Business travel typically amounts to a series of laborious meetings combined with an abundance of in-room dining. When you travel though, you're also creating the perfect opportunity to deepen the connections you've already established online with like-minded business people through social media participation.
If you're currently a member of social networks, the idea here is to simply better leverage your existing connections. However, if you do not currently use any social media tools, then you might have to begin by signing up for some of these before we begin.
Why? Because every time you leave your office, you can develop new relationships and deepen old ones, boost sales opportunities and build your own personal brand.
Before You Go
About one week before your trip, it's time to start sowing the seeds and letting people know where you're going to be. Let's start by examining how you can leverage some of your existing social media channels.
You can use Twitter to inform your community about your upcoming plans and see if anyone is in that area and wants to meet. If you have a blog, you should post your travel plans there as well and invite readers to meet up.
LinkedIn members should take advantage of the site's Business Travel section under Answers and either ask a question about the place to which you're traveling or answer a question by a fellow traveler. You'll be surprised how easy it is to initiate a new business relationship through sharing some information based on your own experiences. You can also update your LinkedIn status to indicate your upcoming travel plans and invite anyone in the area to send you a note, which all of your contacts will be able to see.
TripIt has a service geared towards business travelers that aggregates your trip details in one place, which you can share with colleagues, contacts and family. The service streamlines travel planning and alerts you to any places where your itinerary overlaps with other people in your network.
Finally, there are a host of social networks geared towards business travelers, including Placely, Dopplr and PairUp. Signing up and adding your travel itinerary shouldn't take more than 15 minutes, and once you do, you can import your contact list to share your plans. While the feature set varies slightly between these services, all will help you to connect with other travelers or businesspeople at the airport, on the plane or at your destination.
At the Airport
At the airport, you can try uploading an image to the mobile social network, Brightkite, a location based social network that allows you to tag your photos by where you upload them and, if you choose, reveals your location so you can discover other members who might be in your area.
Another social tool worth trying is Utterz, one of the easiest ways to podcast using your mobile phone. When you sign up, you can call and record your thoughts as well as share a video or weigh in on other conversations, all from your phone.
At Your Destination
Any chance you have to connect with people offline that you have only met online will help to establish a better relationship. Social networking is fantastic, but there's really no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
Consult Upcoming.org or Meetup to see if there are any industry related events coinciding with your trip. If so, there might be a host of colleagues or prospects in the area interested in an informal coffee or breakfast.
You might also want to try using TripHub to coordinate group events, meals or meetings if you're traveling with several of your colleagues.
Think beyond your typical business networks and look for fun meet-ups as well. You can search for photowalks if you enjoy photography or join a golf related social network to find a group if time permits.
Finally, don't underestimate your existing professional networks, whether a community on Plaxo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or another social service.
You have an opportunity to build stronger relationships with your contacts, meet new people and transform an otherwise standard business trip into a much more meaningful, social experience. The tools outlined above will help you to identify and connect with your contacts, but it's up to you to take the initiative to make it happen. If you do, you'll see that business trips are now much more than mundane corporate obligations, and you can transform your social networks from a contact databases into a Rolodex of relationships.
Are there other tools you've used to make your business trips more social? If so, please share them below.