luck.  Back in June, the Facebook-owned social media giant announced it was in the process of creating an advertisement service for all businesses, big and small.  

That time has finally arrived. On August 4th, Instagram turned on its advertising API (application programming interface). For first time, you can buy Instagram ads, similar to the process of purchasing digital ads on Google, Twitter, or Facebook.

Why is this important?

Up until now, buying ads from Instagram was extremely difficult. You had to contact a representative that would make an exceptional case for your company. This unfortunately meant that only corporations with endless supplies of money and time could advertise on Instagram. 

With the new feature, you will be able to launch Instagram ad campaigns and track the results, all in an automated fashion. Instagram seamlessly integrates with Facebook’s marketing tools, letting you easily target your desired audiences.   

You may already advertise across a number of digital platforms. Why bloat your advertising spending even more on Instagram? Marketing forecasters have one word for you: growth.

The social media platform currently has over 300 million active monthly users worldwide, who share over 70 million photos and videos daily. In the U.S, EMarket estimated that Instagram’s monthly user base increased by 60% in 2014 to 64 million people. By 2019, that figure will swell to encompass a third of the population.

Young adults and teenagers factor heavily on Instagram these days, with 90% of its user base coming in under the age of 35. But don’t discount the social network just yet. Even if you target an older customer base, you should still undoubtedly maintain an effective Instagram account.

Just look at the way Facebook’s age demographics have changed over the years. Since 2011, Facebook has seen its use by 35-54 year olds grow by 41% and by 55+ year olds grow by more than 80%. After starting out exclusively used by a younger crowd, Mark Zuckerberg’s invention is now utilized by all ages.

I bet that Instagram will follow suit. With its fast growth, the platform offers the perfect medium to spread your brand. In a recent e-commerce survey, 93% of people said that visuals are the top influential factor affecting a purchase decision. Behavior that universal certainly deserves a portion of your advertising budget, at least for a quick experiment or two.

But here’s the problem:  not many tour companies have Instagram accounts at all.  Instagram has great potential to expand your business. Just as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other review sites help you stand out from the crowd,showcase your tour even more with photographs and videos.

So for the remainder of this article, we’re going to switch gears away from Instagram advertising in particular, and simply cover tour operator do’s and don’ts of this still obscure social media platform.

Instagram 101: The Basics on Posting

When trying to gain followers and plan marketing campaigns, remember the true value of social media. Platforms like Instagram  strive to connect individuals  with shared experiences and values.

As you decide on your content strategy, make sure you use the platform to spread your company’s central philosophy, one that is rooted in the values you stand for. On Instagram, you should post photographs and short videos that validate your brand’s experience and unique value. Through authenticity, your customer will identify with your values, and in turn, your product.

Using Instagram is simple and intuitive, but there are some elements of the app that you should keep in mind with each of your posts.

Hashtag etiquette

Just like on Twitter and Facebook, you can include a hashtag (#) in front of any word or phrase. You may have seen posts #where #every #single #word #has #a #hashtag. Don’t do it. Please. While there is data showing a positive correlation between hashtags and post engagement, the key is to use them deliberately. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Will this hashtag mean something to my followers?”  

Instagram recently made the hashtags searchable on their Explore tab, so it is easier than ever to for users to find certain posts of yours. Use of a combination of common hashtags that someone might search (#surfing, #outdoors, #biking) as well as hashtags that are specific to your tour or brand. The specific hashtags fuel the sense of community or identity with your brand, while the general hashtags allow new potential customers to find you–and hopefully, purchase your tour.

Instagram contests

Hashtags can be also be useful when running an Instagram contest. This involves users creating content with a specific hashtag in order to enter themselves into a contest for a promotion or prize. These photo challenge contests can be a great way for your company to spread brand awareness, and with hashtags included, you can track the results. Here is a great example from CLIMB Works that successfully engages its customers.

instagram-tour-operators

While we’re on the subject of contests, here are a few others you might consider:

  • Like contests: simply ask users to like your post to enter…
  • Comment contests: require users to comment on your post to enter…

Tour operators use contests to drive visibility. If enough people engage with your post, there is a chance you will show up on Instagram’s highly viewed Discover Tab.  

PRO TIP: If you want more customer engagement with your posts, you want to include faces, brighten your images, and use no filter. Get more helpful hints like these at Agora Pulse.

Case Study: Adventure Tour on Instagram

Mountain biking tours are obvious candidates for outstanding Instagram profiles. Stick a high-adrenaline adventure in a beautiful setting and the camera is going to love you. Case in point: Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours.

What I love about this picture is that it takes something matter-of-fact and turns into an engaging image. Cog Wild proves you can take mundane announcements and make them exciting with a little creativity. It is a strategy that any tour could replicate on its Instagram profile.

In addition to the photo’s relevance, Cog Wild also manages to spur engagement – that’s the point of social media after all. What’s even more impressive is that this traction on Instagram dwarfs that of Facebook. Cog Wild has 745 followers on Instagram, compared to 4,336 people who have liked their page on Facebook, but their Instagram posts still frequently outperform their Facebook counterparts. Take this picture for instance: 

instagram-tour-operators

On Facebook, the picture only got 11 likes.

With posts that reach as high as 80 like, it is clear Cog Wild is building a loyal following on Instagram.

How your tour company can nail Instagram

With all that said, Cog Wild admits to guessing quite a bit when it comes to Instagram. As Lev Stryker, co-owner of Cog Wild, says, “We mostly try to post cool pictures three or four times a week.”

Right now, tour operator’s mostly post on Instagram according to intuition rather than a concerted marketing strategy. But to have predictable success on social media, you need a game plan.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a strategy for your Instagram marketing, think about another social media platform where you (or a competitor) have had success. What have you done to achieve those gains? Scrutinize the type of posts that lead to the most engagement. What audience segment most likely interacts with your posts? Ask yourself concrete questions like these to start, and pretty soon you’ll have a fully-fledged Instagram strategy to inform your posts!

Finally, no amount of strategizing is worthwhile unless you have a way to track your results.  You can use a third party app like Iconosquare, which offers tools for viewing images more easily on the web, advanced search, statistics, promotion, contests, and other features. Moreover, use Google Analytics to track your efforts by following this guide. Tracking your results is key to cracking the seemingly undecipherable code that is social media engagement.

The Instagram Action Plan Tour Operators

Along with the marketing tools Instagram already offers, with the new ad API, you can finally target specific audiences, create an ad campaign, and track your results.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to get your Instagram account up and running. Even if your tour’s target demographic differs from Instagram’s current audience, your hard work will pay off in the future.

There is no formula for realizing Instagram’s potential, so figure out what works and what doesn’t by tracking all your experiments. Ultimately, your Instagram profile should tell a story about your company that inspires and resonates with your customers. As marketing on Instagram grows, do not let your brand be left behind.

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