06/06/11 How Social Media Has Changed Business Travel

Let’s face it: Social networking influences the way we travel, whether on business or for pleasure. Here’s how you can make the most of your trip by using the networks you’re a part of.

Social networks have changed the way we work—and live. For example, 18 percent of consumers use social networking sites before even getting out of bed, according to a May 2011 Ericsson ConsumerLab study. They have also changed the way we travel, morphing business trips from a mundane experience into a data-rich opportunity to make new connections and discover or strengthen relationships.

“The simplest way to think about it is that you used to fly into a city and unless you knew someone who was there, there’s no chance that you ever got in touch with anyone,” notes Aaron Strout, the Austin-based head of location-based marketing at WCG World, an integrated global communications company. “We all tend to hover around in these bigger metropolitan areas and we’re closer to so many people we know than we think we are, but we just don’t know it. So social media kind of tightens up that six degrees of separation, and it also makes for serendipity.”

But how do you keep it professional and make the most out of your next trip by utilizing social media? Here’s what the experts advise.

How Social Media Has Changed Business Travel: Before You Leave
Before you ever book your trip, social networks allow you to research, interact, and enhance the experience. From a research perspective, some hotels have started to offer room specials exclusively for fans of their Facebook page. Morever, travelers can see reviews of properties from trusted colleagues, friends, and strangers to make sure it’s the right spot long before arriving. Lastly, you can figure out where your connections and contacts are staying if they’ll be in town at the same time to simplify that process later on (travel-organizing app TripIt makes this easier with its integration into LinkedIn).

Travelers can also use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to communicate with existing contacts to figure out details about where to stay and what to do while traveling—including whom else might be in town. You’d be shocked sometimes at where old connections that you haven’t seen in years might be living or have lived, allowing you to solicit opinions or schedule meetings with folks you never envisioned.

“A lot of hotels are adopting this Roger Smith idea that if they become more social-media friendly, people will start staying there,” Strout says. “Before I leave, I can figure out if someone I know will be there and then triangulate that data to connect for dinner. You have micro-control of it too, because you can broadcast out what you like or keep things private.”

Social Networks and Mobile Apps to Use Before You Travel:
• Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn: Let your contacts know you’re planning a trip to see what fellow connections are going to be in town so you can schedule meetings—formal or informal—and determine places to go and things to do in your down-time. Follow hotels or airlines on the networks to get exclusive discounts not available elsewhere.

• TripIt: book your travel wherever you choose, and forward your itinerary to plans@tripit.com. The free organizational service does the rest of the work, allowing you to access the data anywhere and also telling you if any connections are in the same area.

• GTrot: still a relatively new service, GTrot (short for globe-trotting) connects users with Facebook friends who live where you’re visiting, have visited there previously or are there at the same tim as you. With one click, you can notify those friends of your plans and solicit input or suggestions.

• AutoSlash, CarRentals.com, or Zipcar: whatever your car rental needs are, there is a way to access the best deals here. Autoslash and CarRentals.com allow you to input dates and times of arrival and departure and then scours the Web for the best deal. With Autoslash, if you book a rental and a better deal comes across the site, it automatically rebooks you at the lower rate. Zipcar is a well-known service that allows you to rent a car for hours, days or longer, often cheaper than car rental companies and with nicer vehicles (but including a membership fee).

• Getaround: part of the rising trend of social car sharing and luxury car services, this is changing the way we get around in town. Getaround, the winner of TechCrunch Disrupt’s startup pitch last month in New York City, allows car owners to safely rent out their unused car to trusted drivers when they need it most.

How Social Media Has Changed Business Travel: While You’re Away
Once you leave home and are in a foreign city, you’re never disconnected from your social networks. In fact, you’re able to do so much more today while on the road thanks to social networks and mobile applications.

“I use social media for crowd-sourced research for restaurants, bars, or whatever else is nearby when I travel,” notes Christian Wofford, a Construction Project Manager at Burberry America who is based in Brooklyn, New York, and who regularly travels to new stores around the country. “For me, the new Foursquare Explore feature is so helpful when I travel somewhere with the way it links into the places you’ve been and the places your friends have been. Often, it comes down to the fact that you’re getting a credible review of a place from someone you know and trust. That’s huge.”

The options are plentiful as you hit the road. “Without a smartphone, I never knew on the go what the weather going to be like maps to get somewhere, where to eat,” says Amy Jackson, the senior public relations manager at TripIt. “Social media has made more savvy travel possible by having all of that information with you in real-time. It’s a lot more practical than when you printed something out before you left for the airport and stuffed it in a manila folder. Now I just pull out my smartphone. To me, it’s about being more informed, being more savvy and making the most of your time while you travel.”

By Lou DuBois, Inc.com
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