With all due respect to the classic children’s TV show and game Carmen Sandiego, I have borrowed the show’s tag line having just completed a grueling travel schedule that took me to London, Washington DC, Miami, Rome and Amsterdam all within a five week period. These trips involved client technology engagements and speeches to various audiences. My Miami stop was to participate as Co-Chair of the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit. This most recent series of trips augments a busy 2011 travel schedule that included trips to Israel, Orlando, Italy and two trips to Cannes, France.
Travel Tech Consulting provides services that cross all segments of the travel industry (airlines, hotels, OTAs, tour operators, TMCs, government and technology suppliers who support all these segments) with the underlying theme of how emerging technology is changing business practices. A common topic across these speeches and engagements has been the impact of mobile technology and social media on the travel process. Whether addressing audiences in Israel or Amsterdam, I was able to observe first hand the impact mobile technology and social media is having worldwide. Just as much of the traditional travel ecosystem has become accustomed to dealing with online issues, mobile and social are changing the game. As part of various research projects including a comprehensive special report for PhoCusWright entitled “Mobile Hits the Mainstream”, I have interviewed a wide range of travel and technology companies about the impact of mobile and social media on their strategies. Here are a few observations:
In many parts of the world mobile is becoming the primary means to connect to the web.
The emergence of tablets is not only un-tethering the travel planning process, but extending the ability to plan and book travel any place at any time. When I returned I was greeted by my new Amazon Kindle Fire, the first under $200 tablet that represents the fusion of the e-reader and media tablet at a lower cost that the market leading iPad (Amazon Kindle Fire is now the #2 tablet worldwide).
Audiences and clients all now agree that their customer’s social graph is having a direct influence on travel purchasing and most are struggling to implement an effective social media strategy to target the key influencers while protecting their brand integrity across social media channels.
Now that I am back home in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking out my office window at San Francisco and the Silicon Valley I am amazed how my region which is home to Apple, Google and Facebook is changing the travel industry in every corner of the globe.
One of the most influential and clairvoyant books on mobile trends is Howard Rheingold’s 2002 Smart Mobs.Howard accurately predicted many of the trends we now see as common such as:
The growth of smartphones
The intersection between mobile and social media
The use of mobile devices to mobilize protests (thus the term Smart Mobs). This last point came into clear focus with the Middle East Arab Spring and the recent riots in London triggering the British government’s threat to shut down social networks.
For those that never read this groundbreaking book, I encourage you to do so as many of the concepts are still emerging. As an airline recently told me during an interview,”We must have a mobile presence as our passengers by definition are mobile”. The industry can no longer can think of mobile as just as another customer touchpoint, as many are beginning to recognize mobile’s potential as a new platform. I firmly believe that mobile devices represent the single most important technological change permanently altering the travel industry and creating a new environment for true personalized CRM and marketing. Combine that with the explosion of tablets (especially with low end tablets coming from Amazon and B & N) and we are in the midst of a sea change as dramatic as the explosion of the Web in the late 1990s.
This video talks about the differences between a narrow focus on social media (brand integrity and promotions) versus an understanding of a given brand’s social graph. Please check out this blog post and video I recorded back in March with Marc Smith from Connected Action Consulting Group using NodeXL, an open source social graph mapping tool, which compares the Twitter Feeds from UA versus DL.
Mobile location based networking apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Loopt are gaining traction in the market. How do they fit into the travel experience? By definition mobile location based networking is designed to help you discover the world around you, a natural connection to travel. There is a gaming element of these apps that allow you earn badges or become the mayor of a frequently visited locations. A new start up TopGuest is working to hook the game rewards with real loyalty points from hotels and other travel suppliers. Traditional media is embracing LBS as The Wall Street Journal integrates restaurant reviews and specific WSJ badges with Foursquare. The Pennsylvania Tourism Board launched a program with Foursquare that has sprinkled 100 tips at locations across the state.The Intercontinental Hotel Group is doing a trial with Gowalla. This is only the beginning. Mobile location based networking has the potential to become your personal concierge. Driven by your personal network, location based apps can have your friends recommend a restaurant in NYC or help you discover a museum in Vienna.
The real question is whether these standalone apps will remain independent or become part of larger social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Review sites such as Yelp! have added a check-in feature to compete. It has been rumored that Yahoo! has been trying to buy Foursquare. Most apps allow you to hook into your Facebook network already. It is likely that one or more of these apps will become part of a bigger company, but as a category mobile location based apps will continue to have an impact on the travel experience. I would encourage all parts of the travel value chain to take a good look at these apps and figure out a strategy to work with these companies. There is a huge gaming market. Travel companies historically have not exploited games in a big way. Linking a location based service with a destination and rewarding travelers with loyalty points seems like a natural way to enhance the travel experience, promote your brand and increase loyalty.
Travel Tech Consulting, Inc. and Connected Action Consulting Group LLC have put together a brief video presentation that provides insight into network analysis for airline Twitter feeds using the open source tool NodeXL. Network analysis goes beyond simply monitoring brand or promoting specials using social media. Network analysis allows travel companies to understand who are the key influencers in the network and how they connect with others. For example, it is not necessarily the user with the most Twitter followers or Tweets at a travel company needs to follow, but it is how the user is connected to others. The video uses United Airlines and Delta Airlines Twitter feeds as an example.
My wife’s Facebook friend recently posted this message declaring that she does not fly UA because they break guitars. I recently spoke at the EzRez Thought Leadership Conference and I mentioned the now famous YouTube video which has received over 8 million viewings. A question from the audience was simply whether people would change their flying preferences because of this type of video. As evidenced by this blog entry, it has changed some people’s attitudes.
Social media has been so hyped it is easy to forget that it is in some ways an extension of the most effective type of advertising, word-of-mouth but on steroids.
In a recent article, Travel Weekly columnist Richard Turen stated that United now uses Dave Carroll’s video as a training device. Another recent story mentioned that David’s bag was lost on a recent UA trip. (I guess he returned to United after all). So though the songwriter seemed to have forgiven UA, his video legacy lives on and continues to influence the blogosphere. Of course David’s next song may be, “United lost my bag” considering his most recent experience.
With the growth of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, social media monitoring and promotion have become a major activity for most travel companies. The goal is to listen to the social networks and respond to issues around a company’s brand. The other major effort is to use fan pages and Twitter feeds to offer limited-timed promotions. Both these activities are essential social media 1.0 tasks, but there is a lot more analysis that can be implemented to identify connectivity among community members, key influencers within the community and overall community trends. To achieve this next level of analysis BI tools that examine social networking are required.
As mentioned in a previous blog, one such tool is NodeXL. This is an open source Microsoft Excel plug-in that can be used to create a visual community map of everything from your Outlook contacts to your Twitter feed. The visualization allows you to understand relationships between community members. Are there individuals who everyone connects to, but who connect to few? If so , these people may be key community influencers, but how do you influence them? As you can see this only touches the surface of social networking analysis.
I am pleased to announce a new strategic alliance, with Marc A. Smith, PhD of Connected Action Consulting Group. Not only is Dr. Smith the creator of NodeXL, but he is an experienced social scientist who uses his sociology training to offer clients a deep understanding of their online communities with specific recommendations on how to implement strategies to protect and grow a company’s brand within their community. Travel Tech Consulting is pleased to offer Dr. Smith’s services in conjunction with our travel technology and online expertise to offer clients the next level of analysis of social networks.
At the NBTA conference American Express announced “plans to launch a business-to-business online networking community for the corporate travel industry.” There are a couple of interesting aspects of this announcement. Social networking is finally being embraced (though only a limited short “hug”) by the corporate travel community. I moderated two sessions at the conference on social networking and both were well attended. BusinessTravelConnexion.com is being promoted as a way for corporate travel executives, suppliers and other providers to connect with each other in an online community. No one knows how successful this effort will be, but I applaud Amex for launching the initiative. A concern I have was actually part of my presentation during one of the NBTA sessions where I stated that communities naturally exist and cannot be created. Will the Amex Business Travel Connexion tap into existing communities? Will travel managers and suppliers find a forum hosted by the top TMC a proper avenue to connect? Time will tell if the Amex initiative will be successful in tapping existing communities. The other interesting aspect was that I received a call from Amex last week asking whether I would be blogging about the new service. At least Amex is recognizing the power of the Blogisphere. I also had my first experience moderating a panel at NBTA during an earthquake. I have lived in California for 23 years, but I still have not become accustomed to earthquakes, even though I was at the World Series for the big Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Unfortunately we lost about 70% of our audience who fled the session. This is shame as the panelists from Sabre Cubeless and Cisco were excellent. Next year NBTA is in San Diego affording us all another opportunity to experience the earth shake beneath our feet.
I had the pleasure this morning to meet with one of the founders of Circos. In one of my earlier blogs I classified Circos in the same category as Kango. After meeting with Mario Jobbe, it became clear that Circos has a different spin on the semantic search space. Circos has launched a preview which focuses on the travel industry, in particular hotel search, but the company plans to enter other non-travel segments as they grow. One interesting feature that allows the user to look at the profile of a given author at a travel site such as Trip Advisor or Yelp!. By graphically showing the key attributes evaluated by the author of the comment, the user can get a sense of the relative frequency and reputation of the given author. This is an important spin on the semantic search approach recognizing that the opinions of the more trusted authors play a role in the value of their comments. This is just touching the surface of an important social networking dynamic that mirrors real world social networks, reputation. Suppliers have continued to express concern that review sites only contain very positive or very negative comments representing the two ends of the bell curve. Understanding the relative reputation of the author within a given site such as Trip Advisor is an important a feature easily determined by clicking on the author’s name. Circos carries this one step further by aggregating 500 review sources into a single search response and thus allowing the user to evaluate the author across multiple entries posted on different sites. As review sites continue to mature, the value of a particular review can be impacted by the reputation of the author.
Facebook’s attempt to exploit its social network for advertising purposes has raised some major concerns from their users. The Beacon advertising platform is designed to broadcast purchases made by users to their social network. The issue has been taken up by the progressive political organization, MoveOn.org claiming the program violates privacy. Over 50,000 Facebook users have signed the MoveOn.org petition complaining about the privacy issue. The primary problem seems to be in the opt-out strategy taken by Facebook. There is no question that social networks are here to stay and they do influence purchases, especially for travel. The “Where I’ve Been” application (now owned by Trip Advisor) has been one of the most successful applications on Facebook. Behavioural targeting is also becoming a mainstream advertising strategy that is designed to deliver specific content based on the implicit and explicit behavior of the user. Earlier this year one of the largest players in the behavioral targeting space, Tacoda, was purchased by AOL demonstrating the importance of this emerging advertising trend. Mobile advertising is beginning to become major force as well. Whether planning a complex vacation or buying a HDTV, the opinions of my friends and colleagues do make a difference. The key lesson here is that no matter what the platform (social networks, behavioural targeting or mobile advertising) the user must be in control. Opt-in is the key, not opt-out.
Travel Tech Consulting, Inc.
951 Old County Road #157 Belmont CA, 94002 Phone: 650 345-8510 Fax: 650 345-7590 If you would like to learn more about our consulting services,
please contact Norman L. Rose, President: email@example.com