Keystone When heavy hitters such as Travelocity and Google start talking about using social media for marketing, people tend to sit up and listen.
So when a panel of travel company executives gathered at Keystone on Thursday to discuss Facebook, Twitter, blogs and iGoogle, the room was packed with people eager to hear how the latest mobile web applications might help them market their business during good times and bad.
Social media is a term used to lump together Web-based communities such as Facebook and MySpace, along with smaller, more specialized sites catering to special-interest groups such as skiers and snowboarders. The idea is to reach people on their hand-held devices with mobile web applications and instant messages.
Travelocity recently hired a director for social media marketing, said Cady Wolf, a vice president and partner with the company. Travelocity still is exploring how to make the best use of the virtual communities, but one thing is for certain, Wolf said.
"That's where your consumer is right now," she said.
Companies have to be careful how they pitch their message in this medium. People aren't going to Facebook for promotions. They're going there because they want to know what to do and where to go, and they want to get that information from friends they trust, the panel of experts explained.
Twitter, a form of micro-blogging, was mentioned several times. One panelist pointed out that JetBlue has the largest group of Twitter "followers" (another word for subscribers), with 225,000 people receiving messages aimed at promoting the airline's fare deals.
Hand-held electronic devices are becoming more sophisticated, with built-in functions such as global positioning and mapping capabilities. That means the messages can be targeted at specific users for specific purposes. For people who opt in, that could include electronic versions of the two-for-one coupons now found in local newspapers, said Rob Torres, with Travel Google.
Specialized applications within larger communities such as Facebook also will be important. One popular Facebook feature is called "Where I've Been" (www.whereivebeen.com/). The application lets people create a travel map and post reviews and post the entire package to their Facebook page.
Right now, the application is drawing one million hits per day, so big companies such as Travelocity are exploring similar avenues.
With the fragmentation of communication, it's important for companies to use all the channels," said Bruce Rosard, of PhocusWright.