Increasing we are seeing travel companies who aren?t just gently participating in user-generated content, or dipping their toes tentatively into the social networking pool, instead, they are investing full-throttle in a multi-faceted social media strategy. They are participating in a variety of non-travel sites, in a variety of formats simultaneously. Between them, Southwest Airlines and Carnival Cruise Lines now have a presence on all the major social networking and photo/video sharing sites. They have pages on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. They both have their own blogs and their own social networking communities, all of which have been incredibly successful.

So what can travel companies learn from companies such as Southwest and Carnival, when it comes to their social media strategy? Can you work with one site, like Facebook, or do you need to have a presence on all of them, at the same time? How do you manage a multi-faceted social media strategy? And what benefits have Southwest and Carnival seen, by taking a holistic approach to social media?

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival has set up their own cruise-centric social networking community called CarnivalConnections.com. This has been created specifically to bring family and friends together by helping them plan and manage their cruise vacations. The site features an ?e-invite? electronic invitation tool that can be tailored family reunions, girlfriend getaways and other groups.

John Heald?s Carnival blog has had attracted 3 million visitors. Through his blog, Heald offers candid and colorful commentary on daily shipboard life, sharing interesting and often poignant tales of the guests and crewmembers he comes into contact with on a daily basis, all with his trademark brand of humor. This enormous amount of traffic creates good brand exposure for Carnival and with 25,000 comments it?s a proven customer-interaction tool.

In terms of videos and photos, Carnival as its own photo stream on Flickr, allowing customers to upload photos, and they also have their own channel on YouTube. On their website they have created a virtual tour, FunShipIsland.com, with sharing options, personalization tools and downloadable content.

Carnival was also an early adopter of Twitter ? exploiting it to monitor their brand image, listen to questions from customers, communicate promotions and share experiences

A pioneer in the on-line marketing arena, Carnival?s new Web-based initiatives are designed to provide a effective and innovative means for reaching out to consumers and travel agents. Both FunShipIsland.com and CarnivalConnections.com continue to achieve unprecedented success, with each exceeding the one million visitor mark in 2008.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines implemented a social media strategy three years ago and, like Carnival, they have taken a holistic approach, participating in numerous sites simultaneously. They currently have a presence on popular sites: Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Southwest produces new video content for YouTube on a weekly basis. By creating new and unique content they are reaching out to a vast and growing audience of people who are watching online videos on a regular basis. This strategy will also have a positive impact on their search engine rankings.

Their blog ?Nuts about Southwest? is a real success story. A team of 30 employee bloggers regularly keep the site updated with new content and as a result they receive a massive 70,000 unique visitors each month. ?Nuts about Southwest? was also winner of the 2008 PR News Platinum PR award for blogs.

As well as a loyal following of blog-readers, Southwest also have a huge following of 8,000 people on micro-blogging site, Twitter. Twitter allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Finally, Southwest Airlines is a heavy user of LinkedIn, the world?s largest professional network. They currently have 3,000 active employees connecting their professional networks via this site.

No other US airline has participated in such a multitude of social media sites in such a short space of time. And it is obviously paying dividends for Southwest, not just in terms of brand awareness but also generating huge volumes of traffic. Southwest continues to be one of the most successful airlines in the world posting a profit for 35 consecutive years -- something no other American carrier can boast.

?Our brand is suited to social media because it?s a natural progression of our 37 year commitment of having authentic relationships and conversations with our customers? said Jeremy Jameson, Corporate Strategist ? Strategic Planning for Southwest Airlines.

The majority of Southwest?s? customers are online, and if recent statistics are to be believed then those people are inevitably interacting with social networks. Customer service and transparency make up the DNA at Southwest; social media channels provide a compelling way to bring the brand promise to life. Although Carnival is less dependant on online bookings, their online image presents a down-to-earth attitude with top management communicating directly with customers.

Southwest and Carnival are both ?fun? brands with loyal followings so are suitably poised to take advantage of the social media revolution. They both have a mass appeal and a positive, less-than-corporate attitude. Most importantly they are both brands which consumers feel they can easily engage with, and want to engage with.

Jeremy Jameson, Corporate Strategist ? Strategic Planning for Southwest Airlines will be speaking at EyeforTravel?s Social Media Strategies for Travel Conference on March 10-11 in San Francisco. He will be joined on his session by Jeff Hanson, Regional Director of Marketing & eCommerce - Western Region, Marriott International, Juston Parker, President, Parker Hospitality Group and Kevin Fliess, CEO, TravelMuse.

Related Link: EyeforTravel?s Social Media Strategies for Travel Conference