Travel and social media: five ways to cut through it all

As I was scanning the headlines this morning, I came across Christopher Elliott’s article, “Are travelers overloaded by social media?” It’s a fair question. Not only are more and more of us plugging in – Twitter, for example, is adding 1.8 million new users a week – but we’re being increasingly being bombarded “communicated to” by hotels and airlines that are eager to get a bigger share of our wallets. So, there’s a whole lot of status updating and tweeting going on, and we need to figure out how to deal with it all.

It’s easy to blame the marketing guys for this. Aren’t they the people responsible, clogging our Facebook news feeds and Twitter timelines with hot deals and other promotional content? Well, yes … but we want some of that. That’s why I follow, for example, people like @Bsimi and @Colonnade, not to mention @JetBlue.

So, we have to balance our desire for promotional content (and let’s be honest – we do desire it) with keeping our social media environments clean and decidedly our own. Here are five ways you can get what you want without giving up too much:1. Make loyalty choices: with all the content floating around, you need to trim down the number of travel businesses you follow in order to truly take advantage of the best deals. Otherwise, you risk not seeing what you really want. Decide which brands mean the most to you, and ditch the others.

2. Make travel brands earn your social media share: for me at least, it takes more than a few hot deals to get me to follow a brand on Twitter or like it on Facebook. I want interesting content and customer service, too. I may test out a social media relationship for a while, but to make it stick, the company is going to have to perform.

3. Watch your friends: if you see a brand retweeted or otherwise interacting with one of your friends, it may be worth following it – or at least asking your friend why. This is why I follow @FSHotelHouston (Four Seasons Hotel Houston), for example, which was based on Twitter action I saw from @welshwonder.

4. “Favorite” and “like” what matters: use these features to bookmark social media content that you may want to use later. It will keep great deals from getting lost in your active social media stream.

5. Use these relationships effectively: By trimming your list down, you are effectively making a statement about customer loyalty – make sure the people managing those accounts know that! Don’t do it just for perks. Instead, develop a real relationship with the person behind the brand.

Hotels making a move on social media, with targeted help

The hotel industry has plenty of faith in the social media world – and no reservations about using it to gain reservations. But, it’s struggling to take control of the medium. A survey by Wine and Hospitality Network indicates that most respondents (in the business) spend only two hours a week managing their Facebook fan pages – with 14.2 percent having no such page to manage. Forty-two percent don’t use Twitter, and 25 percent tweet for less than an hour a week (they should reach out to @Colonnade for tips).

But, it isn’t for lack of trying. The internet is littered with the corpses of abandoned social media marketing initiatives, inside the travel industry and out. Notes online marketing publication ClickZ:

“Before hoteliers even consider a social media initiative, they should be aware that social media is a very engaged, hands-on marketing format. The social networks are a graveyard of abandoned hotel profiles and fan pages by hoteliers who did not realize the complexity of social marketing,” said Margaret Mastrogiacomo, social media specialist with Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, a strategic services and design firm.

Several properties are getting in on the action, committing resources and genuinely seeking returns. New York’s Roger Smith Hotel has made a clear social media play, according to ClickZ, by adopting Revinate, a tool to facilitate active social media management specifically for the hospitality business. Kimpton has adopted this platform as well.

ClickZ continues:

The focus on hotels pays off for the Roger Smith’s Simpson, who used to spend hours using search and setting up news alerts on competitors. While Revinate doesn’t include some of the hot new social media startups he keeps an eye on, like Bizzy and Pegshot, he says it covers the major sites, especially TripAdvisor, the most important. The ability to compare his hotel’s buzz with competitors is also unique. “It’s one thing to do it manually for your own establishment, but for me to do that for surrounding hotels or for what other people we have an interest in are doing, that becomes more laborious.”

So, what does this mean for the average traveler? Your opportunities to engage with the hotels you’ll call home, if only temporarily, are set to increase. Think beyond deals (though they are important) to every other reason you’d contact and open dialogue with a hotel. The possibilities are immense, and hotels, a bit slow to move in social media, appear to be on the brink.

Travel missing among fastest growing Facebook pages

What happened to the hotels, resorts and destinations? These naturals for social media didn’t make the cut on All Facebook’s list of the fastest growing Facebook pages. Media and celebrities dominated the list, which consists of Facebook pages not on All Facebook’s leaderboard, but even there, there isn’t a travel-related site until #37, the destination- and company-agnostic “I need a vacation!!!”

Of course, there is no shortage of travel content available on Facebook, from Gadling‘s page to resorts such as Turtle Island on Fiji. And, social media marketing is starting to creep into thetourism and travel business. There have been some successes, such as JetBlue and Southwest, but the gains haven’t been as profound as in other industries, particularly media. Hotels are lagging. A quick poke around shows that the W Hotels page, for example, has a bit more than 10,000 “likers.”

The travel business is taking steps toward a more robust social media presence, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover. For now, it looks like it’s up to traveler to fill in the gaps! How do you use social media on the road … or to book your trips? Leave a comment below to let us know.