You see your friend’s travel pics on Facebook, and one thing pops into your head: “I’m going.”
If that describes you, you’re not alone; a study by Skyscanner found that seeing friends’ photos on Facebook inspired 52 percent of respondents to book a trip to the same place.
Travel is a massively popular topic on social media; another study found that each share of travel content generates 40 percent more clicks than other types of shares.
Once inspiration strikes, you can also put social media to work while planning and taking your own trip. Here are some strategies and tips for using the most popular social media sites to your advantage.
Customer Service Revolution
As noted in our article How Social Media Is Changing Travel, one of the most revolutionary uses of social media has been direct access to staff at travel companies small and large, sometimes with incredible speed and efficiency. If you’re having trouble at an airport, you might get a response to your complaint on Twitter before you even get to the head of the line at the customer service desk.
It’s not just airlines. Hyatt has a dedicated staff monitoring the @HyattConcierge Twitter account, while Kimpton has folks checking its Facebook page. Numerous airports, cruise lines and tourist boards are also just a tweet or Facebook comment away.
As social media has taken a more central place in our lives, it has also become central to marketing efforts at many outfits. Many companies are even offering perks simply for engaging with them on social media.
Additionally, for an upcoming high-demand concert, I noticed a mention of a social media ticket presale and checked Twitter for more information, where I found a secret link and passcode to access the presale. We got exceptional seats at a discount that also includes guaranteed parking; social media really came through on this one.
If you have a friend list of any size on Facebook, you have a formidable way to crowdsource travel recommendations. Importantly, these folks already know you, so their suggestions are likely to be more personalized than anything an algorithm or smart app can give you.
Because they know us as actual real people, not as data points, our friends know things like what our approximate travel budget might be, what kind of food we like and whether we prefer beaches to museums. As a result, their recommendations are not going to send a nature-lover to a dark, swanky bar, or suggest a multi-course restaurant to someone who really likes food trucks.
You can also discover “secret spots” that may really be known only to locals; a few years ago a friend on Facebook shared a surf spot that shows up on no surfing websites, but was uncrowded, fun and located just a few blocks from a beach that was swarming with tourists.
Open-ended inquiries can be just as successful as more specific ones. Think about it: If you got 200 of your friends into one room and asked them to recommend a great place to go for a week, the amount of first-hand information they could offer is close to limitless. Facebook lets you do this.
From there you can do your own research; Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor at our sister site, Cruise Critic, recently booked a hotel in Istanbul based mostly on her friends’ recommendations on Facebook. She did cross-check their picks on TripAdvisor, but made her final decision on the strength of her friends’ choices because she knows and trusts their taste.
Twitter is a real-time dynamo that can offer a blistering variety of information about a place; when you search on a keyword on Twitter, you can find up-to-the-minute news, feeds from local businesses, traffic information, discounts and more.
But perhaps more powerfully, Twitter has become a direct line to many travel providers, including some of the biggest companies in the industry. As we noted above, many travel companies dedicate staff to monitoring social media mentions of their companies, as well as to offer help to travelers when appropriate.
If an attraction you are researching maintains an active Twitter presence, you can post a tweet to them and get back reams of critical information. As an example, the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York (@CMAinNYC ) tweets out hours of operation, warnings when they are approaching building capacity, and information about the day’s workshop and exhibits.
Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tinder
I have used Instagram to get a sense for how a place is going to look and feel when I arrive, and rarely encounter generic, touristy stock photos; Instagram offers a blizzard of images from all kinds of sources, posted for all kinds of reasons, very few of which are “to get you to book this hotel.”
But more usefully, Instagram can offer hints to finding attractions and spots that the locals obsess over. For example, if I put my old home town into a hashtag search on Instagram, I find pictures posted by a farm market I didn’t know about, photos of a new and popular coffee shop and more.
You can use Flickr in a similar way: a few well-chosen keyword searches on this photo-sharing site can teach you a lot about a place.
While researching this article, I put in a couple of spots I will be visiting this summer and was immediately energized and excited for the trips. I was also struck by the creativity apparent in many of the photos on both Instagram and Flickr. But it may be the unvarnished element of the photos that was most appealing; these are photos taken by real, regular people, and as such show a place through an authentic point of view.
The same goes for Pinterest; by surveying the things folks have tagged and pinned about your destination, you can get heaps of ideas on what you want to do after you arrive.
While LinkedIn is geared toward business relationships, many travelers use it to connect with other like-minded people with whom they share work interests when traveling. A post to LinkedIn expressing interest in business or social get-togethers on upcoming trips is often a way for folks to consolidate or extend their personal networks away from their home base.
Though Tinder is typically considered a dating app, increasingly folks are using it to meet people while traveling. Tinder’s usage base tends to skew pretty young, but in recent months it has seen a surge in use by adults ages 35 to 54, so its potential usefulness to a wide range of travelers is improving. For some ideas on how folks are using it, check out “Why You Should Tinder While Traveling.”
Some Caveats and Warnings
While contacting a company via a Facebook page or Tweet can be very effective, keep in mind that not all travel company social media accounts are made equal — and, in fact, some are fake. On a recent trip to San Francisco on United, I had some baggage claim problems, so while sitting around waiting for nothing to happen I pulled out my phone, searched on “united help” and sent my comments to the Twitter account @UnitedAirHelp — failing to notice that its avatar says “flyer unfriendly.” It was a funny but obviously useless conversation.
Also, posting inquiries about upcoming and current travel lets your friends know where you are, but also lets others know where you are not — i.e., at home. Because an empty house is a potential target of criminals, many safety experts recommend posting about your travels only after you return home.
If your friends offered information over social media that helped you choose, plan and enjoy your trip, in return you owe them at least this: share tips, finds and photos from your trip as well, so that they might be the next to be inspired to say, “I’m going.”
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.