The Social Button Your Travel Website Needs Now!

Like any good competitors, travel sites are always looking for a leg-up—anything that will drive more traffic to their shores and visitors to their properties. So what if I were to tell you that there was a social media button you could install tomorrow that had the potential to generate thousands of referrals to your site each day? Better yet, what if I were to tell you that this button is already helping to drive more referral traffic than YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Google+ combined—and that not one of the major travel, airline or hotel sites I surveyed has installed it on their websites yet? Hard to believe, right?

Well, believe it. In fact, stick a pin it, because the social media button missing in travel marketing today is the “Pin It” button from Pinterest—the visual bookmarking service that caught many by surprise in 2011, and is set for huge growth in 2012. The Pinterest concept is simple, rather than “liking” images à la Facebook, you “pin” them to your own, “virtual pinboard.” During the pinning process, you can assign an image to a category and add your own commentary to tell your future self and others why this image was of interest. And, much like Twitter, other Pinterest users can follow you and comment on the images you pin.

Pinterest first caught fire with a largely female audience interested in topics that lent themselves to visual bookmarking—crafting, foodies, interior decorators, and shopping enthusiasts. The uses today, however, are as broad as the web itself. There are humorists tagging images that make them laugh. There are gearheads tagging cars, motorcycles, and all of the parts that make them run. And, most importantly, there are travelers tagging all of the places they’ve been as well as those they want to visit.

That’s right, on Pinterest, there are people telling you not only that they want to travel, but exactly where they want to go. And they’re not exactly shy about it. One of my friend’s self-titled Pinterest categories is “I Want to Go to There.” Yes, Liz Lemon from “30 Rock” would lose hours each day perusing Pinterest pinboards.

So what’s a travel marketer to do with this newfound Pinterest knowledge? Lots! The site’s visual nature and proven ability to drive referral traffic means that it needs to be an integrated part of your marketing efforts immediately. Here are a few ideas on how to make that happen:

1. Get a Pinterest account and explore.

Just like Twitter takes some getting used to, so does Pinterest. Find a friend with access and request an invitation to join (it’s still in an invitation-only stage—but existing users have unlimited invitations to provide). Explore the site and get a feel for how pinboards are created, categorized, and socialized. Download the Pinterest toolbar and pin a few of your own favorite destinations. Only with actual knowledge of how Pinterest works, will you be able to use it to its full potential.

2, Add the Pinterest button to your website pages and posts.

While many users have installed the Pinterest toolbar and can, therefore, pin any visual content on the web (including yours), travel websites of every stripe would be wise to install the “Pin It!” button on every page and blog post they have. “Pin It” now stands among the must-have “Like” and “Tweet” buttons, and just like those buttons, seeing how many other Pinterest users have pinned your visual content drives more engagement and downstream traffic.

3. Increase the breadth of your online, visual content.

Pinterest is a visual bookmarking tool. If you don’t provide users with amazing visuals, your content isn’t going to be pinned. Audit your website and take a look at how you’re showcasing your destinations and properties. Pinterest users want inspiration. Are your visuals inspiring? If not, scrap them for better (and more) imagery.

4. Have local staff curate pinboards on local attractions, landmarks, and restaurants.

I’m probably most excited about this idea because it leverages existing staff to provide local expertise. As Pinterest evolves, it’s not far-fetched to see it becoming a means for travelers to visually map out their day. In this sense, think of how you could create pinboards that provide a “virtual concierge” service. The process stands to provide a pride of ownership with the local staff that produces each pinboard—all while better serving your guests.

5. Follow and comment on the posts by travel-minded Pinterest members.

Many avid Pinterest users are also avid bloggers. As such, Pinterest has become another way to source individual influencers in your space or locality. Look to add value to their pinboards with relevant comments—building relationships with these visual influencers may come in handy as you look to launch new properties, tours or services.

6. Brainstorm Pinterest-centered contests and promotions.

Pinterest is yet the latest evolution in UGC (“User Generated Content”), and UGC has always provided a rich based for promotions and contests. As you become familiar with Pinterest, consider how you might be able to create an incentive for users to create content relevant to your properties or services. Inevitably, the visual nature of Pinterest will yield some great ideas that will generate a ton of publicity for early, commercial adopters.

The rapid ascent of Pinterest from literally nowhere on the social media radar to this year’s “It” site is astounding. However, unlike overhyped “next big things” (Color & Quora come to mind), Pinterest is generating real traffic for real sites all across the web. The travel industry may be late to the party, but the opportunity to inspire thousands of would-be travelers is sitting right there in front of you. And I suspect we all want to go there.

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