6 ways travelers can use social media

Laptops and other social media gear (courtesy techne at flickr’s Creative Commons)The explosion of social media will not change the fundamental attraction of travel – human connection across cultural and geographic boundaries – but it has already significantly changed how we research and execute travel plans.

There is mind-numbing overuse of jargon with this topic;  Web 2.0 (or now we’re yakking about Web 3.0,) social networking, the usual suspects like “synergistic,”  “leverage” and “paradigm shift” plus a web app called Ruby on Rails that keeps popping up.

Look, I just wanna do Canada on Rails or India on Rails, so let’s bring this stuff down to Earth.

Social media means two-way communication, facilitated by technology.  It’s a conversation, not a guidebook or travel magazine diktat.  You write the book, give the advice, take the pictures.  The average travel-related corporation may not really like it, and many respected travel gurus don’t either, but it is here to stay.

Here are a few social media resources that I’ve tried to understand and investigate for usefulness to travelers.  Please tell us in the comments if I’ve missed anything.

**  Blogs.  OK, I think we’re starting to figure this one out.  This post that you’re reading is on a blog, you can Google and find a gazillion other travel blogs, and the good ones foster a wonderful sense of community and communication.  Sure, it’s tough to sort the dreck from the dull, but quality blogs usually rise to the top in terms of discussion and traffic.  Thought leader Chris Brogan says that hyperlocal news and info are the way to beat the often-sprawling mess you get back from a Google search, and what traveler doesn’t look for the local angle?

**  Communities, bulletin boards and forums.  These are often the rawest form of back-and-forth discussion about all sorts of travel topics:  travel writing, where to find good beer, where to find the best food and general travel guidance.

Let’s not forget Trip Advisor; I’ve talked to several hotel managers who dread being carpet-bombed on this forum by disgruntled visitors.  For good or ill, that’s a huge change in the travel power structure.

Other examples:  IgoUgo, amazing photos on flickr travel and of course YouTube Travel.

**  Wikis.  Written and then edited by its readers, a wiki is the “hive mind” in action.  That can mean wonderfully detailed, locally-generated gems, or completely bogus tripe.  I’m going to check out WikiTravel for an upcoming trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and will let you know how it works out.  Also see Travel Wikia.

**  Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.   Tech guru Robert Scoble says these powerful networks can “concentrate people into buckets” across time zones and continents (he’s even mused about a Facebook hotel.)  That means that your LinkedIn contacts or Facebook friends will often be of like mind with you and could help you with travel suggestions for their hometowns (or even offer their spare couch.) Need some fellow rock-climbers in New Zealand or cooking enthusiasts during a visit to Brussels?  Look to your online social networks.

**  Twitter.   Consultant Laura Athavale Fitton (aka @pistachio on Twitter) says to think of it as “hanging out in a virtual living room.”  Pick interesting people to follow in this stream of mini blog-like posts, say thoughtful things yourself, and the next thing you know, you’re exchanging “tweets” (update messages) with people that you’d never find any other way.  I follow @SEKeener, who is simply Sean Keener, CEO of the BootsnAll travel network.   Want to see who else I follow?  Find me @SheilaS.

**  Second Life.    I welcome any additional help here because my avatar, Boadicea Merryman, just recently stepped into the Second Life 3D online virtual world and she’s still trying to figure out how to navigate everything.  Smart guys like Aussie Duncan Riley (Blog Herald founder, b5media co-founder, TechCrunch writer) are really into SL; I follow his Twitter feed to see what sort of sociable stuff he’s doing, including experimenting with SL as a virtual meeting place.   It’s almost as good as traveling there!

I claim no great technological expertise, only a lack of fear of trons (we did invent them, after all) and a dogged curiosity about how people tick.  Don’t tell me that this is just for “young people,” either, because I’m 46.

Dive into social media, where every dot connects.

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