Instead, I advise travel marketers, a group equally interested in knowing people's plans. Which means that while I have no imminent plans to begin a life of crime, I still care quite a bit about whether prospects are home or away, and have a keen interest in listening to them talk about what they are doing as they plan, prepare, travel and, eventually, return.
Thankfully, we currently have a world full of consumers who are living out loud. People have become more and more dependent on the validation and recognition received from their social networks to make their decisions and their experiences feel real, right, relevant and cool. And this is especially true in travel.
According to travel market research firm PhocusWright, social networking is one of the most powerful forces driving travel planning today. The firm found that social media use among travelers is growing far faster than the travel industry itself. Unique monthly visitors to social travel sites jumped 34% between the first half of 2008 and the last half of 2009.
To that end, we probably shouldn't be surprised that recently comScore announced that TripAdvisor, with 35,382,000 unique monthly visitors, has become the #1 most popular travel website, surpassing Expedia by over 2 million visits.
PhocusWright also found that Facebook users who are referred to travel booking sites are far more likely to book travel than those who are referred via search engines like Google. Why? Good question, and I can only speculate on the answer. But TripAdvisor thought it was interesting enough to build a new application on its site that allows users to get travel reviews and ask questions of trusted friends via a link to their Facebook network. TripAdvisor's theory? You'll pay a lot more attention to the advice of like-minded acquaintances than complete strangers.
But don't discount Google, Yahoo and the rest just yet. With as many as 86% of travelers using search engines in their planning efforts, SEM and SEO still play a critical role in creating awareness and driving traffic to travel sites. But they are more of a gateway than a decision driver. Mainstream media and your brand marketing play a role but, increasingly, it is the channels and commentary beyond our control that consumers seem to be most influenced by. That's why finding a way to maximize the interplay of the social media channels is critical.
A few weeks ago I wrote about enabling your consumers to tell your story. Today I want to remind us to listen to theirs. Monitor the chatter about your brand across the web, and create a space for dialogue between you and your prospects, through your social media presence and your website. And then go apply the findings. Consider:
Showing you are listening, through active dialogue and through the evolution of your offerings will be incredibly powerful. In a world in which as simple a sentiment as "I'm thirsty" merits sharing and likely garners a response, we cannot underestimate the power of acknowledgement and how we can make it work to our advantage.
And for the record, I am thirsty and am off to find a Diet Coke. Comment away ...