Search without Searching – implications for the travel industry.

Search
(Originally written for Web In Travel)

I've written a couple of articles lately on websites/applications that allow us to plan a trip.  Essentially they act as a portal providing access to information around certain aspects of the trip – the flight, the accommodation, and, as I recently reviewed in the case of NileGuide, events happening in and around my destination when I plan to be there.  All good stuff and very useful.  And, quite clever in terms of some of its functionality and application but just how clever are these things?  I really don't mean this disrespectfully in any sense.  But I've been reading a couple of articles just recently on a Google initiative they call SWS – or Search Without Searching

When using NileGuide or even just booking flights online we are essentially telling the application everything about our trip – where, when, how many people etc.  We tell it where we want to stay and how much we want to pay.  In the case of NileGuide events we tell it what kinds of things we might like and through some fixed criteria (that, frustratingly, someone else decided) we are then presented with options albeit very beautifully and intuitively. 

But one of the core principles around SWS is exactly the absence of this telling.  Google talks about presenting you with search results that you didn't even know you wanted.  How do they think this might be accomplished? Well, through analyzing everything they can find out about us from our (presumably public) online profiles.  I don't want to dwell on the potentially scary privacy aspects around this here – plenty has been said before and will be said again, so for now I'd like to focus on what I see as the huge potential here specifically for the travel industry.

So, imagine that I’ve been tweeting about how stressed I am at work and need a break.  And a few days ago I ‘liked’ a friend’s pictures on Facebook from a trip they took to Vietnam.  And, the SWS algorithms were able to look at recent hotel bookings I’d made on AsiaRooms and some positive comments I’d made about a specific hotel type I liked on TripAdvisor.  Imagine all this.  Getting the idea now?  So, coupled with these and perhaps some recent search history going back a few months and some SocialGraph ‘likes’, the Google algorithms then cobble together a ‘trip theme template’ (my own expression) and then run through all the portal stuff looking at flights and accommodation etc and tie this up with my diary free time to come up with the pre-packaged trip along with dates, flights and all the usual stuff that I might otherwise have to go searching for.  I then get notified from the ‘intelligent’ travel site…”Hey Carl, we think you could do with a break now and we’ve put this itinerary together for you leaving Thursday next week and getting you back in time for your first day back at work and that important review meeting” And then there’s my full itinerary with all its components listed out perhaps with quick options to fine tune various aspects.

It’s not here yet but, you know what, I think this kind of stuff is just around the corner and for me, at least, it represents the next kind of paradigm shift that the ever social and interactive web will lead us towards.

NileGuide adds Events

Screen shot 2010-07-26 at 13.35.41

 

A few days ago, NileGuide
announced their new ‘events’ functionality for their already great
website.  I test drove the
NileGuide website before here.

As soon as I was on the site I immediately felt ‘at home’.  Although I haven’t used the site a lot,
my experiences so far have been good and there’s something nice about coming
back to a place where you had a good time last time you were there.  Flowery language you may think, but I’m
a strong believer (as some of you may know) of things and places having the
potential to make me smile and feel good and websites are certainly no
exception.

The events are quickly accessed from another tab that sits
logically alongside tabs such as ‘restaurants’ and ‘nightlife’.  Initially I hadn’t signed in and I was
presented with an interactive map and various search criteria.   Interestingly, one of the event ‘types’
was ‘Dangerous Festivals’.  It
immediate caught my attention and an event I am attending in September falls
into this category and is descried on NileGuide as: ‘…event is not for the feeble-hearted. More than 30,000 participants
purchase a ticket. …Understandably, tempers are short, and foul language and
nudity are very much a part of the experience.’
 Can you guess where I’m going?  You can be sure that I will blog about it!

Anyway, back to NileGuide.  I decided to focus on Singapore as a reference point to get
a feel for what I could find.  The
list of events was impressive.  It
covered a wide-range of things including exhibitions, sports events and religious
festivals.  I’d logged in by this
point and so was able to add them to ‘my list’ using the excellent core
functionality of the NileGuide site where one can create one’s own trip around
choices of hotel, restaurants and places to visit.  I could sort the list of events by start date and
proximity.  I liked the ‘proximity
sort’ option allowing me to sort with respect to a place of my choosing – my
hotel for example or the airport. 
This made very good sense. 
There were also some search filters including criteria like ‘kids
friendly’, ‘outdoors’ and ‘active’ etc. 
These too make sense but I look forward to the day when the web and its websites
and applications know me as an individual a little better and I don’t have to
filter and make choices based on others’ segmentation and differentiation however
well informed and intentioned.  (This is only around the next corner I think)

A click on a specific event brings up all the details you
might need – all contact details, a brief description and a map location.  It’s also shown on the page’s own map
as are all the events when looking at the whole list so proximity is easy to
gauge.  This is all integrated, as
I said, with the already great website and adds depth, context and richness to
the whole experience of planning a trip and working out what to do when
there. 

As I was viewing Singapore events, it occurred to me that
I could use this aspect of the website simply as a local ‘what’s on’ guide for
me.  I would certainly recommend
the folks at NileGuide to see how they could re-skin their existing content for
this purpose.

Social Media Day and Social Media Strategy

Social-media-strategy-vs-social-media-campaign

June 30th was Social Media day.  It was actually Global Social Media day as declared by Mashable. It was also a day when I went to
discuss Social Media strategy with a large company based here in
Singapore.  Our Social Media Day event
at Zsofi in the evening was great fun,
and a chance to meet some great new people as well as catch up with old friends
and to also meet some more virtual acquaintances in the flesh for the first
time.

 

Something kept getting said on that day and it was this: people
kept talking about Social Media strategy as a ‘resource’ – as a person.  They were implying, I think, that one
view of what constitutes a Social Media strategy is having a person sit all day
on Twitter or Facebook responding to people’s
complaints or questions.  And,
indeed, for some brands in Singapore and elsewhere, it appears that their doing
exactly this seems to be a large component, if not the entirety, of their
strategy.

 

This doesn’t feel like a strategy to me.  In fact, what it looks like is the kind
of conversations usually reserved for Customer Support Staff (probably on the
phone or via some support email address) happening on a Facebook page or via a
Twitter conversation.  I should
point out, however, that being responsive to a customer’s query on Facebook or
Twitter is, I think, at least for now, a necessary component of being in the
space.  I hasten to call it a
component of the strategy per se because responding to customers’ queries does
not feel strategic to me – it feels just like something we should do
anyway.  I’m not going to dwell on
how brands will need to deal with this obligation at the moment.  It feels like a bit of a problem and
I’m not sure how it will resolve itself. 

 

At the moment, opening your brand up on Facebook leads, in
some cases, to a lot of niggly little conversations happening.  A typical exchange I see (on a brand
fan page) opens with the brand saying ‘Hi’ to all its Facebook page fans and
then the announcement of the day’s special offer. There will then be a bunch of
comments about the offer interspersed with complaints and moaning.  So, what the visitors to that brand fan
page are actually seeing is some essentially one-way brand marketing
communications followed by publically visible customer service issue
conversations.  All in all pretty
dull, uninspiring and boring. 
There’s an inevitability to having to respond to queries as I said, but
the sooner we don’t all have to look at it, the better.  I put it down, in part, to the ‘brands
on Facebook’ still being a model in its infancy.  I have my own ideas about how this could be managed but
that’s for another time.  Back to
strategy.

 

Putting a product offer on Facebook that you may have put in
the newspaper a couple of years ago isn’t good Social Media Strategy.  There’s some immediacy to be gained
from it I suppose and there’s no doubting that your target audience are
probably hanging out on Facebook. But re-purposing collateral and messaging for
another medium without looking at and embracing the nuances and opportunities
offered by that new medium is rarely compelling for the customer. 

 

Social media is about people coming together around your brand
– it’s about a shared experience, about storytelling and, ideally, about
content creation and sharing.  One-way
brand messaging and planning to administer your dirty laundry in the open won’t
get you where you think you might want to go.  Integrating the unique collaborative and shared experience
of what social media offers and integrating this with an event, a competition
or another (more traditional) component of your marketing and branding strategy
whilst facilitating brand advocacy might just.

 

Oh Come On! Don’t you get it yet?

Screen shot 2010-05-26 at PM 02.34.34

Ok, so I received an email
from AsiaRooms.  It had a nice
picture on it and the now obligatory logos of both Facebook and Twitter.
 

The text in the box read
as follows:

Stay up to date with all the latest
news from AsiaRooms.com by following us on your favourite social networking
site. Be the first to receive expert advice and top travel tips as well as news
of exciting up and coming events plus our best deals and newest special offers.
So what are you waiting for…?!

Now, I spend a lot of my
life encouraging brands and organizations to engage with their customers in the
social media space so what’s my beef here?  Read the text again and think about it.  Now let me summarize it for you:

Please give us the opportunity to
market at you on your social networking sites.  And please let us market at you quicker than we are
currently able to market at you (we don’t want to wait for you to visit our
website or for you to read our emails – we want to get you when you are socializing)
And we use words like ‘tips’ and ‘exciting events’ and ‘special offers’ but
actually, yeah… we just want to market at you.

Worrying right?  I’d have preferred something like:

Here at AsiaRooms we’re keen to
understand what you think of our products and services.  Let us know by getting in touch via
Twitter or Facebook.  Share with us
and some of your fellow travelers your experiences. We are keen to see some of
your photos and videos and every month we’ll ask you all to vote for a winner
who’ll win a luxury weekend break courtesy of AsiaRooms.

Just a thought ….

 

Gliider – A Review

Siew Hoon (all round Goddess of Web in Travel)- asked me to review Gliider.

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at PM 12.44.50

A few days ago I was asked if I would test-drive the Gliider
travel-planning site.  Their
tagline, incidentally, is ‘Plan Funner Trips’ – make of that what you
will.  I’m already thinking I might
not be part of the target demographic.

Using Gliider works via a Firefox installation file that
adds a Gliider button to the browser toolbar.  This is available for both Firefox and IE and worked on my
Firefox running under Mac OS. 

Firing up Gliider I created a test trip to Jakarta,
Indonesia. The UI was slightly confusing to begin with and I was getting
strange error messages about invalid dates but it wasn’t long before I had my
trip set up.  Gliider then provides
nine folders covering different aspects of trip planning.  These included hotel, flights and
transport etc and there were two user-defined files that I thought was a nice
touch.

Gliider allows you to highlight and then drag and drop
content from a webpage into the respective folder.  This ‘web clipping’ functionality has been around for some
time now and has been packaged into applications, some of which I have heard
about but none has really caught my eye apart from perhaps
Evernote which is
more technology feature driven. Gliider has kept the functionally quite light
focusing more on making web clipping make sense from an activity standpoint.

The clipping worked quite well and Gliider handled the
formatting and the adding of images fairly slickly.  It was a little ‘buggy’ with new clippings not showing up
until I went out and then back into the folder, for example.  I also tried clipping just a URL link
but subsequent clicking on that link didn’t seem to open the linked page.  I’m niggling here a bit though because
for simple clipping of text and images Gliider worked well.

An application wouldn’t really be an application nowadays if
it didn’t pay its due homage to
Facebook and Gliider is no exception.  Using Facebook Connect I can get travel
advice from ‘people I know and trust’ as the text on the Gliider ‘Ask Around’
tab puts it.  Gliider then asks me
what question I want to ask and then posts this on my Facebook wall either for
everyone to see or just selected friends.

As well as sharing via the ubiquitous Facebook, I was able
to share my trip details with up to four other people using plain old simple
email.  I tried this with another
email address of mine and received an email notifying me that the other me was
planning a trip and that I too should download Gliider.  Incidentally the email subject line was
‘a funner trip’ which irked me again…Anyway, collaborators are able to see the
pooled content and add comments. 
Adding comments sort of makes sense but I’m guessing that in reality
travel companions would simply chat about their trip face to face or over the
phone.

The third tab on the Gliider app is for deals and
alerts.  Gliider have teamed up
with at least two third party sites and for my New York trip that I’d added I
had a load of hotel deals for New York from
travelzoo.com.  Gliider say that they plan to expand
the ‘deal’ functionality into other trip components in addition to just hotels.

You wont be surprised to hear that Gliider has its own
iPhone application that I downloaded for 3.60 USD equivalent.  I’m not sure what’s exactly de rigueur
nowadays when pricing apps but I know that I have some great ones that cost me
nothing and my paying for one that allows third parties to pump deals to me
based on privileged travel itinerary information flew in the face of what I
expect nowadays.

The iPhone application provided no additional functionality
over and above the browser plug-in although the interface was well designed –
good to look at and intuitive.  My
initial reaction to the iPhone app was that having all the clipped information
in my pocket when actually on my trip could be really useful, the visitor hours
of the New York Botanic Gardens for example.  It would be a bit like having my own personalized guide in
my pocket that my collaborators and I had populated with relevant content
before leaving for the trip.  At
the same time though I was thinking about all the missed opportunities around
linking my hotel address in Gliider to my maps and GPS for example and Gliider
proactively recommending me other stuff and talking me there based on my
profile and the recommendation of others.

I think Gliider is a nice idea and it takes some
technologies and functionality and packages then into an application area where
the whole idea of clipping content around a subject really makes sense.  The interface is generally good and the
navigation reasonably intuitive. I think there is huge potential to take
Gliider to somewhere really cool by incorporating location and context
awareness and further integrating it’s communication with Facebook and other
communities.  Let’s see how cool it
gets.
 
 

Is Facebook more important that your own website?

Screen shot 2010-03-22 at PM 05.20.43
 

Last night I was watching the Man United Liverpool game for a few minutes.  I don't really watch football but it was kicking off big time in the first few minutes with an early goal from Liverpool and then a penalty for Utd.  It was momentarily engrossing in the same way that watching a bunch of drunks kick the crap out of each other might be momentarily engrossing. 

Anyway, I'm already digressing.  I noticed that there was a URL being advertised on the pitch-side display for Barclays Football – it was something to do with Barclays anyway. What was interesting to me was that this was a Facebook page URL – the url was www.facebook.com/barclays_something_or_other …. 

It reminded me of a recent trend I have noticed on the BBC World Service where the program hosts now encourage listeners to visit their programme's Facebook page rather than the respective BBC website section. Certainly the Facebook page is mentioned more often that their own website.  This is even the case on mainstream full-on news shows like World Briefing – I'm not just talking about the techie shows like Digital Planet.

Why is this I wonder?  Is it that the BBC and others want to grab involvement from people without expecting them to leave the Facebook environment?  Is it the fact that all the Social Media functionality is already there working and available without any bandwidth issues?  Any ideas? And what does this mean for company's own domains and properties?

Social Media Expectations – Starhub and Resorts World Sentosa

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 13.45.01

Resorts World Sentosa's Facebook Fan Page

I was asked to participate in a social media panel a month or so ago as part of a lecture course for INSEAD MBA students.  It was there last lecture on Social Media and I, along with 4 or so other people, were asked to field questions from the students.

In the couple of days leading up to the panel I had tried to engage with a couple of Singapore brands via Facebook and Twitter.  My opinion had always been up to that evening that if a brand was to have a Facebook or Twitter presence then I should rightly expect to receive an answer to any query or question I may have about their products or services within a day or so.  One of these brands was Starhub and I have had some quick and useful responses from them on genuine queries I have had. They have been very responsive over the last week on a specific issue (below)

Screen shot 2010-03-18 at 13.56.32

Some interaction with Starhub(cares)

However, on the days leading up to the panel I had asked Starhub a question and it had not been answered and I arrived at the panel venue all ready to huff and puff about this one incident. (Un)fortunately, there was a fellow panelist who worked for the agency that does a lot of work for Starhub including their twitter presence.  Anyway, I huffed and I puffed to the crowd including this guy when the opportunity arose about this one incident of no reply whilst trying to temper it with several mentions of good contact from them.

After the planel, I had the chance to speak with the guy from the agency – Vocanic (I can't remember his name – sorry) – and I got to asking myself whether or not it is indeed reasonable to expect an individually tailored reply to every query.  My benchmark has been heavily influenced by a 'campaign' I have been following from Resorts World Sentosa (top of post) who, without fail, have responded to every post and tweet I have directed at them even when it has been to simply acknowledge their excellent work. I still can't help scanning down their fan page to see if they routinely address every individual who has a question and I think that they do.  They kept doing this during some slightly turbulent times too when there was some negative chatter over the soft launch date and one or two other issues.

This is just one level of engagement I suppose and it's not far off what I have experienced with Starhub I suppose.  Indeed the one 'non-reply' from Starhub stuck out all the more because of their general consistency in responding to me.

My question is should we continue (if at all) to expect this individual service and response from organizations who choose to engage with us on Facebook and Twitter?  What should our expectations be? and how might those expectation change over the next couple of years.  I was listening to a guy on the BBC World Service this morning who clearly defined Social Media marketing as 'peer to peer' in distinguishing it from more traditional advertizing.  Maybe he still expects a personal responses but I wonder for how long he might get one…

Singapore Tweetup Update

Come and meet fellow Singaporean and Singapore-based Tweeters at
Singapore's first ever Tweetup. Ever wondered who really lies behind
that @name ? – well, come and find out! A great networking opportunity
and chance to make new friends.

There will be some free food and a great one-for-one drinks deal.

My thanks to Andrew Peters and to Geek terminal for helping organize and being so generous with their hosting.

See you all there!
Tweetup_sticker

All Are Welcome!!!!!

Date:
14 May 2009
Time:
19:00 – 21:00
Location:
Geek Terminal (Raffles Place MRT / Golden Shoe Car Park)
Street:
55 Market Street #01-01


So, I have decided to organize a Singapore ‘tweetup’ -well, I say organize….

Tweetup_sticker So, I have decided to organize a Singapore 'tweetup' -well,
I say organize – I will sort out a venue and date and time and do my best to
see that it's well-publicized.

Why am I doing this? Well, the lovely @belindaang encouraged me (unsuccessfully
I should say – my own laziness) to attend a recent event she was going to
saying it would be nice to put a face to the tweets.  I agree with Belinda
and I'd like to put her face to her tweets too. 
I was also one of three people (@aplink and (the wonderfully named) @popmycherry
being the other two) who briefly tried to get the Singapore twestival up and
running a few months ago. We were beaten back by the Singapore Government
requiring several weeks' notice to grant permits for events that involve
fundraising.

I muted this idea of an informal tweetup at the end of last week and got some
positive responses from several people so I think there are enough people who'd
enjoy it.  I'm not sure if we should have any specific objectives for the
event other than it generally providing an opportunity for Singapore based Twitterers
to meet each other.  I am also very conscious that a 'physical' meet up
isn't necessarily what Twitter is all about for some people and I'm half
expecting some ardent local Twitterers not to be interested in attending. 
That's fine of course.  (I'm actually quite disappointing in real life but
I will be there!)

                                                                 Singapore                                                                                                                                  But, I would love to hear from anyone who has some ideas on
what we could or should do – maybe for future events if not this one.  I for one am looking forward to meeting (if
they are able to come) the wonderfully Web 2.0 @belindaang, the very bright and
informed @Nisha_Lakshmi, the very funny @roycheong1, the ever-popular  @AngMoGirl, my new good friend @callumlinden,
some of the Twitterers with the best profile pictures @applelovesshoes and
@deliciatan, the @StephenFry loving @laure_f  amongst others and all the other Singapore
based Twitterers that brighten and inform my day.