Travel Agents, Freedom of Speech and Social Media

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Have a blog? Are you on Twitter? Are you on Facebook? Have an ezine or emailed newsletter?

We have all seen articles about people who tweeted in the heat of the moment or posted something on Facebook only to have it come back and bite them. Maybe we chuckled and thought “What a moron! That’d never happen to me.”

Well, don’t be too sure. Now that you are a travel agent, you operate under a different set of rules than you did when you were a “civilian.”

For starters, the word “agent” in “travel agent” has special meaning. It means that you act on behalf of the various suppliers whose products you sell. You are a representative of those suppliers when you market their products. You have a certain responsibility to represent their products in a responsible manner and not do anything that might diminish that supplier’s reputation.

Also, you are now a professional and should present yourself to the world at large professionally.

When it comes to the Internet and social media, there are two pitfalls that you need to watch out for.

For many people, the Internet tends to loosen tongues. In other words, they’ll say nasty things about a supplier in a tweet or on a blog, or in a comment on another blog that they would never dream of saying at an industry event — especially one at which they knew a representative of that supplier was in attendance.

This attitude is compounded by the feeling that “we’re among friends,” that what I say to my blog readers or newsletter subscribers is somehow “private” and not for the ears of the supplier being criticized.

Well guess what? Nothing on the Internet is truly private and industry people are “in attendance” on the ‘Net in ways that might surprise you.

To cite just the most obvious example, most companies, travel-related or not, have set up Google alerts for their company name. That means that whenever their name appears anywhere of the Internet Google lets them know about it. So your snarky comment about Supplier X on some obscure blog will show up on the screen of someone at the home office.

But, but, but . . . what about your freedom of speech? Well yes, you have that, of course. But suppliers also have something called freedom of association and, if they decide they no longer want to do business with you, that is their absolute right.

You can also do damage to innocent bystanders. Suppose you write a critical assessment of a supplier after a fam organized by your host agency? Not only can you get in trouble, but your host will get an angry earful as well and who knows how they will react?

And don’t assume that because you use a “handle” rather than your real name that you are truly anonymous. You’d be surprised how a little ingenuity can unmask the real person behind the avatar. Today, businesses of all sorts have a very real interest in policing their online image. A whole new breed of consultants called “reputation managers” has sprung up to serve this need, and they are very good at what they do.

In this day and age, we cannot assume that anything is truly private. Even your Facebook “friends” can rat you out by passing on your pithy comments to forums with a much wider circulation; they might even do it innocently. Assume that “travel-agent-only” forums have been “infiltrated” by members of the supplier community, because they probably have been.

So in the brave new world of social media discretion is the better part of freedom of speech. Write about people as if you absolutely know they are going to read it, because they might. Criticize suppliers as if you were writing a letter to the president of the company because, for all you know, she might wind up reading what you have to say.

Maybe Mom was right after all: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

What then if you have had a genuinely bad experience with a supplier’s product or you feel that one of their policies is misguided or downright horrible? That sounds like a good topic for another post.

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Travel Agents, Freedom of Speech and Social Media was last modified: October 26th, 2015 by Kelly Monaghan