Sunday, March 28, 2010

EyeForTravel from a skeptic's jaded viewpoint

Last week, I attended EyeForTravel's Social Media Stragegies conference.

Not surprising to anyone who knows me, I'm a big proponent of leveraging the web, but have been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to some aspects of social media fitting in the travel space.

At the start of the conference, event chair Susan Black asked the room if there were any skeptics, and I was the only one out of about 140 people willing to admit it. We had some nice discussion on it during the breaks, and she spared no opportunity to try and move my vote across the line.

Frankly, after sitting thru two days of believers talking to other believers, I had to concede that I can see some great examples where Facebook and Twitter have been used for hoteliers and resorts, but I'm still doubtful that it works for airlines.

Of the two, I see Facebook being the more likely to succeed channel. The ability to post beyond 140 characters probably has something to do with that, but I see a higher degree of accountability there. Stuff you post is seen by lots of people.

Twitter? It's a one-way street that serves four purposes:

1) Forwarding soundbytes
2) Pushing out realtime advertising
3) Complaining
4) Self promotion of one's blog

I've come to the conclusion I have no real use for Twitter unless I'm at a conference and find something interesting as a soundbyte.

I've watched people complain endlessly; most seem to want to be heard, but nobody seems to want an answer back unless it's from the company who complained. If that's the case, why are you posting to the whole world? Seriously?

The other problem I see with Twitter is the same thing I have with most blogs. On the internet nobody knows you're a dog, but everyone pretends to be an expert.

More on that some other time.

What was refreshing was with all the buzz about Tweeting and Facebook that the web would still be just as reliable of a vehicle.

Fairmont Hotels evaluated their strategy, and decided to embrace Flyer Talk instead of trying the bleeding edge. Smart move on their part -- it's a very mature community, and it's probably a lot more representative of their target customers.

Likewise, Vail Resorts has been using plain-old HTML sites and employee and customer blogs to promote their community. MGM is using blogs as well.

While some aspects of e-marketing have changed (e.g. user submitted videoes), the fact remains that the most valuable aspects of social media (peer reviews and referrals) were happening at least ten years ago on web forums like Flyer Talk, and before that, in Usenet groups. (I was moderating on Usenet back in 1994, and on Plane Business's forums in 1998).

There *is* one major shift since then. Corporations have woken up and realized that they have to be part of this, and that they've lost some of the control they'd had over their brand in the public domain. Years ago, Boeing and United went after a friend who created a Boeing 777 fan site. Today, they'd probably embrace the idea and give the guy complementary 1K status...

As for Facebook and Tweeting... Yes, I'm still a skeptic, but please try to convince me otherwise!