When Holly Jespersen's parents needed a Savannah restaurant for their 40th anniversary dinner, she did what is second nature to those who use social media: She asked her 800+ friends on Facebook for ideas.
"I got some great recommendations," said Jespersen, a public relations professional based in Darien, Conn. (Alligator Soul won out). "They were so pleased and I couldn't believe how many of my friends chimed in."
Using social media to make travel plans isn't as widespread as the wired may believe, however. In a January 2011 Destinations Analyst survey called "The State of the American Traveler," only 25.8% reported using social media sites for planning their vacations, compared to 39.7% who relied on print publications such as travel magazines and guidebooks, and 42.5% who swore by user-generated sites (think TripAdvisor.com or Zagat.com).
Yet the same semi-annual survey found that nearly 35.8% of travelers listened to the opinions of friends, colleagues or relatives when making travel plans. And with the average person having 130 Facebook friends, social media seems like a natural place for gathering recommendations from those you trust -- and interacting with destinations in a personal way.
Whether you're a power user who checks Facebook on your phone before you get out of bed or someone who rarely updates their status, here are a few tips for using Facebook to plan your trips.
Look beyond friends. If you rarely use Facebook, you may not have moved beyond finding friends that you knew in college or high school. There's a whole commercial world out there on Facebook, though -- one where companies are competing to make you their connected customer.
Thumb up the places you want to go. Many destinations have amped their Facebook presence, making it easy for travelers to plan their trips without leaving the social network.
When you go to the Pure Michigan Facebook page, for example, you can read a list of upcoming events, sign up for a newsletter, and learn how to connect with Michigan tourism experts. Their Wall is full of photos and advice from other travelers, making it a natural place to look for information if you're heading to Michigan this summer. Click the "like" button for updates to appear in your feed.
Look for sales, sweepstakes, and discounts. In the race to gain "likes," hotels, restaurants, and airlines have been offering special Facebook-only sales and sweepstakes available only to their fans.
Right now, Southwest Airlines is running a Share for a Share sweepstakes on their Facebook Page, where the amount of Rapid Rewards points you can win is increased by the number of "shares" it receives (contest ends Thursday).
Monitor Facebook Page activity. Vegan Sam Hartman always checks to see if the restaurants or hotels where he's going have a Facebook Page with regular posts, pictures, and videos, operating hours and prices, and comments from other customers. He sees it as a vital part of 2011 customer service.
"Anyone can open a place and run it the way they see fit," said Hartman of http://thenailthatsticksup.com. "But if they're willing to take the time to open up feedback to the amalgam that is Facebook, they'll improve just by listening."
Hook up Facebook with another travel site. Facebook Connect allows you to view other travel websites while remaining logged in to your social network. So you can see if your friends have stayed at a specific apartment on Airbnb.com or find out what countries they've visited through TripAdvisor. It's a great way to figure out which friends you should ask for advice about your trip.
Organize with lists. If you went overboard with your likes, you may notice that your Facebook feed is cluttered with shared links, photos, and status updates. You can organize your updates by putting all of your trip-related companies and destinations into a single labeled list, leaving your feed free for updates from your real friends.
Find Frommer's at www.facebook.com/Frommers