Are travelers overloaded by social media?

Mary Gallagher recently received an e-mail from the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau offering “hot deals.” But there was a catch: In order to receive them, she had to follow Tucson’s tourist authority on Twitter and friend it on Facebook.

That didn’t sit well with Gallagher, a travel writer, who said she receives enough deals each day.

“How much Facebook and Twitter drivel could you spend each day reading?” she said. “This really, really annoys me.”

Are travelers overloaded by social media? It’s a timely question, given the release of “The Social Network,” which topped the box office for several weeks in October, is about the origin of Facebook, the most successful social network on the planet.

Travel is a huge component of social networking, propelling applications like Where I’ve Been — a website that allows users to mark their travel history on a color-coded map — to stardom.

“It can get to the point where it’s too much,” said Brian Ek, who oversees some of Priceline’s social media efforts. Which is to say, somewhere along the line, the travel experience isn’t meaningfully enhanced by having more friends or followers.
“I’m not sure if, as a traveler, you have to participate in a social network in order to have a good trip,” he said.

But where’s the line? Gallagher saw it when Tucson e-mailed her. She replied to the sender, complaining that social networking deals exclude travelers who don’t participate in these newer networks. She also asked that her name be deleted from Tucson’s distribution list.
Related: See the world through your smart phone

A 2010 YPartnership survey suggests most travelers are probably still looking for the line. Results show that 91 percent of respondents use Facebook, about a quarter use MySpace, and 17 percent are on Twitter. But the research also notes that only 1 in 20 leisure travelers has ever made a travel decision based primarily on research or feedback received from a social networking site.

A recent University of Maryland study found that American college students are addicted to social media. In fact, being away from social media was like a withdrawal, similar to the kind experienced by an alcoholic. One of the researchers, Susan Moeller, described some of the subjects as “incredibly addicted.”

A recent survey of frequent travelers by Egnyte, an information technology company, found that 53 percent of people admit to using their smart phone when in a hotel bathroom.

When the line between reality and virtual reality start to blur, you could be in trouble. “You lose track with whether or not you’ve spoken with someone or whether you’ve seen something on Twitter or Facebook,” said Chris McGinnins, a travel blogger with an active social network. McGinnis said older travelers, who can remember a time before social networking, might find something wrong with this behavior when it’s pointed out to them. But younger travelers think nothing of it. And that worries him.
And who said you can never have too many friends? Many travel companies, including media-savvy JetBlue, have initiatives aimed at boosting networks simply for the sake of having the highest profile. JetBlue (1.5 million Twitter followers) recently gave away 25,000 frequent flier miles to random followers.

On the flip side, there are individual travelers who are in the business of collecting friends and followers, too. Experts would diagnose this kind of compulsive behavior as an addiction if it involved anything else.

If you’re obsessively collecting new followers, can’t bear to be apart from your cell phone and often confuse what’s happening on your social network with reality, you, like Gallagher, have found the line.

(Photo: B. Hernández/Flickr Creative Commons)

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If employees could vote for their favorite company, they’d pick …

Southwest Airlines, Mary Kay and Facebook.

Glass Door conducted an anonymous employee survey, and those companies came out on top.

Why does it matter to you? Well, if you’ve watched Michael Moore’s new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, you’ll know that generally speaking, there’s no love lost between employees and their employers.

(In fact, Moore claims America has become a plutocracy, where the wealthy rule. He cites an internal memo from Citigroup that I find highly troubling.)

Given all that, it’s worth asking how employees feel about their employers. Why? Because happy employees are exceedingly rare. And I know from personal experience that happy customers deliver superior service.
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“It’s extremely difficult to craft the right response to avoid ending up in the fray”

Let’s turn the tables and take a look at customer service from the other side. I recently received a request for help from the unlikeliest of places: the general counsel for a fast-food chain. She wanted to know how to handle the increasing number of complaints that were emerging through social media.

By way of full disclosure, the On Your Side wiki has begun posting the Twitter accounts of corporations, since it’s often a highly effective way of making first contact with a company.

I wanted to share a few excerpts from our correspondence, since I think they are instructive for those of us pondering a social-media grievance.
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7 secrets for boosting your online power

Got a travel problem?

Just tweet about your troubles, and the airline, car rental company or hotel will fix it. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. And while it’s true that travel companies are spending a lot of time online listening to their customers, they’re not necessarily paying attention to all of us.

“Travel companies pick and choose who to respond to in social media,” says social media expert Ryan Goff of the advertising firm MGH, Inc. “You better believe that a Web celebrity with 100,000 Twitter followers is going to catch a company’s attention over the casual Tweeter with only 10 friends.”
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6 ways to leverage social media for a better vacation

socialBefore the latest social media revolution, Jessica Gottlieb would have probably watched helplessly when her kids, Jane and Alexander, were trapped on the tarmac, waiting for their Virgin America flight to take off.

But that’s so 2008. When it happened to her last week, the Los Angeles-based blogger reached for her iPhone and twittered about her troubles. “Dear Virgin Air,” she wrote. “My children have been on the tarmac for one hour with 90 more minutes to wait. I am at JFK gate b25. Pls RT.”
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