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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Social marketing has arrived in the bank travel industry

Imagine a tool that allows you to reach out to many of your customers with announcements of seminars, parties and upcoming tours. Add to that pictures and videos of past events and enticing photos for those in the future. The tool can also include group members’ endorsements, comments from your CEO and even a link to that exotic Hawaiian island you plan to include on your next cruise.

The tool allows for daily or even hourly updates, group members can communicate with you or each other, and it’s all free.

Karen Dawson learned about this tool firsthand. She has been a successful travel professional for more than 25 years and today owns Southlake Travel, a travel concierge service in Southlake, Texas, that works with bank groups and others. In 2008, she planned a group trip to England that, thanks to her smart, in-person networking, included Royal Chef Darren McGrady, once the culinary chef at Buckingham Palace and Princess Diana’s personal chef.

Definitions for Dummies — or the Technology-challenged

For some of us, all this talk about twitters and tweets makes us roll our eyes. But let’s face it, at the same time we feel a little out of it, remember the days when just knowing every single word to a Rolling Stones song and having a Walkman was cool?

It will always be cool to sing along with Mick Jagger, but you may want to keep these definitions at hand to keep up with those kids at the water cooler. Like Facebook, these Internet tools may also be helpful to your bank business.

Twitter is a social networking and blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as followers. The messages are limited to 140 characters.

YouTube is a video-sharing Web site where users can upload and share videos.

Linkedin allows users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know in business. The people on the list are called connections. It is often used as a tool for people to find jobs, people and business opportunities.

Plaxo is an online address book and provides automatic updating of contact information.

But there was a problem: The trip had not sold out, and Dawson was worried.

“Darren was going to lead us through palaces where he had cooked for the queen, give us a cooking demonstration and take us on a dinner cruise on the Thames. I had to make this go,” she said.

Dawson turned to her husband and marketing expert, Jim, for advice. He suggested she use the social networking tools on the Internet, including Facebook.

“Long story short — the trip sold out right away. I received exposure for this trip that I could not get otherwise,” she said.

Face facts

Although today there are many useful Internet tools, Facebook, a site many once thought just for kids, may be the best networking and marketing site for bank travel groups.

“This is a great opportunity for those of us in the travel business,” said Dawson.

If bank travel leaders haven’t already discovered the benefits of this free-access Web site, they soon will. Like many of us, Dawson, a baby boomer, admitted she wasn’t very savvy when it came to reaching out using her computer. But she also realized that her audience, including fellow baby boomers, was becoming more and more connected every day.

“I knew that if I wanted to stay in this business and remain successful, I had to learn about these tools,” she said.

According to, the fastest-growing user group on Facebook is women 55 and over. That number is up more than 175 percent since last fall, and men 55 and over are right behind, having increased almost 138 percent during the same period.

In fact, recently published an article titled “Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies,” a tongue-in-cheek introduction to encourage boomers to use this valuable Internet site. “Facebook isn’t just a social network; it’s a business network,” the article stated.

“With a press release, you hope the newspaper will run it. With an ad or brochure, you hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle on someone’s kitchen table. With Facebook and other Web sites, your customers can see it at 11 at night in their pajamas,” said Dawson.

With travel professionals like Dawson and nearly every major group destination, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Jackson, Mississippi, to Sacramento, California, already taking advantage of using this interactive marketing tool, bank directors are giving Facebook serious thought.

Shelley Ruddick, director of Trailblazers at Bank of the West in Grapevine, Texas, said, “I think it would be a great tool. This is an avenue for the group members to communicate with one another, see constantly updated information and even inquire about points of interest. Facebook also would undoubtedly increase participation with the friends of our existing members — and isn’t that really the best news?

“I definitely have it on my to-do list,” she said.

Fran Ringle, director of the VIP Club at Bank Midwest in Kansas City, Missouri, has already connected with 200 friends, communicated about church events and reconnected with a close relative who had been out of touch for a few years on her personal Facebook page. “I absolutely think Facebook would be a great way to announce trips and post events and pictures,” she said.

However, Ringle and Ruddick were apprehensive about their more senior members who don’t use a computer, much less explore sites like Facebook. Dawson commented on this concern with reassurance.

“Facebook and other networking sites are just more tools available to us,” she said. “While bank directors may choose to always have parties to announce trips, send out newsletters and have travel scrapbooks available, Facebook is simply another tool for us.

“And, for those who are concerned about the degree of difficulty about setting up your bank group’s Facebook page, I can certainly relate, as I was so naive. However, take my word for it: It’s an easy — surprisingly easy — process to do it.”

Dawson’s Royal Chef culinary tour has generated additional trips, including one to Edinburgh, Scotland, a private dinner on the Britannia this August and a trip to Tuscany in 2010.

“I can thank Facebook and other Web sites for educating existing and potential customers about what we do and for the feedback that encourages others to travel with me,” said Dawson. “I could not be more enthusiastic for bank directors to join this social networking site that opens up a world with unlimited potential.”