Teletext Holidays managing director Victoria SandersIt’s widely accepted that friendships are invaluable to the soul. But when the likes of Starbucks, Gap, Audi and even James Bond sit shoulder to shoulder with our nearest and dearest, it adds a new dimension to our social circle. 

Like many people, I signed up to Friends Reunited and then moved to Facebook and Twitter to see what all the fuss was about. It doesn’t take long to get addicted and I reconnected with loads of people I hadn’t spoken to for years, even an old flame from school days!

But while I’ve had great fun reading a daily digest of trivia, I have also watched the rise of social networking with a professional eye. Travel brands have flocked to social networks, some with strategies, others experimenting.

But how useful are they for business? Although I get a few blank stares when I talk about “social strategies”, even people here who were sceptical about the opportunities for driving bookings are having a change of heart. With 500 million people on Facebook and 145 million on Twitter, it has to be taken seriously.

Net gains

I read a report this week that convinced me about the commercial opportunity of social networks. Apparently, 23% of Twitter users follow businesses to find special deals, promotions or sales. And 25% of consumers who connect to brands on Facebook do so to receive discounts.

But the interesting bit is that Twitter and Facebook visitors spend 50% more money online than the average internet user. 

Next January I think we’ll see a different style of marketing from travel firms of all sizes. The era of cheesy Boxing Day adverts are long gone. We need to talk to customers in a language they understand and do things they “like” to gain word-of-mouth buzz.

Starbucks has done some clever things. For example, to increase traffic in stores it launched a “free pastry day” promoted only through social networks. It claimed that this promotion alone contributed to one million customers visiting stores in one day. That’s a powerful force.

The trend for “flash” sales, where clothes, holidays, hotels and attractions are offered at a massive discount for a limited period, has also increased through social networking. These sales are huge in the fashion world and travel is catching up fast.

Agent action

I’d love to see more agents borrowing some of these techniques to boost sales. It’s never been easier to talk to customers and bring a brand to life.

Social networks are evolving constantly: just look at Foursquare for locations, Spotify for music and Apple and Google both testing their own networks.

But it’s never too late to sign up. Have fun, watch what the big brands are doing and don’t be afraid to experiment. Happy tweeting!