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Dave Duff

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Dave Duff is a Customer Care Associate and frequent contributor to the FlipKey blog. Graduating from UCONN with a degree in English, Dave has spent time in numerous countries; England, Norway, France and is proud of his year abroad as an exchange student in Sweden. When he isn’t assisting travelers or owners, Dave can be found playing the Swedish lawn game Kubb and trying different craft beers.

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AMC’s TV series “Mad Men” follows Don Draper in his high-pressure world of advertising and marketing in the 1960s. Back then, people would hire advertising geniuses to bring brand awareness to the masses. Thanks to the Internet and technology, that bustling office space has been replaced by your smartphone, tablet or laptop. With a couple of easy tips, you can create an advertising and marketing campaign that would make Don Draper sit up and pay attention.

Sign up for the right service. With social media services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and others, it can become a little confusing and overwhelming to decide which one is best for you and your property. Here are a couple of handy references on three of the big social media outlets and how best to use them:

  • Facebook: Most common of all the social media services. Allows a lot of one-to-one interaction with users as well as a number of ways to advertise your page. Facebook is a great way to build your fan base, share personal links/photos/videos and provide incentives for people to book your property over others that are in your area.
  • Twitter: More fast paced than Facebook and other services. On Twitter, you have just 140 characters to convey a message to fans who follow you, so creative brevity is the key to success. The most important thing about Twitter is to create a hashtags (which will be explained later) about your property for easy searching and a link to where you want followers to go.
  • Instagram: Focused solely on taking and posting photos or short videos. You can use different filters to change photos you or travelers take of your property. Instagram also relies on hashtags to help people categorize and search for information.

While these are just the “Big Three”, there are a number of other social media services that owners can use to advertise their property. It may be tricky to keep track of each individual account, but many social media companies provide linking to other social media accounts, so you can post on a number of sites at the same time. There are also a number of sites and programs like HootSuite, TweetDeck and SocialOomph that can be your one-stop manager for all your social media.

Create a #hashtag for your listing. You may have seen the “#” symbol being used more and more in marketing and brands today. Your hashtag is a keyword that people can use to find information easily and quickly online. For example, if you have a cabin in the Adirondacks, you can use #ADKSCabin to have travelers find any posting that you have done where you use #ADKSCabin. Have a Swedish cottage for rent? #SwedeCottage would be a great way to differentiate your vacation rental from others.

Interact with followers. Speaking from personal experience, there is nothing better or more impressive than when I reach out to a company or a person on social media and they follow up with me. It shows that they care about me as a customer and are interested in what I have to say. While it is important to build a social media presence, it is imperative to maintain and build upon the groundwork that you have created.

Tell travelers about your presence. When a traveler checks into your property, provide them with information about your social media accounts so they can post to it. If your traveler takes a great photo of wildlife near your cabin, or a great shot of downtown at night, ask them to share it so other travelers can see all of the fun that people are having. Many people are already signed up on social media sites and are more than happy to follow and share!

Before taking the big plunge into social media, do a little research and figure out which service would work best for you and your property. Once you are on social media, have some fun with it! As an owner, you have the ability to showcase and promote your property however you want and to work with travelers to give your property that extra level of customer interaction that other owners might not have.

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What better resource than Twitter to help you and your family or friends plan an unforgettable vacation or trip? With trillions of travel photos, videos and tweets on Twitter, it might seem like a daunting task to narrow all of that information down. Up to that task, I have provided some of the best accounts that you might not be aware of from people, news organizations and locations that you MUST follow!

People

Anthony Bourdain – @Bourdain

The KING of travel. After spanning the globe many times, Anthony Bourdain has seen it all and traveled everywhere.

Rick Steves – @RickSteves

Not only is he an author, TV host and blog writer, Rick Steves is the “unofficial” expert on European trips.

Heather Poole – @Heather_Poole

Check out this flight attendant and author’s twitter for tales from the sky. No shortage of crew drama, flying frustrations and crazy passengers here!

Chris & Tawny – @CaptainandClark

A couple who met on Mount Killmanjaro and topped that by getting engaged at the Taj Mahal, they show that love makes traveling a bit more special.

Jeannie Mark – @nomadicchick

When you travel, the most important thing to do is to share photos, tips and videos, which Jeannie shines at!

Brett Snyder – @crankyflier

With more and more airplane drama showing up in the news, follow this Twitter account for great flying tips, tricks and flying deals.

Chris Owen – @OrlandoChris

Chris provides great insight to any cruise related vacation or journey you are planning.

Rick and Sandi – @MidlifeRoadTrip

What better way to have a mid-life crisis than by traveling? Also, join them every Tuesday for their Twitter chat about travel, food and adventures!

Lee Abbamonte – @LeeAbbamonte

Dubbed as “youngest American to visit every country”, Lee’s experiences and travels never seem to end.

Johnny Jet – @JohnnyJet

With the last name of Jet, it is no surprise that this guy visits about 20 countries (on average) each year. Also, he shares some great travel deals!

Photos, News & Deals

Earth Pics – @Earth_Pics

Visiting a popular tourist destination? Going off the beaten bath? Check out, or tweet your own, photos from around the world.

JD Andrews – @earthXplorer

Award winning photographer and videographer JD shares some amazing photos and videos he has taken during his travels.

The Localist – @LocalistTravel

Get up to date news and culture information from locals. There is no better information that when it comes from the people who know the area best.

Independent Traveler – @TravelEditor

Tweeting out informative tips, tricks and photos, Independent Traveler is a must follow on Twitter!

Budget Travel – @BudgetTravel

Believing that amazing vacations are accessible to all, Budget Travel provides great tips, photos and deals to help you plan an amazing journey.

A Luxury Travel Blog – @luxury__travel

Want to live in the lap of luxury? Get some amazing location, food and places to stay tips here.

WorldHum – @worldhum

Hosting a great collection of tweets ranging from beautiful travelers in China to a “not usually seen” side to the Mexico’s nightlife, this Twitter account really pulls back the curtains on travel.

Lastminute.com – @lastminute_com

Suddenly have a nice long weekend on your hands? Get some very last minute deals from this account.

Travelbite Team – @Travelbite

Need a great travel idea and are serious about travel? This Twitter account is perfect for you.

NY Times Travel – @nytimestravel

Leading the way with travel news and features from all over.

Locations

Rio 2016 – @Rio2016_en

Even though the 2016 Summer Games are over a year away, you can get all the updates for the games right here!

WhyGo – @WhyGo

With great travel guides for a number of cities, you can’t go wrong with any tweets from this account.

Goteborg/Gothenburg – @goteborgcom

This amazing Swedish city on the west coast is where I spent my year abroad while in Sweden. With a great culture, plenty of places to see and things to eat, Gothenburg is a city that no one should pass up.

Lake Placid – @LakePlacidADK

Located in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, Lake Placid boasts not only a fascinating history, but tons of fun activities and places to visit.

Foliage Central – @foliagecentral

The essential fall foliage one-stop account for coverage of fall in New England.

The Good Pub Guide – @GoodPubGuide

If you live in the UK or are planning a trip there, follow this account for daily recommendations of the best pubs and beers in the UK.

Best Bars – @BestBarsESQ

Similar to our UK travelers, but for American travelers! Check out their recommendations.

Abandoned – @abandonedpics

May it be on a local, national or international scale, everyone is interested in abandoned places. Use the photos as inspiration for your next trip!

50 Shades of Travel – @50travel

Documenting photos, recipes, stories and experiences from traveling across Asia.

 

Avast, me hearties! If you be not aware, September 19th is international Talk Like a Pirate Day and what better way to celebrate with your scurvy crew, (also known as family and friends), than by visiting one of these pirate-themed locations to do what pirates do best (have a good time)?!

 

New England Pirate Museum

Salem, MA

TripAdvisor

Museum website

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Located in historic Salem, this pirate museum focuses on the legendary pirates Kidd, Blackbeard, Bellamy and Quelch, who called the waters of Boston home. During the 30 minute walking tour, you’ll meet over 60 buccaneers, view their artifacts and treasures and explore an 80-foot cave. Visitors with good sea legs can board a pirate ship and get a feel for what it must have been like to be a feared pirate in Olde Salem Towne in 1692. Before visiting the New England Pirate Museum, check out the education curriculum section of their website for some great lesson plans for students in elementary school all the way through high school.

 

Jolly Roger Amusement Parks

Ocean City, MD

TripAdvisor

Amusement Park website

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If you’re a landlubber, but you still want to feel the spray of the ocean and smell the salt air, check out the Jolly Roger Amusement Parks in Ocean City, MD. With no admission cost for their amusement and water park, and a “pay as you ride” policy, there is plenty to do for the whole family. Featuring rides like the Riptide Express, a roller coaster on the beach, bumper cars, water rides and plenty of kid’s rides, Jolly Roger Amusement Parks is a great treasure chest for a day beachside.

 

Pirate’s Dinner Adventure

Orlando, FL & Buena Park, CA

TripAdvisor (Orlando)TripAdvisor (Buena Park)

Restaurant Website

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If you choose to spend ITLPD circling through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World or Disneyland, you and your crew may be ready to plunder a nearby restaurant at day’s end. Forget the treasure map – just weigh anchor and set sail for the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, conveniently located in nearby Orlando, FL or Buena Park, CA. This dinner theatre takes place on an authentically-replicated 18th-century Spanish galleon. With sword fighting, cannon blasts to rattle your teeth, giant sea monsters and enough food and drink to satisfy the most voracious swashbuckler, your whole group will get lost in a sea of adventure.

 

St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum

Key West, FL

TripAdvisor

Museum website

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If exploding cannons and live sword fighting is not your barrel of rum, then check out the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum in Key West, FL. Before visiting their museum filled with pirate history and loot, download their mobile app and preview everything the museum has to offer. Transporting you back over 300 years to Port Royal, Jamaica, this museum will make education fun and entertaining for all members of your party. As stated on their site, “One of our most popular features is the Discovery Drawers marked with a skull and crossbones and hidden throughout the museum. Consider it your own personal treasure hunt.” The prize? Well, you’ll have to go and find out.

 

Of course, not all pirate wannabes can set sail on a voyage to one or more of locations. Luckily you can find pirate faires and festivals in your home state. Whatever you and your band of misfits end up doing for ITLPD, the important thing to remember is to have some fun with friends and family and drink up me ‘hearties, yo ho!

delayed flight

As a customer care representative at FlipKey, I have heard from many frustrated travelers who were confused and panicked because  their reservation was canceled at the last minute. Many of these travelers  were not contacted by the owner explaining the situation, but instead received an email from FlipKey stating that the reservation was canceled and that a refund is on its way. This can lead to some tense conversations, so I recommend that the traveler reach out to the owner to discuss why the reservation was canceled in the first place. Here are some tips to avoid this uncomfortable situation:

Be forthcoming

Before canceling a reservation, reach out to the traveler by email or phone. Once payment has been made in our system, you are able to see the traveler’s personal email address or phone number and can use them in case situations like this occur.

In the email or phone call, be truthful about why you have to cancel the reservation. Travelers will understand if a pipe has burst at the property and there is water damage, or if a tree limb has fallen through the roof. However, FlipKey does not condone canceling a reservation because you received an inquiry from a second traveler for a larger amount of money.

Find an alternative

Once you have explained the situation to the traveler, work with them to try to find an alternative accommodation that fits their needs. If you have another property that  could accommodate the reservation, make sure to provide the traveler with plenty of pictures or a direct link so they can look at it before making their decision to proceed. Or, if you know another owner with availability and are able to work out an agreement, put the traveler in touch with them to work out the details.

In both situations, you’ll want to make sure that you send the traveler a new rental agreement that outlines the updated information.

Offer a future discount

If neither option is available and you have to cancel the reservation, consider offering a discount to the traveler if they re-book during different dates. Try to keep your interaction on good terms so the traveler will consider re-booking with you again once the property is available. Sometimes travelers’ dates are flexible, and if work needs to be done at the property, they can move their vacation a couple of days. Also, the traveler might visit your area often, so there is an opportunity for them to book with you again.

Understand the refund policy 

It is also important to inform the traveler that once you issue the cancellation and refund, FlipKey will release those funds back to the card that the traveler paid with, but that it will take 7-10 days for the funds to be processed by the traveler’s bank or credit card company.

While no one likes to have their plans canceled on them, it is still possible for both parties to come out of a situation like this with no hard feelings towards each other. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a traveler who was contacted by the owner who canceled the reservation a couple days before check-in. The owner worked with the traveler to find alternative accommodations, but nothing was available. So, he issued a full refund and was apologetic and hoped that the traveler could book with him in the future.

When I asked the traveler if she was angry that the reservation was canceled at the last minute, she said she wasn’t. In fact, she was grateful that the owner had actively reached out to her, explained the situation, worked with her to resolve it  and was apologetic about the inconvenience. To his credit, the owner was able to take a tense situation and create an outcome that satisfied both parties.

For more information on owner cancellations and refunds, visit our Help Center.

An affordable beach vacation is within your grasp.

There’s no denying it, summer is the time of the year to go on a vacation, preferably with family. And the number one vacation destination for many families has to be the beach since it has something for all ages. But while everyone is having fun swimming, tanning or digging for buried treasure, it’s easy for your time at the beach to eat into your “treasure” chest of money. Here are some great tips and tricks to help you have an affordable beach vacation.

Book early

Decide when you want to go and book early. If you’re planning a long getaway at a beach destination, plan a couple of months or even a year out. I have already talked to a number of travelers who have booked a vacation home rental on a beach for 2015. Owners may be willing to negotiate a lower price since it is so far in advance and they don’t have to worry about finding someone to rent at the last minute. Some owners also offer a discounted rate during the off-peak season which not only means you are saving money, but also that the nearby beach may not be as crowded.

Walk a bit

If you’re planning a day trip, avoid high parking fees by using cheaper or free lots that are a short walk away from your destination. Unload all your bags, coolers, chairs and toys beachside, then have one person drive and park your car in the nearby affordable lot.

BYOS (Bring Your Own Stuff)

While it might be tempting to rent umbrellas, chairs, boogie boards, toys, etc. at the beach, those expenses can add up. For example, at popular Jones Beach on Long Island, NY, umbrella and chair rentals are $10 each plus a $10 deposit. Multiply that by the number of people in your group, and then add on extra purchases like Frisbees, balls, sand toys and sunscreen from local convenience stores, and your spending can reach triple digits. Plan ahead, bring items from home, and you’ve just freed up that money for other purposes.

BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)

While it’s tempting to get a burger or a hot dog at the concession stand, it’s more affordable to bring your own food, plus you don’t have to wait on line when hunger strikes. Bring lots of fresh fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and water from home. Avoid salty foods, like chips and fries, which can dehydrate you. If you decide to bring some alcoholic drinks for the adults, check the beach’s rules in advance and keep in mind that alcohol and long exposure to the sun’s rays are never a good mix.

Cash rules everything around me

Bringing cash can help make an affordable beach vacation a reality. Not only is cash accepted everywhere, but it will creates a budget for you and your family, and it provides a great opportunity to teach your kids about the value of money and how to spend it. My parents taught me that if they get me an ice cream or a frozen fruit bar, they won’t be buying me something else while we were at the beach, so I would need to choose wisely.

Take advantage of free things

Instead of buying a new book to read, swing by your local library to pick up a book. Are you an avid beach volleyball/frisbee/football/can jam player? Make friends with other players that you meet at the beach and share sports equipment. Use playgrounds/skate parks/water parks that are at the beach as well. There are usually lots of land activities to be had if you do a little searching.

Spending the dog days of summer at a beach with family and friends can be one of the best things about summer, and making it an affordable beach trip puts the icing on the cake. Now that you know some great tips and tricks, you can kick back, soak in the sun and the waves, and not worry about your wallet taking a huge hit! Surf’s up!

hand over of house keys

Being a vacation rental property owner can sometimes seem like a full-time job. Maintaining your listing information, handling messages from travelers, updating calendars, sending payment requests,  accepting booking requests and checking travelers in and out can take up a lot of your time. If you own multiple properties, it could take up all your time! This is when a property management company can step in and help you with all of the nuances involved in having a vacation rental.

Research the Field

The first step into choosing a great property management company is doing some online research. Some areas like Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Miami will have a lot of different property management companies, while other areas may have only one or two companies. Take some time to research company websites, social media outlets and reviews from other owners. Since the Internet and social media have become indispensable tools for owners and travelers alike in recent years, you’ll want to focus on those who have built up an impressive online presence.

Choose your plan

Once you have settled on one or two options, you will want to ask yourself how hands on you want to be and what you want the company to manage. Some property management companies handle all the bookings and payments while the owner focuses on building a relationship with the traveler, physically maintaining the property and maintaining a internet and social media presence. Other management companies will handle everything from updating listings to providing the traveler with check in/out information, cleaning and maintaining the property while the owner sits back and enjoys some free time.

When talking to a management company, you will want to find out what kind of plan they offer. Some companies allow owners to pick and choose which services they want. For example, the owner can focus on marketing, bookings and answering inquiries, while the management company provides cleaning and maintenance, check-in services and the like. Other management companies offer a full-service plan that covers everything except bookings. Obviously management companies come in a wide range and offer many different plans, so it is important to have an open and thorough conversation before you sign any contracts.

Ask these important questions

Once you have established which plan might work best for you, you will also want to find out;

  • How often will the management company contact you and through what means?
  • Where will they advertise your property (locally, nationally and internationally)?
  • Who will update any online listings (rates, photos, running special offers, etc)?
  • Do they guarantee a minimum level of bookings?
  • Who will interact with the potential traveler once a personal information is shared and a payment/booking request has been made?
  • Will the company provide a representative to welcome the traveler at your property or a welcome basket/reading materials of local attractions?
  • Do you, as the owner, have to inspect the property before and after each traveler, or is that something the cleaning/maintenance staff takes care of? If there is damage to the property or other maintenance that needs to be done, who is responsible and how will the costs be documented?

The most important thing to remember throughout this screening process is that whatever management company you choose, you are relying on them to alleviate some of the burdens and stress involved in handling one or more vacation rental properties. Ask for contact information for other owners who have used the company’s services, and then follow up by talking to them to get a feel for how the company operates. If you do your homework, your partnership with a management company may be so helpful that you are able to take a well-earned vacation of your own!

Useful Links:

Vacation Rental Managers Association
–      Twitter
–      Facebook
–      LinkedIn
FlipKey Property Manager Site

rows of red stadium seating

There’s nothing like catching a game in-person with Dad. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the smell and taste of endless hot dogs – all experienced next to the man who probably taught you the meaning of all of it. When Kevin Costner was told “If you build it, they will come.” in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, he did his best to build a field that visitors would be proud of and could take in a game of America’s pastime with their loved ones. At the end of the film, he has a game of catch with his long-deceased Dad that makes every viewer’s eyes water. That one line and final scene can sum up the sentiment behind each of these stadiums or arenas that you should visit with your Dad at some point in your lifetime.

Fenway Park (“The Cathedral of Boston”)

Boston, MA (stay nearby)

Recently celebrating 100 years of Fenway (as well as being America’s oldest working Major League ballpark), you are able to experience the rich history of Boston and the Red Sox juxtaposed against  the modern feel of a bustling New England city.

Herb Brooks Arena at Lake Placid (“The Miracle on Ice”)

Lake Placid, NY (stay nearby)

Everybody loves an underdog – it’s what America was built on – and there’s no better underdog story than the 1980 Olympic Men’s U.S. Hockey Team. Made up of mostly amateurs and collegiate players, they defeated the heavily-favored Soviets and went on to vanquish Finland to win the gold medal.

AT&T Stadium (“Jerry World”)

Arlington, TX (stay nearby)

Built at a cost of  $1.5 billion, this stadium boasts the world’s largest column-free interior and fourth largest high-def TV screen. (To give you an idea about how large that is, think bigger than a standard NBA court.) Not only is this stadium the home of the Cowboys, but it has also been used for NBA and NCAA games, soccer competitions, wrestling matches as well as numerous concerts and even a high school prom.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (“The Magic Mile”)

North Loudon, NH (stay nearby)

What Dad doesn’t love speed? It’s in our blood. And sure, when you say NASCAR, you think of Daytona or The Indianapolis Speedway, but New Hampshire has one of the best speedways in the U.S. An added bonus: The mascot is Milo the Moose, who wears a fire suit.

Lambeau Field (“The Frozen Tundra”)

Green Bay, WI (stay nearby)

Home to the Green Bay Packers (the only publicly-owned NFL team), this stadium is steeped in history and home to many famous players and coaches, but none as famous or colorful as Vince Lombardi. Besides hosting football games, Lambeau Field has seen its share of hockey games, snowmobile races and concerts.

Madison Square Garden (“The Garden”)

New York, NY (stay nearby)

With the recent demolition of Shea and Yankee Stadiums, there aren’t too many historic ballfields  left in New York. This is actually the fourth version of The Garden and hosts not only the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty, but countless concerts, events and even the six-overtime NCAA game between  UCONN and Syracuse.

Michigan Stadium (“The Big House”)

Ann Arbor, MI (stay nearby)

When fans call it “The Big House”, they aren’t kidding. With a capacity of 109,901 and a record attendance of 115,109, this place is HUGE. Home to the University of Michigan football team, it is the largest stadium in the U.S. and third largest stadium in the world. It was also the first stadium to install an electronic scoreboard way back in 1930.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (“The Coliseum”)

Los Angeles, CA (stay nearby)

The Coliseum has the distinct honor of being the first stadium to have hosted Olympic Games twice (1932 and 1984). If that wasn’t enough, it also hosted the first and seventh Super Bowls, as well as the 1959 World Series. Now the home to the USC Trojans, this stadium demonstrates how a city can re-purpose an Olympic stadium.

The Yale Bowl

New Haven, CT (stay nearby)

Since I was born and raised in Connecticut, I have to include The Yale Bowl on this list. As the first bowl-shaped stadium in the U.S., it was the inspiration for other stadiums like the Rose Bowl, Michigan Stadium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Yale Bowl is home to the Yale Bulldogs, but it also hosted the New York Giants back in 1973 and 1974 as well as a Grateful Dead concert in 1971. On November 21 of this year, it will celebrate its 100th Anniversary.

social-media-logos

This post topic was inspired by the 2014 VRMA presentation of the same name by our friends at Intercoastal Net Designs.

Thanks to the recent explosion of social media, the advertising playing field has been leveled for both big and small businesses. In fact, this is one area where small businesses can compete effectively against their larger competition. When used wisely, social media can  put you ahead of other businesses in your area. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Put the “social” back in social media.

One of the great advantages social media has over traditional advertising is that it allows you to  interact directly with potential travelers. They’re looking for businesses that actively “like” posts, retweet often, ask and answer questions and have a well-established presence on  the social networks they frequent.

Get streamlined.

Make sure all of your profiles look fantastic and reflect your business well. Social networks offer broad design and text capabilities, so make the most of them. Get creative and have some fun while making sure your brand message is not off-base or missing any major components.  Taglines, colors and themes should all conform to your established brand.

Respond quickly and professionally to issues.

Every business will get the occasional criticism – embrace it as an opportunity to grow and learn! If your business receives negative feedback or comments on social media, move quickly and address the complaint. If needed, take the discussion offline, but do demonstrate that you are aware of and care about the situation. By responding promptly and professionally, your social media followers  will see that you are a source to be trusted.

Allow sharing from everywhere.

Have social media “sharing”, “follow” and “like” buttons on every page of your site and in all email communications. Connect social channels where applicable to expand your reach. Let people know what social media sites you are on, how they can find you and how to share those sites with friends and family.

Don’t be on every network.

If you don’t have time for Instagram and LinkedIn – or  you don’t have a business that supports it — avoid them. You don’t need to be on the “Big Six” networks if you’d rather spend the time and energy to dominate a few of them.

Have a strategy.

Creating a smart strategy is half the battle. Don’t just post to post! Find out what interests your audience and let that be your guide. For example, “Throwback Thursday” has recently caught on with social media users who post photos of themselves from back in the day. Can you think of a way to make it work for your business, or come up with an original strategy to showcase your products or services?