This is a follow-up post to my previous one about the 'value' of 'friends' in social networks and how the way that search engines are starting to try and plug the opinions of our friends into our search queries could really start to have an impact on the results they provide for us.
I wanted to take this a step further and think more specifically about the travel sector. And there's an obvious place to look. Trip Advisor (TA).
There's always a story somewhere about how the reviews on TA can't be trusted. And always a firm rebuttal from TA when the accusation is made. Clearly UGC review sites are open to manipulation - but on balance I've found TA to be a useful tool for choosing hotels. The problem (once you have decided that actually most reviews on TA are genuine) is "is this reviewer like me". Does their opinion matter to me? Some bloke called Bob from Wyoming thought this place was 'awesome...' but does that mean I will too?
Back in December TA accounced Instant Personalisation. Log in to TA using your Facebook account and it plugs all your friends' recommendations in. I was pretty sceptical at first - as I am of any Facebook app - I hate the way it tells you it's about to share all your data. Scares me silly. But I did it. And I really see the value of it too. You get a map (nice interface - I LIKE maps) which shows you all the places your FB friends have been to in the world. Mine have visited 1800+ cities between them. That's actually quite a lot. Chances are then that at least one of my friends will have already been to wherever I am planning my next trip to. It tells me who has been where - so it makes it really easy to seek advice from a friend who really knows.
It gets more interesting if you happen to have friends that review on TA too. I don't have many, but Rhonda Carrier who writes lots about family travel does a bit - and so if I look for restaurants in Manchester where she lives - I get a box above the search results that highlights the two places she has reviewed there. That is genuinely useful. I know Rhonda. I know she is a travel writer too so she knows her stuff when it comes to reviewing as well. Bringing her opinion into the mix and highlighting it for me offers me far more than the standard list of reviews.
Now, if only my mates who are travel eds and travel writers all reviewed stuff on TA as a matter of course. What an incredible resource that could be.
Take that a step further. What an incredible resource the 'right' network could be for delivering the 'best' search results from a search engine.' If you could plug the likes, shares, tweets and reviews of a whole bunch of talented travel writers into your google/bing searches for a 'holiday in Spain' - how much more useful, credible and time-saving would that be?
Knowing these networks - having access to them... that could become the golden ticket for search engine optimisation in the new world of personalised search. Getting the 'right' people into the mix. If I want awesome recommendations for mountain bikes then maybe I should ask my mate Andy who is a bike nut to search for me - plugging his contacts into the mix. If he wants really great search results for his holiday in Spain maybe I could search for him in return...
Turning that idea around to look at it from the perspective of a travel company that wants to rank better in search results for say holidays to Spain - you'd better know who the key influencers are in the context of travel searches and make sure they've had a change to experience and review your product if you want to rank well for this term in the - perhaps not so distant - future.
And from the perspective of a travel writer... Could I one day go to a hotel and say 'give me a free night (please) and I'll review* your hotel' and they'd decide whether to give it to me on the basis of the 'friends' I am connected to online and, by extension the influence I could have over the search results of people looking for a hotel in that particular city? (*Completely impartially of course!?)
Maybe the future of SEO is about owning (or having access to) networks that cover specific interest areas like say travel, parenting, financial advice and being able to influence them?