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Travel Writing Guide

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How to Share Travel Articles Efficiently and Effectively Using Social Media

Social Media

The talk in (travel) marketing and web publishing circles continues to rise to a crescendo regarding the importance of social media of all types, using ever-evolving and invented software to manage the marketing process. A viral picture, video, blog post, tweet, or traditional article can expose a website to thousands—or even millions—of new visitors. Users sharing content on social networks generate all of that exposure. Sharing is also a common way for people to discover new websites. Some people share recipes they find online with their friends, thus helping the website that published the recipe find new and interested readers. Web designers often share articles about web design with other designers. Travelers and travel writers are notorious for sharing articles about travel with other travelers, generally due to an insatiable passion for travel and a desire to share their experience. Websites receiving visits from these shares are essentially receiving well-targeted referrals from friends. It's the online equivalent of word-of-mouth, and you can't buy better advertising. The major search engines increasingly consider social media popularity in their results, so advertising is magnified by better search engine results so that people can find your great content.

Some of the biggest websites get more visitors from social media than any other source, and social media is a top-three traffic source for any website worth talking about. Because social media is so important, it has become common for editors to ask writers to help promote their articles on social media. Sharing articles on social media requires a small time investment and benefits authors by exposing their writing to a broader audience and raising their professional profile. There is no better testimonial for a writer than an article whose popularity can be seen by editors in numbers below the 'tweet' and "share" buttons.

Everybody wants as many people as possible to read their articles, but few want to spend their days on Facebook and Twitter overwhelming their friends with links (and your friends may not want you doing that either). This article is a primer for writers who want to help promote their content effectively without spending too much time doing it. We will help you to understand how to write articles that people will want to share, the most effective places to share your articles, some of the tools you can use to efficiently automate your sharing, and how to determine the days and times that people are most likely to read and share your article.

Part 1: Create Content That's Likely to be Read and Shared by Others

The Golden Rule

There is one overwhelmingly simple strategy that works better than any other to convince readers to share content. It's also, unfortunately, the strategy least used by social marketers. It is this: write articles so remarkable that people will want to share them with friends.

There are many over-zealous social media promoters out there trying to push people into clicking through to their articles by flooding their social media streams with tweets, posts, and requests for shares. This strategy will convince people to read your article about as well as relentless emails and text messages will convince someone to befriend you virtually or in person. If you want to make friends, you'll have more success if you put your effort into making yourself more trustworthy and interesting without being obtrusive. That's also what we should do with our content for readers. 

Transitions Abroad publishes useful articles meant to help people transition to life in other countries. Readers usually share this kind of content for two reasons: 1) it's useful, and 2) it's inspiring.

So, when writing articles for Transitions Abroad spend some time considering your readers' needs, take care to organize the article logically and write clearly and about the topic, and try to do so as briefly as possible. If you can make a reader feel like she can do something she didn't previously think possible, whether it be learning Swahili or finding a cheap flight to Australia, she's likely to want to share that article with her friends.

Write an article that sells itself. As Matthew Inman, one of the most successful viral marketers in the world, so eloquently put it, the world of social media promotion needs "Less marketing douchebaggery. More tanks."

Write Attention-Grabbing Headlines

Once you've written an inspiring and useful article, you need to make sure that people are going to read it. Research has shown that, on average, 8 out of ten people will read a headline, but only 2 out of ten will read the rest of the article. If your headline doesn't grab the reader, they aren't going to read your article. Moreover, if a person isn't interested enough to read your article, it's not very likely that they are going to share it with their friends.

In traditional media the headline has one very important job: to make people read the article. In online publishing the headline has a second, and possibly even more important, job: to convince people to click on the headline when it appears in their social media stream.

When a person shares your article, your headline will appear in a Facebook or Twitter feed that's filled with pictures of kittens, friend's birthdays, photos from last night's party, and links to YouTube videos, and they're all competing for the reader's attention. Your headline gets one chance to reach out of that sea of information and grab the reader's attention before it descends into obscurity.

Magazines employ excellent headline writers. They're trained to write headlines that grab shoppers' interest so strongly that they'll physically pick it up off the rack and pay $8 for it. If you learn to write headlines so gripping, you can be sure that people will click on them. Study magazine headlines. Pay attention to the part of the story they focus on. Study the language they use to make people feel like they need to read the article right now.

Brian Clark of Copyblogger says that a strong headline does four things:

1) Offers the reader something useful
2) Creates a sense of urgency
3) Portrays the idea in the article as unique
4) Is super-specific

Headlines that follow these rules are much more likely to be clicked on (and consequently shared) than those that don't. Take, for example, the following three pairs of headlines. Which ones would you be more likely click if they showed up in your Facebook news feed?

1) "Work as a Volunteer Travel Advisor" vs. "Get a Job Advising Volunteers About Travel" 
2) "Gen X Goes Abroad" vs. "The Gen Xer's Guide to Starting an International Career"
3) "Business Etiquette Around the World" vs. "Avoid Embarrassing Cultural Faux-Pas While Doing Business Abroad"

The first headline in each pair is a real headline and the second is a rewrite that follows Brian Clark's principles. Notice how the second headline in each pair specifically points out the value the article has for readers using terms like "Get a Job", "Starting an International Career", and "Avoid Embarrassing Cultural Faux-Pas". In each case the second headline is more specific, focuses on the value of the article, and employs active verbs to create a sense of urgency.

Writing good headlines is an art. Entire books have been written about it. I cannot teach you how to do it in one section of this article. To learn more about mastering this increasingly important technique, I strongly recommend that you read Copyblogger's How to Write Magnetic Headlines.

Part 2: Use the Most Effective Social Networks

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, which is rapidly gaining in importance, are the source of the vast majority of social media-related website traffic, so we're going to focus on techniques and tools that enable you to most effectively use each of these networks both individually and as part of an overall social-sharing workflow.

Facebook

How it Works

Unless you've been living in the rainforest, you should already know what Facebook is. What you may not know, however, is that marketers consider Facebook to be the most valuable of all the social networks. Facebook sends my website more traffic than any other website except Google. My website is not an anomaly. Facebook is a leading traffic source for many websites.

How to Use It

When it comes to sharing, we are mainly concerned with our own Facebook wall and our friends' news feeds. We want to share the target article on our wall, which will then cause the article to appear in our friends' news feeds (depending on their news feed settings). It's important to note here that we want to share, rather than "like," the article. They are different.

There are several ways to share an article on Facebook. A website will often have a button that enables you to easily share the articles (Transitions Abroad places these buttons immediately above the title at the beginning, and below the author's bio at the end, of articles. However, these buttons, automatically create the headline and use the original URL of the article. You should take a moment to edit the headline to make sure that it's as effective as possible and should create a short link for the URL using link shorteners.

In addition to sharing the article on your own wall, you can also post it to the walls of friends or related pages, which is worthwhile if you think interested readers will see it there, albeit more time-consuming.

Related Tools

There are several social media management applications that can be used to manage and schedule posts to your Facebook wall. We'll get to those in just a minute.

Google+

How it Works

Google+ has evolved very quickly and becomes more powerful and intertwined into the all-important Google search engine itself daily. Use of Google+ for social media also seems to have an effect on organic search engine results such that your content comes up higher. Like Facebook, you sign up for a personal account, which is made easily available to you if you use gmail. You can add people to your "circles" in different modes. You can passively "follow" others who have Google+ accounts or you can make your content available to others who request that you add them to their circles. You can, like Facebook, create pages associated with your personal account which you manage, including the background banner on the "Landing Page." You can link your "Google authorship" credentials to your Google+ account, which seems to move the content you have written higher up in search engine results, with the added benefit of having a head shot of yourself as author next to anything you have written for any website or blog. The features are nearly endless as they evolve.

How to Use It

The best thing you can do is to ensure that you have a Google+ button on your website or blog pages so that others may follow you. You can then make posts while signed into your Google+ account which will be visible to those who are following you, with an option to email followers alerts to your new posts. Those following you may then click on the Google+ button for each of your Google+ posts if they so approve, as well as make comments about your posts. You can control visibility by sharing your article/content to the specific organized circles of users who follow you, publish it to the "public," or even specify particular users. Again, the already very sophisticated product keeps evolving as a core feature in the Google suite of applications which includes gmail, so it is best to keep an eye on it for new features. One such new feature is called a "hangout," where groups of users can record session interactions, including audio/video.

Twitter

How it Works

Twitter is basically a feed of short Facebook-style status updates that are limited to 140 characters each. It's like a simplified Facebook news feed.

How to Use It

You can share a link by tweeting it through the interface on the Twitter website, by clicking the tweet button on the article's web page, or by using a social media management application (I'll discuss those later). It's pretty much the same as sharing on Facebook. As with Facebook, the tweet button will automatically create a headline and use the original article URL, so you will want to edit the headline to make sure it's effective and use the URL shorteners in order to shorten a link and allow for more text. Twitter also offers some simple but sophisticated features, such as hashtags, which ensure that your post will be found in any internal twitter searches on #travel or #TTOT, for example.

Related Tools

As with Facebook, there are several social media management applications you can use to manage your Twitter, and I'm going to tell you about them right now.

The Many Other Social Media Tools

Although these have been proven to be the most effective social media websites for sending traffic to websites, that doesn't mean you should discount other, such as Stumbleupon. Pinterest is gaining in popularity every day. When we start using social media websites to promote content it is easy to forget why they were created in the first place—as a place to hang out and enjoy social interactions. If you enjoy Pinterest, then share on Pinterest. As with most things in life, you're going to get the best results when you genuinely enjoy what you're doing and know the tool you are using well. Customizable toolbars which you have likely run across on many websites, such as www.addthis.com or www.sharethis.com, offer website and blog publishers easy ways to "share" to hundreds of social networking tools and utilities in a transparent manner.

Part 3: Share Often, Share Efficiently

The lifetime of links shared on Twitter and Facebook is very short. One study found that, on average, the half-life of links on Twitter and Facebook is about three hours. That means that within 12 hours of posting, a link that you've shared will have effectively disappeared from the collective social media consciousness.

In addition, at any given time many of your followers probably aren't online to see your share, so sharing an article more than once is a good idea as long as you're not annoying about it. To give your article maximum exposure, it's probably a good idea to share an article maybe twice in the first day with a twelve-hour wait in between shares. Then, share it once or twice later in the week, and a few times later in the month, and even more in the future if you want. There is no magic number. Share as often as you feel comfortable with and try not to annoy people. 

I know what you're thinking. "Sounds like a great idea, but I can't be bothered to keep logging in to share this article over and over."

You don't have to. If you use one of the following services, you will be able to go online once, write your headline once, create your su.pr link once, and schedule updates to post to your Facebook and Twitter automatically for months into the future.

Automate Your Sharing

A Simple Management Application: Tweetdeck

This is a free social media management application created by Twitter to help users more efficiently manage their Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts. You can download a free desktop console that will enable you to login to and view all of your social media news feeds. You can post status updates in real time and can easily schedule updates to post automatically from now until eternity. This option is good for people who just want an easy way to navigate and post to their social media accounts.

An Advanced Management and Analysis Application: HootSuite

Hootsuite one of the most advanced of all the social media dashboards, even offering an online course to graduate with a degree from its "Hootsuite University." This online dashboard comes in both free and paid versions (the paid one is for people who are really serious about social media). Hootsuite, like Tweetdeck, enables users to view all of their social media streams and to post and schedule shares while you are sleeping or otherwise unavailable to post a tweet. Hootsuite, however, goes one-step further and offers a wide variety of analytic reports that help users to identify keywords, click-through rates, influential followers, etc. If you are serious about learning to use social media, and how to implement it to your advantage, this is the tool for you.

Other Applications

Like else related to social media, dashboards are evolving rapidly. At the time of writing Buffer and SocialBro were getting a lot of attention and by the time you read this there will probably be new ones that weren't invented at the time of writing. So, if you hear about something else, don't discount it. If your friends are using it, ask them why.

Times in the Day Your Shares Make the Biggest Impact

There are several tools for finding the days and times that your shares will get the most clicks and shares. If you're not overly concerned with this, then simply follow the guidelines laid out in this recent Bit.ly study. They found that the most productive times to share on Twitter are between 1 and 3 p.m. Monday to Thursday EST, and that the most productive times to post on Facebook are between 1 and 4 p.m. EST on weekdays.

Those times, however, are very general. The peak times for you to post depend upon the time zones in which your followers live and their personal browsing habits. The only way to figure out your own personal peak times is to analyze your shares via the dashboard or social media sharing tool you are using.

If you'd like to try out other applications, SocialBro offers a similar feature, and Tweetstats, Tweriod, and Tweetwhen will all examine your Twitter history to tell you the best times to tweet, which are presumably similar to your best times to share on Facebook.

In Summary

To ensure that your articles are shared widely across the internet to billions of loving readers, you should:

1) Write interesting articles
2) Add mesmerizing headlines to them
3) Create URL link shorteners for your links using your favorite tool to provide more text space for Twitter posts
4) Use those headlines and short links to create compact and loveable shares
5) Use a social media dashboard to schedule your share to be posted to your Facebook and Twitter accounts at your optimal sharing times today, tomorrow, next week, the week thereafter, and then on until virtual eternity...

Editor's note: Please add your favorite social networking tools relating to travel in the comments section.

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