For most consumers, travel happens two or three times per year, and it’s one of the biggest purchase decisions they make. That means they’re turning to reviews, ratings, and their social circle to figure out where they want to go and which company they should book that trip with.

One of the biggest things that jumped out to me after looking at the “Using Social Networks to Influence Travel and Hospitality Bookings” infographic (shown below) was how much traffic social media websites are driving for travel and hospitality companies. On top of that, as the infographic points out, about 75% of travelers look for deals on social networks.

But many travel and hospitality companies aren’t doing enough to track and participate in social activity. So let’s look at some ways to jump into social media and use it to build engagement, customer satisfaction, and a better overall travel experience.

1. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Facebook is today’s version of the town crier, and certainly one of the biggest drivers of traffic. The reality is that most people don’t want to be marketed to. They want a shared experience, instead. They want their friends to tell them about great deals and insights. And that’s what makes the travel industry such a prime player for the social media arena. Travel is all about experience, and since most people are very willing to share experiences they find positive, social media is a great place to facilitate that promotion through likes and mentions.

Participating in social media also generates advertising/brand frequency: Maybe someone meant to travel with you before, but forgot about it until they saw their friend used your website for their last trip. Maybe someone never heard about your company, but a Facebook friend pointed out something cool you offered and they decided to find out more. It’s just a fantastic promotional and awareness environment that is often overlooked.

2. Become an active listener—and conversationalist.

Most organizations pay thousands or millions of dollars to have consultants tell them how to improve their business. But using social media, people are giving companies this information for free.

There are so many ways to look at this data and react to it, even the bad things. For example, it’s critically important to address customers who are upset and venting via social media because it’s never too late to improve a traveler’s experience. When a traveler has a negative experience, they are looking for someone to respond with an apology, and possibly an offer for future travel. Learn to listen, absorb, and respond to this feedback. If you can lead with that attitude on social media, particularly when it comes to criticism, that says volumes about your company.

3. Don’t stop with Facebook.

One of the broader messages here is the need to test more than one social media campaign. Maybe a hotel website tries starting up a Facebook page, but doesn’t get the results it wanted. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stop there. Often, busy organizations make decisions based on one data point, but when it comes to social media, you need multiple data points to make an informed decision. Pinterest is going to be different than Facebook, which is going to be different than Twitter. Each of these segments is different, so they won’t all respond to the same efforts. Remember to find out what works for each audience. If those social websites are sending you traffic, it’s your responsibility to make the best out of that opportunity.

4. Turn the travel experience into a social experience.

Many travelers want to rave about the trip they just went on, and social media offers up a great way to share that experience. People enjoy sharing pictures of their trip, for example, and that gets friends within their network thinking about traveling again, too. Those positive trips stick with travelers, and travel and hospitality websites can tap into that. Starting a Facebook campaign, for example, asking users to share the best picture from the last trip they took with you can have a big impact.

5. Segment, segment, segment.

Take a step back to evaluate different traffic sources leading people to your website. Then figure out exactly how much of an impact social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, etc.) are having on those visits, and respond. Examine each social media traffic segment and look for deviations. Maybe you discover Facebook-driven visitors want to read reviews and ratings. If so, create a website experience for your Facebook visitors that puts reviews front and center. Simply observing the behavior of social media traffic can reveal a lot about visitors, and put travel and hospitality websites in a position to respond to those behaviors.

For more ideas on how to create personalized, engaging experience on your website, sign up for next week’s “Personalizing the Online Travel Experience” webinar. Carroll Rheem, from PhocusWright, and I will be sharing proven best practices you can use to improve bookings, revenue, and customer loyalty.