October 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

The personal touch

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Because there are bound to be places a consumer is researching where his friends haven't been, or haven't reviewed on TripAdvisor, the site in April added a feature, called Friend of a Friend. Now, when researching a hotel, restaurant or attraction, visitors will see their friends' reviews first, followed by reviews of their friends' friends. They can use the TripAdvisor private message service to ask anyone in the Friend of a Friend network for further advice.

Online consumers qualify as social butterflies when it comes to travel. A survey of 1,700 TripAdvisor users released last month finds 42% use social channels for travel planning and 40% for travel inspiration. In addition, 76% of respondents say they share travel experiences via social networks. For example, 34% check in on Facebook while traveling and 91% share photos of their trip on social networks. Additionally, 39% usually share travel experiences on social channels following their trip and 52% say they share trip details both while traveling and after returning home.

Useful information

Given how inherently social trip planning and sharing is, it's perhaps not surprising that Facebook-connected visitors to TripAdvisor.com write one out of four reviews on the site.

Providing useful information, namely who is attending what show, is also the idea behind Ticketmaster's Facebook integrations.

Ticketmaster last year launched a RSVP feature on its artist pages that enables consumers to share plans to attend a show after they connect to Facebook on Ticketmaster by logging in with their Facebook credentials. That RSVP then appears on Ticketmaster.com. The module shows all the Facebook users who have RSVP'd via the feature and visitors to the page can sort those who have RSVP'd by "Everyone" or just their friends.

Once the visitor says he is attending, a pop-up window asks him to write a comment about the show and post the notification to his Facebook timeline, a virtual scrapbook that features a graphical and chronological timeline of a consumer's life events and other information or posts that he chooses to share. That lets his Facebook friends know about a show without having to visit Ticketmaster.com—a boon for the concertgoer and, often, Ticketmaster's sales.

When a consumer searches for a show, he can click Find Tickets and sign in to Facebook to launch a virtual seat map. The seat map enables him to see where other Facebook users, including the shopper's friends, are sitting. Consumers seeking tickets can hover over a seat to see each Facebook user's name and profile picture.

If a consumer is looking for someone specific, he can scroll through a list of ticket buyers who have tagged themselves in their seats so others can find them. When tagging a seat, a user can share her seat information with only her friends or everyone. Levin says 80% of consumers who use the tool share with everyone.

That shows that many consumers are willing, and in some cases eager, to share information on social networks. And that represents a real opportunity for retailers to harness that information to offer a more personalized shopping experience.


Not everything is complicated

Personalization features like those offered by TripAdvisor and Ticketmaster can require significant resources. Ticketmaster, for instance, employs two product managers and three engineers who work full-time on social media and it still worked with social marketing vendor 8th Bridge Inc. to develop some of its tools.

However, there are also simpler ways that retailers can use the information shoppers share on Facebook to present a more customized on-site experience. The social network offers a range of what it calls social plug-ins, which are single lines of code a retailer can add to its site to incorporate Facebook features like the Like button or the Activity Feed, which shows consumers what products their friends have Liked or commented about. When a consumer clicks the Like button on a retail site, or interacts with any other Facebook plug-in, that information is recorded by the retailer and also on Facebook where his friends can see that action mentioned in their news feeds, which displays the actions of a consumer's connections on the social network.

Some of the available Facebook tools are:

  • Activity Feed: The tool shows consumers what their friends have Liked or commented on at the retailer's site.
  • Comments: The Comments tool enables a site to allow shoppers to comment on products on a site. It can serve as a ratings and reviews-type tool.
  • Facepile: The tool displays the Facebook profile pictures of shoppers who have Liked a retailer's page or logged in to the site via Facebook.
  • Like Box: The box enables a shopper to Like a retailer's Facebook page, and see how other shoppers, including her friends, are interacting with the site.
  • Like Button: The button enables consumers to give a product or other content a stamp of approval. The message may appear in the news feed of all of the shopper's friends.
  • Log In Button: The button shows a consumer the Facebook profile pictures of his friends who have logged into a retailer's site via Facebook.
  • Send Button: The button enables a shopper to send a private Facebook message featuring a product or other content to a select group of friends.
  • Recommendations Box: The tool gives personalized suggestions for product pages that a shopper might want to view based on what he and others have interacted with on the site.
  • Recommendations Bar: The tool allows shoppers to Like content, get recommendations and share content.
  • Registration: The tool enables a consumer to use his Facebook log in to sign into a retailer's site.
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