Social Media as a Travel Tool during the Great Christmas Getaway

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Like many people I will be travelling later today. Taking one of the last trains on Christmas Eve from London to the north of England. And like many people I have spent the last few days checking the weather and the news, hoping that my train will run and I will make it on time.

Christmas is a time when lots of people travel, and a time when lots of travel gets delayed, cancelled or goes wrong. That perfect storm of high volume of travellers and some of the worst weather of the year. In the UK we’ve seen a lot of travel-related issues recently: the story of the Eurostar cancellations is well documented online, flights, trains and the road is also disrupted.

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We’ve posted already this week about what this means for the travel industry and in particular how to use social media as a crisis management tool. But there is another role that social media can play – as a useful, up-to-date and real-time information source for the people travelling. Official information sources can be useful for things like departure times or changes to routes, but they don’t necessarily tell you the full story and, critically, rarely give you advice on what to do.

So here are five ways you can use social media to stay on top of your travel plans this Christmas:

  1. Use Twitter to find out what’s happening, now. Twitter is as much a search engine as a social media tool – one of the benefit of people sending updates and telling us what they are experiencing is that it provides a great real-time resource to find out what is happening from people who are on the ground. When your plane is not leaving and you’re not sure why, you will often find more use from a search of Twitter than the departure boards in airports. I personally find it most useful for finding out about travel around London. Whilst the Transport for London site might tell me there are ‘Minor Delays’ on the Piccadilly Line I get into work, a search of Twitter for ‘Piccadilly Line’ will tell me exactly what is happening from people at stations or on trains.
  2. Use Twitter Lists to follow official updates. Sometimes you want to know the story from people on the ground, and sometimes you want to know official updates. This is where Twitter Lists come in useful – before you go on a journey, put your airline or train company, breakdown service or road agency into a Twitter List – you then have one place to go for official updates rather than many. And you can separate the official advice from the human stories from people on the ground.
  3. Share and search for photo updates. Weather and travel are often very photographic – photos of people trapped queuing at St Pancras station this week waiting to board a Eurostar service convey much better than words ever could the real scale of the delays to the service. As well as updates, share photos of what is happening, show people where you are and what you are doing. Also use photos to educate yourself. Find out how busy that airport really is by looking for photos people have taken of the queues at check in.
  4. Update your friends on where you are with Facebook or Twitter. Status updates have many uses but they are particularly useful when you want to tell a large group of people the same thing. If you’re delayed, trapped in snow on a road or at a station waiting for a delayed train, you want people to know you are okay or that you need help. Rather than having to contact lots of people separately, use your status on Facebook, Twitter or another service to keep people up to date on where you are, how you are and also to ask for help when you need it. Mobile internet access makes this possible and is a significant benefit for anybody needing help.
  5. Use user-generated weather updates. As with updates on travel, user-generated weather updates are a great source of information of what is really happening, right now, on the ground. Perhaps the best example of this in the UK is a Twitter mash-up: #uksnow map. This uses status updates from people on Twitter who send their postcode area and a rating for how much snow their is out of ten. This data is then used to produce a map of snowfall across the UK. In real-time. From users on the ground.

Social media has changed many things about the way we can live our lives and will continue to do so. Travel and weather are two cases where users can get real benefit from using social media to do old things in new ways and to do completely new things. Whether you want to get real-time information, information from people on the ground or share your own experiences or updates to let people know what is happening. Social media can help make you better informed and better connected when travelling.

I for one know that I am monitoring activity at St Pancras station and on East Midlands Trains. Things look okay so far…

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