Who's Doing Social Media Well in the Travel Industry? Almost No One

Last Updated Jun 10, 2010 6:51 PM EDT

I spent the last few weeks monitoring how well the travel industry is getting its message out via social media. While many companies have corporate blogs, others have antiblogs with far more visibility than the company or don't know how to use Twitter and Facebook to reach out to the average person, leading me to believe that few in the travel industry know how to do social media well.

While there's some controversy about measuring social media success, the idea is that it may take a two- or three-pronged approach for any corporation with blogs and the holy trinity of social media -- Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But the biggest mistakes companies form a separate unholy trinity -- abandoning accounts, spamming and over-promotion.

For instance, while United Airlines (UAUA) has a Facebook page, any given corporate message might easily be counteracted by the Evil United Airlines blog, which ranks highly in Google. But on Twitter, United seems to have hit its stride, tweeting special fares, contests, announcing its newest "micropolitan city" -- Minot, N.D. -- or interacting with the public. Southwest (LUV), Virgin America, Alaska Airlines (ALK) and Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines also seem to be some of the most active on Twitter and other social media.

What's missing? Hotels. Aside from the stodgy @WorldConcierge from InterContinental Hotels Group, @StarwoodBuzz from Starwood or @HiltonOnline from Hilton Hotels, it's difficult to locate a central account for any hotel group or brand.

Holiday Inn, for instance, seems to have multiple properties with their own Twitter accounts, but there doesn't seem to be a unified voice for the brand. That's a bad spot to be in for a company that just spent $100 million to change its brand image.
From Web Worker Daily:

6. What are your social media marketing "must dos?"
You must listen first, respect existing online communities, enter conversations politely, start conversations, respond to others, be generous, share and provide value.

7. I'm involved in social media, but am not sure how to use it to grow my business (i.e. monetize it)?
Think of social media marketing as another tool in your marketing toolkit. Social media marketing is not currently a direct sales tool, but can lead to sales. Think of social media marketing more as a branding and loyalty tool. How do you quantify the value of brand building and loyalty building? Look at customer service as well. What are your cost savings in the area of customer service and customer relations because you're getting to the heart of complaints and issues more efficiently via social media channels? There are clear and sensible ways right now to determine your social media ROI. Now is the time to set benchmarks, goals, and to regularly analyze your numbers.

The idea is that social media is supposed to be a conversation between a company and the public with added value -- such as contests, giveaways or special fares or deals found only though that medium. Some of the worst social media offenders are online travel agencies like Hotwire, which simply announce their lowest fares constantly, pretty much spamming any of their followers (by the way, the information is something anyone could find on their website). Knowing that, it's no wonder that online travel agencies have the lowest rate of customer loyalty, there's no added value there. There's certainly no relationship and obviously no generosity.

Is social media the antithesis of the corporate mentality? It offers no comparables, no tangible measurement of success and seems wrapped up in strange, touchy-feely etiquette and "conversations." (Many consider it a waste of time, yet still manage to give out tips how to do it well.) Perhaps, but several companies are finding those employees who can do it well. Here are some rules:

  • Use social media daily, even if you have to schedule your posts or tweets. Nothing is worse than an abandoned Twitter account, a half-filled LinkedIn profile or a lackluster approach.
  • Be social. Make an attempt to engage the community, if only to some of your followers, such as personally remarking on a point they made, a photo or conversation.
  • Set aside a specific time for social media. Social media can eat up your day, so set aside an hour or two a day simply to catch up and be part of it. Schedule your updates to take place throughout the day.
  • Find the social media that works for you. Some people will be instantly drawn to Twitter, others will love Facebook, still others will enjoy Foursquare, StumbleUpon or Tumblr. Whatever you choose, be sure to sample a few to see what comes easiest.
  • Add value. What makes people want to follow your company and will make them return? If you can't answer this, there likely isn't a reason.
Photo: PlayerX