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Travel Experts Predict Future of Social Media

Article date: Mon, 11 Jul 2011 16:05 GMT

Steve Downes at the UKFast Travel round table

Businesses should "think small" in order to develop the most effective social media strategies in future, according to a panel debate.

A group of travel industry experts were invited to a round table discussion by hosting specialist UKFast to discuss their adoption of social media and its future as an effective communications tool for businesses.

Panellists predicted a "major change" in the way social media platforms are developed and used by consumers. Social networks of the future will be designed for small groups of people to develop more meaningful relationships. Travel firms will aim to add a select group of "key influencers" to their social networks rather than establish high numbers of inactive contacts.

Steve Downes, managing director of Manchester-based Juice Digital, said: "I think the real change in the future will come in the size of networks.

"There has been a lot of research that shows the typical size of a tribe is 150 people. That rule extends to business and professional networking. There's no way people can genuinely engage with 1,000 or 2,000 people.

"I think a typical social network of the future will follow that path - people will network in groups of around 150 people. The trick is to make sure those people are extraordinarily influential. Each of the 150 will influence another 150 and so on.

"We've all boasted to our clients of reaching 10,000 Facebook fans but how many of them are ambassadors?"

Bob Atkinson, travel expert at comparison site Travelsupermarket.com agreed that social networks are likely to shift their focus to sub-communities.

"For me it's about finding the influencers who can spread the message further rather than having hundreds of thousands of people who 'like' you. When it comes to travel, we all talk to each other about recommendations and that often starts with trusted friends and family, then we'll go further out to review sites.

"For travel businesses, it's about finding the method, through whatever form of social media, that allows people to engage with you and influence each other and share genuine recommendations. We have to find a way to work like that without resorting to a pure sales pitch."

UKFast's communications director and round table chair, Jonathan Bowers, agreed that the travel industry relies heavily on consumers sharing experiences and recommendations but debated the idea that large numbers of followers hold little value for businesses.

Bowers said: "Recent research [by CityGrid Media] shows the real potential of the 'like' button to yield tangible benefits and stimulate traffic and in many cases, they are more significant than reviews for sharing feedback."

The panel discussed the launch of Google+ - the search giant's social networking platform believed to be built on the concept of small social circles.

Downes said: "I've heard opinions as diverse as 'this is death of Facebook' to 'it will disappear in six months'. It could potentially be a game changer. Who would bet on Google getting it wrong forever?"

Thanasis Spyriadis, programmes leader for MMU's Department of Food and Tourism Management added: "Understanding your audience, segmenting it and approaching them in different ways is very important.

"With social networks you are talking about individuals who can also act as a member of a team or group. It also has a lot to do with fashion and other outside factors. There are influences outside of your industry that will affect how people behave on social networks whether it be songs, wars, economic crises. We need to be analysing a lot of information to really make sense of all that."

Bowers asked what travel businesses could learn from the recent sale of social network, mySpace, for $35 million - a fraction of the $580 million it fetched in 2005.

John Greenway, press office manager for Manchester Airport Group (MAG), said: "It just had its time.

"The channels we use now will have a lifespan and then they will die. We have found something that suits what we do to talk to a wide audience. We use Twitter like a broadcast channel to contact our audience that's made up of all ages.

"No doubt Twitter will die and something will replace it. Companies need to find out what that will be and try to be ahead of the market. That's why we have social media strategies to work out what's next."


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