Social Media for Business Travelers

Fifteen-or-so years ago when Facebook king Mark Zuckerberg was probably still in high school, I shared a luncheon table in San Francisco with fourteen other hotel guests who had agreed to take part in a “community meal.”

My lunch partners didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.  Our paths would likely not cross again (except perhaps at the checkout desk) and that was just fine with all of us. We were there to eat, chat, exchange any clever or inane thoughts that came to us, and move on to the rest of our lives.

It was a moment in time, nothing more. The plan was refreshing in its simplicity.

Lunch progressed as planned with one notable exception. A young woman, mid-20’s, originally from Mumbai, India, more recently from New York City, dominated all attempts at conversation.

She fixated on her singular topic which she defined as the intensifying rush toward “social media” (curious term, I remember thinking) that—she predicted—would swallow us all and change our lives forever, connecting each of us to the other, small parts of the greater whole. If we didn’t embrace it, she warned, we’d be left in the proverbial dust.

Judging by the frequent eye-rolling and arms-folded-across-the-chest body language obvious around the table, it’s safe to say the majority of us at lunch that day were more annoyed than captivated by our young zealot. She had, after all, hijacked our community experiment and pushed our collective mute button.

To state the obvious, our insightful lunch partner’s prediction was spot-on. Today, we blog, we tweet and re-tweet, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg we friend and unfriend ; we post photos, videos and favorite music, we tag and bookmark, we report, advise, critique, and criticize, and with a few strokes we catapult talented people like Susan Boyle out of her house dress and onto to the world stage.

The ability of anyone with a smartphone or computer to share news at warp speed has mushroomed at a staggering rate. Among the countless beneficiaries, business travelers in particular are reaping the benefits of this worldwide information tsunami.

Choosing from among the hundreds of thousands of resources out there is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge. How and when one chooses to tap into the fire hose is a subjective and ongoing process, but I’ll happily share a few of my personal go-to resources for your consideration.

Because business travel is rarely without some degree of inconvenience or crisis, putting your eyes on real-time information is goal number one. Take, as an example, the disastrous weather in Europe last winter. The continent’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, wimped out big-time with on-and-off shutdowns and huge delays following snowfalls that would have been considered light dustings at Chicago O’Hare. The domino effect that followed backed up flights from Paris to Prague and just about everywhere in between.

What was the fastest and best source of information during that tumultuous time?  Not the airlines’ or airports’ call centers or websites, but the Twitter feed from Eurocontrol, a Brussels-based civil organization that plans and coordinates air traffic control for all of Europe.

Eurocontrol made its first notable appearance during the Iceland volcano fiasco that affected airports across the continent in 2010, and rose again to the occasion this past winter, sending out nonstop feeds when the weather turned ugly.

Now that you know about Eurocontrol, you’ll likely have opportunities in the near future to use it. With threats of strikes looming on several airlines’ horizons in Europe this summer, Eurocontrol could again prove a valuable resource. You’ll find the Twitter site here.

Twitter has become an overnight darling for travelers. Globally, it’s estimated that over 200 airlines have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, especially now that disgruntled travelers have learned that an immediate complaint about bad customer service will often be followed quickly by a response and resolution from an airline staffer. (For the latest Twitter links for your top airlines, search the carriers’ websites).

Clearly, Twitter has its place in the world of travel. So too, does the blog, that hybrid not-quite-a-website-but-longer-than-a-tweet phenomenon that has created thousands of “experts” (in my opinion, some very knowledgeable, many, not so much) who regularly share their knowledge with the world.

Here again, it’s best to find and follow someone whose credentials took root before the blog era—perhaps a favorite news columnist or on-air broadcaster, for example or an author or lecturer who knows his or her stuff.

Take Carol Margolis, for example. She’s a veteran traveler and international speaker who has walked the walk when it comes to handling issues on the road. Because she most often travels alone, she has plenty of insight into the concerns of solo women travelers. This gave rise to her website and her useful “Pearls of Wisdom” blog at

Carol’s website features a variety of social networking tools and opportunities for women living and traveling anywhere in the world to connect, offer ideas and suggestions, and seek advice and support when issues arise.

At Boarding Area–Voices of the Business Traveler, you’ll also find David Grossman (USA Today business travel columnist),  Randy Petersen, editor of Inside Flyer Magazine who, when it comes to miles and points, knows it all and shares it with road warriors.

Scott McCartney, travel editor of the Wall Street Journal who writes “The Middle Seat” every Thursday, is another loaded-with-knowledge journalist. In addition to his weekly column, Scott shares his airline industry insights in regular blogs

Ben Mutzabaugh corrals the day’s aviation news in print and online for USA Today, and his blog, Today in the Sky is one of that newspaper’s most popular. Every Friday Ben engages readers in online “Chat” sessions where questions and answers flow freely.

Joe  Sharkey writes a travel column for The New York Times, and it’s a good one, but you’ll likely learn more about Joe’s opinions (he’s not one to mince words) by reading his blog, Joe Sharkey at Large.

Who doesn’t want the inside scoop on the best airfare deals? Ricky Seaney, who possesses a lot of brilliant software that sorts through all the airfare fog, reportedly comes up with a billion combinations per query. He co-founded FareCompare at Airfare Watchdog so he could share all that insider knowledge. Rick’s personalized approach makes his treasure trove of information worth checking into.

There are easily hundreds of thousands of travel blogs out there, and it is impossible to detail all of them. Hopefully some on my brief list will make it to your own list of favorites.

As for the young woman in San Francisco who first uttered the term “social media” within my earshot…..there’s no telling where that young visionary is today, but I can easily imagine her heading up a blazingly hot social media marketing firm in a major world population center—possibly her native India.

I’ll tweet to that!


This article was originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal/Capital Region Business Journal